ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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High Court says Israel can keep barring foreign reporters from Gaza

Citing security concerns, justices reject Foreign Press Association petition for entry into Strip without IDF escort, say army doing enough for press freedom

Illustrative: Foreign and Israeli journalists stand on a hill overlooking the Gaza Strip in the city of Sderot, southern Israel, October 19, 2023. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative: Foreign and Israeli journalists stand on a hill overlooking the Gaza Strip in the city of Sderot, southern Israel, October 19, 2023. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Israel’s military can continue barring foreign journalists from accessing the Gaza Strip, the High Court said Monday, citing ongoing security concerns after months in which only Gazans or correspondents accompanied by the army have been able to report from inside the enclave.

The Foreign Press Association, which had filed a petition seeking to force the Israel Defense Forces to open a crossing into the Strip so non-Israeli reporters could enter, slammed the ruling Tuesday, saying the “ban on independent foreign press access to Gaza… [was] unprecedented.”

The association filed the petition last month, arguing that it was “in the public interest to get a fuller picture of conditions inside Gaza after 10 weeks of extremely limited and highly controlled access.”

Israel blocked civilian access to Gaza on October 7 as the region was plunged into war by Hamas’s brutal attack on southern Israel, and since then only journalists already in the enclave, largely local freelancers, or those escorted by the military under tightly controlled conditions have managed to report from inside the enclave.

In their ruling, High Court justices Ruth Ronen, Khaled Kabub, and Daphne Barak-Erez accepted the Defense Ministry’s stance that the escorted tours provided an appropriate measure of press freedom given “extreme security concerns at this time and concrete security threats that go with approving entry permits for independent journalists.”

The verdict, authored by Ronen, claimed that operating a border crossing for foreign journalists would pose an undue onus on IDF resources in wartime. The Erez Crossing, which was previously used by journalists, was heavily damaged on October 7 and remains inoperable, according to the army.

It also cited worries that allowing foreign journalists to move around Gaza independently could endanger troops or lead to their positions being compromised.

Illustrative: All 15 High Court justices preside over a court hearing on petitions against the government’s ‘reasonableness law’ at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, September 12, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In response, the press group noted that “Palestinian journalists continue to operate in Gaza,” and that it was “vital for foreign press to access areas of Gaza where troops are not present.”

It also pointed to Israel’s decision to begin allowing humanitarian aid directly into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom Crossing.

“The FPA believes solutions can be found to overcome security concerns and allow journalists to enter Gaza,” the organization said.

It rejected the court’s argument that Egypt’s Rafah Crossing was a suitable alternative, noting that “during the war only one foreign journalist has been granted entry into Gaza through Egypt on an escorted visit.”

The court, which cited a 2009 ruling rejecting foreign journalists’ access to Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, said that its position could change in the future as security conditions shift, inviting the group to continue pushing for access.

A view into Gaza on November 21, 2023 from the Erez Border Crossing (David Horovitz / Times of Israel)

“The FPA will monitor Israel’s policies at the border and will expect independent press access as conditions develop,” said the organization, which represents some 370 journalists stationed in the region from media outlets around the world.

War broke out on October 7 as thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 240 people hostage. Israel has invaded Gaza with the goal of eliminating Hamas and freeing the captives.

In early November, the IDF began allowing journalists to enter Gaza under tight military supervision, and only after they had signed an agreement regulating their conduct in the Strip. A group of foreign journalists was allowed access to Gaza on December 8, also with IDF escort.

People check the car in which two journalists, Mustafa Thuria and Hamza Wael Dahdouh, were killed in a reported Israeli strike in Rafah in the Gaza Strip on January 7, 2024. (AFP)

Throughout the current conflict, Israel has come under scrutiny for its alleged targeting of journalists. On Sunday, an Israeli drone strike in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah killed two journalists and seriously wounded a third. The army initially said they were with a terrorist piloting a drone, but later appeared to walk back the claim.

On December 15, Al-Jazeera video journalist Samer abu Daqqa, a member of the press association, was killed in an Israeli bombing of Khan Younis, also in the Strip’s south. In a statement, the press group called the killing “a grave blow to the already limited freedom of the press in Gaza.”

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