‘Close connection between Hamas and Al Jazeera,’ Tel Aviv District Court finds

Judge notes Al Jazeera clip on how to destroy an Israeli tank, finds network has endangered soldiers, and says Hamas ‘advances it goals’ through it

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Police raid the Al Jazeera offices in Jerusalem on May 5, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Police raid the Al Jazeera offices in Jerusalem on May 5, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The Tel Aviv-Jaffa District Court has found there is a “close connection” between news network Al Jazeera and the Hamas terror group, and that the Qatari network has done measurable damage to Israeli security.

The findings were determined in a ruling by the court’s deputy president Shai Yaniv Tuesday following a review of the decision by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, approved by the security cabinet on May 5, to ban the news network in Israel.

Although he upheld the decision to temporarily ban the outlet, the judge shortened the period of the ban from the 45 days requested by Karhi to a 35-day period, owing to procedural concerns of the court.

The ban will now expire at midnight this coming Sunday, June 9. Karhi’s office said it was now working to extend the ban for another 45-day period.

Al Jazeera’s broadcasts in Israel were taken off the air on May 5 and its website was taken offline, its equipment seized and its offices sealed, in accordance with an emergency law passed in April allowing for foreign outlets which are deemed to be violating national security to be temporarily blocked.

Such bans must be approved by the prime minister and the security cabinet on the recommendation of at least one security agency, and have a maximum duration of 45 days, although the term can be renewed for further periods as long as the emergency law is in effect. The law is currently set to expire on July 31, although it too could be extended.

Decisions to shutter a foreign outlet require the review of a district court judge.

A closure order on the door of the Al Jazeera offices in east Jerusalem, May 5, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

In the Tuesday ruling, Yaniv said he had been convinced that Al Jazeera had harmed national security, a key requirement for banning a foreign outlet under the April law, and said that although the measure harmed the constitutional principle of freedom of the press, democracies were not required to suffer harm to their security during a time of war.

Yaniv said he had examined the three classified position papers submitted to him by security agencies as part of the request and that the evidence presented in them was well-founded and included incidents that occurred recently.

“The picture that emerges from the documents demonstrates categorically [and] with convincing, clear and unambiguous evidence the close, long-term connection between the Hamas terror organization and the Al Jazeera media network, with the Hamas terror organization advancing its goals through the channel,” wrote Yaniv.

“These characteristics are as distant as east from west from the accepted goals and accepted connections between media outlets and media subjects.”

The judge added that he had seen evidence that showed the channel had also engaged in incitement, although he did not provide further details.

Additionally, the judge said that Al Jazeera had “described in real time” the positioning of IDF troops in its broadcasts which he said endangered IDF soldiers.

Yaniv also pointed to a clip aired on Al Jazeera which he described as a “briefing for how to damage an Israeli tank” and whose purpose was “to harm IDF forces during wartime — the meaning of which is real harm to state security.”

He rejected Al Jazeera’s argument that the tank video was merely designed to demonstrate the tank’s capabilities, and said the same was true for similar clips broadcast by the network on the capabilities of Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system, as well as drones.

Israeli soldiers drive tanks inside Gaza Strip, February 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“The clip indicates weak points on the tank and explains how to act to damage the tank and destroy it,” he continued.

He explicitly cited the commentary from the clip, which said: “It has weak points and simple tools can cause it damage or destroy it. But can this be done? Let’s first look at how it is protected.”

Yaniv said the clip went on to describe how the anti-tank “Yassin” missile used by Hamas can penetrate “the three layers of protection” of the tank and “ensure its destruction.”

Yaniv said: “In short, the general picture leaves no room for doubt about the nature of the ongoing relationship between the Al Jazeera channel and the terrorist organization, and the fact that the content broadcast on it serves the terrorist organization Hamas and does significant harm to state security, which is currently in the midst of a grave war with the terror organization.”

He decided, however, that since Al Jazeera was not granted a hearing before the request for a ban, the period in which the network was blocked in Israel would be 35 and not 45 days.

Yaniv noted the problems the ban on Al Jazeera caused in light of the principle of freedom of the press, but in so doing pointed to a decision by the General Court of the European Union from July 2022 upholding a decision by the Council of the European Union banning the Russian state-sponsored RT France channel, due to its propaganda for the Kremlin and support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Freedom of the press and freedom of expression in the media are among the most important and central values in a democratic state,” wrote Yaniv.

But he cited a 2005 Supreme Court ruling where it was stated that “a democracy will not allow the use of the rights that it grants to bring about self-destruction.”

Walid al-Omari, head of Al Jazeera’s offices in Israel, said in response that Al Jazeera would resume operations in Israel on Monday, if Karhi has not secured an extension to the ban by that date.

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