The Foreign Press Association in Israel filed a petition to the High Court of Justice Wednesday challenging the behavior of security forces toward journalists during the recent unrest in Jerusalem.
The petition demanded that police cease restricting journalists’ entry to the Temple Mount compound; the site’s surroundings were recently the scene of prayer, protests and violent clashes . It argued that these constraints — carried out without any legal authority — were frequently accompanied by verbal and sometimes physical abuse against reporters. Among the cases referenced in the document was that of a Reuters cameraman who was hospitalized with a concussion after allegedly being assaulted by an officer.
In a statement that accompanied the petition, the organization that represents journalists for foreign outlets in Israel said the decision to file the suit was made “after years of empty promises, smashed equipment and injured journalists.”
“The Israeli government has stood by silently — a shameful performance for a country that boasts that it is the Middle East’s only democracy and claims to be committed to freedom of the press,” the statement continued, saying the organization was “left with no choice” but to pursue legal action.
Speaking to reporters last week, Jerusalem District Police Commander Yoram Halevi said that the constraints were to protect journalists from the violent clashes, which broke out over security measures established at the Temple Mount last month. The cameras and metal detectors were installed after a July 14 terror attack in which three Israeli Arabs shot dead two Israeli policemen with weapons they had smuggled into the compound.
Muslim worshipers had refused to enter the Temple Mount until the security installations at entrances to the site were removed, while Palestinian protesters staged near-daily protests in and around East Jerusalem and the West Bank, some of which turned violent.
The Foreign Press Association said the police’s actions during the unrest created a “a dangerous situation” where accredited journalists were blocked from doing their jobs.
“This appears to be a kind of innovative censorship that is surprising in a country that prides itself on press freedom,” the association said last week.
The clashes in and around East Jerusalem and the West Bank left five Palestinians dead. A week after the Temple Mount terror attack, a Palestinian terrorist broke into a home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and stabbed three members of a single family to death while they were having Shabbat dinner. In a Facebook post hours before his murderous spree, the terrorist cited the events surrounding the Temple Mount as a main motivator.
The crisis was contained last week when Israeli authorities removed the newly installed measures following heavy pressure from Jordan, the custodian of the Temple Mount, and the Palestinians.
The site is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, home of destroyed biblical temples, and the holiest site in Judaism. Known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), it is the third holiest site of Islam and houses the Dome of the Rock shrine and the Al-Aqsa mosque.