False arrests won’t stop us covering Israel’s occupation
The allegations against us: violating an emergency order and insulting a soldier. The law books contain no statutes about insulting a journalist.
On Monday of this week we drove to the village of Artah, south of Tul Karm, to report yet another story of the evil of the occupation, this one particularly infuriating and sad. The photographer Alex Levac and I were in Artah, intending to return home to Tel Aviv. The soldiers at Checkpoint 407 were surprised to see Israeli Jews leaving from the direction of Tul Karm. We showed our press cards and told them that we had been accustomed to going everywhere in the West Bank for more than 25 years.
Thus began an episode in the theater of the absurd that lasted until evening. The Israeli army and the Israel Police kept us in custody for about the next nine hours. The soldiers confiscated our car keys and identity documents lest we run for our lives. We were not allowed to get out of the car, even for a moment. One insolent soldier was insulted on account of nothing and the police were summoned on account of nothing. The police did not even ask us what had happened — and just like that, we were “detained.”
We were put inside a “Caracal” — an armored, reinforced metal monster with barred windows — and we drove for about an hour to the Ariel police station. There we were questioned and fingerprinted. Mug shots were taken of us for the criminals’ photo album, and we were subjected to humiliation. On the way there, I thought about the Palestinian children whom these police arrest and place in this same metal monster and what they endure. The police officers said we were being “detained” — a euphemism for arrest. When we asked to go to the bathroom, the duty officer barked: Not without an escort. The detective said we were endangering national security.
The police station in Ariel is a place to see. There is a photograph of a rabbi on the wall of the interrogation room, and a thick-bearded man walked freely around the station, offering Hanukkah donuts to the police officers and asking if they had put on tefillin that day.
The allegations: violating an emergency order and insulting a soldier. The law books contain no statutes about insulting a journalist. Even as we were on our way to Ariel, we heard the false accusation that came from the army, and then the official statement of the Judea and Samaria District Police: We had spat at the soldiers. First the “murdering” pilots (which I never wrote), and now the “spitting libel” (I never spat on them). If we were suspected of having spat at soldiers, it is easy to imagine the intolerable ease with which the soldiers could say, falsely, that a Palestinian had pulled a knife at a checkpoint or threatened them a moment before they shot him dead.
This could have been a negligible story if it did not signal the ill wind that is blowing in the Israel Police and in the army: journalists are a nuisance (in the best case) and a hostile element (in any other case). Israeli press cards from years ago bore the following sentence: “The Israel Police is asked to assist the bearer of this card.”
It never occurs to the police in the territories to assist journalists; they usually try to sabotage their work, with the army beside them. Even the sanctimonious concern that IDF Spokesman’s Office personnel express for journalists’ safety — the explanation given for why any entry into Area A must be coordinated with that office — is flawed by a basic lack of understanding. Some professions are dangerous, and journalism is not doing its job by “coordinating” with the authorities. The authorities’ intention is clear: to close the West Bank to scrutiny, or at least to make it hard for journalists to work there. Gaza has been closed to Israeli journalists for about eight years — a scandal in itself — and journalists bow their heads in surrender. That must not be allowed to happen in the West Bank too, even if only a tiny group of people still shows the slightest interest in what goes on there.
They let us go in the evening. The Israeli Police’s APC brought us back to the checkpoint. The case awaits a decision. Another decision is obvious: We will keep on covering the occupation.