Israel on Wednesday appeared to back down from its threat to shut the offices of the Al Jazeera television station, saying it would not revoke the press accreditation of its Jerusalem correspondent for now.
The Government Press Office said that the reporter, Elias Karram, who had been accused of being an “active partner in Palestinian resistance,” could now keep his press card following an investigation and hearing in which he said he condemned any use of violence.
“Following his remarks, it was decided to defer the suspension of his GPO card for six months, during which his press reports will be monitored,” the GPO said in a statement.
Two weeks ago the GPO said it decided to revoke his credentials after it was alerted to a 2016 interview in which the Arab Israeli reporter said that “media work is an integral part of the resistance.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month that he wanted to expel the Qatari broadcaster from the country, accusing it of inciting violence.
Netanyahu made the comments as tensions soared over metal detectors Israel installed at entrances to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem following a terror attack outside the compound on July 14, in which three Arab Israelis shot dead two police officers using weapons smuggled into the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The enhanced security measure were later rolled back.
At the time, Al Jazeera condemned what it called “arbitrary accusations and hostile statements.” It said the network would “take all necessary legal measures in case they act on their threat,” saying its coverage was professional and objective.
On August 6, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara followed up on Netanyahu’s comments by saying he would take steps to close Al Jazeera’s offices in Israel.
He accused the broadcaster of “inciting violence which has provoked losses among the best of our sons,” referring to the Temple Mount attack.
The GPO’s move to revoke the press card for Karram had been the first concrete action against the broadcaster since Netanyahu’s remarks.
In the 2016 interview Karram had said, “As a Palestinian journalist in an occupied area or in a conflict zone, media work is an integral part of the resistance and its educational political activity,” according to a translation provided by the GPO. “The journalist fulfills his role in the opposition with the pen, voice or camera because he is part of this people and he carries out resistance in his unique way.”
In the hearing Karram clarified that in that interview, conducted by the Islamic Brotherhood Dar al-Iman television station, he was speaking about Palestinian journalists in general and not referring to himself.
“Resistance means solely through exposure to the reality that the Palestinian people live under occupation,” he told the GPO. “I do not accept, call for or incite any resistance at all.”
He said that “resistance” means to be against the occupation of the West Bank, but not against the existence of the State of Israel.
A number of Arab countries have recently shut down their local Al Jazeera offices amid an ongoing spat with Qatar but Israel, which often touts its press freedoms, has allowed the station to continue operating.
The director of the GPO, Nitzan Chen, explained the decision not to revoke Karram’s press card.
“Press freedom is one of the cornerstones on which the GPO operates. However, we cannot accept a situation where an official document issued by the State of Israel serves as a tool for those wishing to exploit it for a public struggle against the state.”
“In the coming months the GPO will closely monitor the network’s Arabic and English reports about Israel,” he said. “We will not hesitate, after consultation with legal and security sources, to take the necessary steps.”
Journalist groups and international organizations had slammed the GPO’s decision to revoke the Karram’s credentials. Amnesty International called Israel’s move a “brazen attack on media freedom” and the Union of Journalists in Israel called the revocation of Karrem’s press card “intolerable.”