A Leak out of Iceland

Shin Bet Vetoes Press Cards for CHALLENGE and AL-SABAR journalists

Government Press Office admits: the Shin Bet1 told us not to grant press cards to journalists of Al-Sabar and Challenge for "security reasons."

On February 16 the Government Press Office (GPO) refused to issue press cards to seven journalists working for Challenge and its sister publication, Al-Sabar, an Arabic bi-weekly. Yochi Gnesin, an official from the State Attorney's office, gave the following reasons for the government's refusal:

  • The journalists are members of the organization known as 'Ha-Nitzotz'.
  • The main applicants were convicted for membership in the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
  • 'Ha-Nitzotz' is against the peace process and the Oslo accords.
  • For reasons of state security, the GPO cannot comply with the requests.

In our last issue of Challenge (No. 42, March-April) we asked our readers to write letters to Gnesin and Moshe Fogel, head of the GPO. Elias Davidsson, a long-time subscriber of this magazine, wrote to Fogel, and received an interesting reply.

Davidsson faxed a letter to Fogel on 15 March, 1997. He wrote2:

"I have received information that you have, in a letter you wrote recently, endorsed the refusal of the Government Press Office to grant government press cards to journalists of Al-Sabar and Challenge, publications known to me. I understand that without such cards it is difficult for journalists to enter the areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

"As I am urged to bring this measure to the attention of the press and Internet users, and as I do not wish to act on wrong information, I would be extremely thankful if you would kindly inform me as soon as possible of the following:

a. Is it correct that the Israeli government sometimes refuses its citizens entry to the territories under the control of the PA?

b. Is the PA entitled to prevent entry to specific groups of Israeli citizens into areas under its jurisdiction?

c. Is it true that the possession of government press cards facilitates the free movement of journalists, as well as their access to institutions and areas, including the PA areas ?

d. Are the publications in question (Challenge, Al-Sabar) or the journalists to whom press cards were refused currently either under criminal investigation or officially charged for endangering state security? Or is the refusal to grant press cards political in nature ?

"Thanking you in advance for your kind reply,

"Sincerely yours,

Elias Davidsson."

On March 20, 1997, Fogel telephoned Davidsson at his home in Iceland. This is Davidsson's description of the conversation. "Mr. Fogel began to explain at length that Israeli government press cards are not required to practice journalism in Israel and that the rights of the journalists in question to pursue their profession were not restricted. I then urged him to address the questions in my letter in a more specific manner.

"After some time Mr. Fogel admitted that Israel's government sometimes refuses its own citizens entrance into PA areas 'because of security considerations' which Mr. Fogel did not specify. I asked whether this was because the Israeli government wished to protect the security of those to whom entrance was refused against attacks by Palestinians. He did not answer and evaded the question.

"Mr. Fogel stated with assurance, however, that the PA was entitled to prevent Israelis from entering areas under its jurisdiction, and that it does so. Mr. Fogel admitted that press cards facilitate the free movement of journalists, including into the PA areas. Mr. Fogel claimed he did not know whether the journalists in question were under criminal investigation or officially charged for endangering state security. But he referred to information from the security services, which had asked the GPO to deny these individuals the cards. He assumed the information to be reliable.

"I asked Mr. Fogel to confirm his answers to my questions in writing. He then asked me to fax him a statement describing how I learned of this matter, as well as some background information about myself. I told him that my questions did not need any further elaboration and that if he did not wish to answer me in writing, then so be it."

Readers may wonder why the security services in Israel, allegedly "the only democracy in the Middle East," have the power to determine citizens' access to information and the freedom of the press. We, therefore, urge our readers to continue putting pressure on the Government Press Office.

Mr. Moshe Fogel

Government Press Office

Beit Agron, Hillel Street 37

Jerusalem 94581


Fax: 972-2-623-3388
Ms Yochi Gnesin

Attorney General's Office

Salah-A-Din Street 29


Fax: 972-2-670-8655

1 Shin Bet is the Hebrew acronym for Israel's General Security Services.

2 The letter has been slightly modified for the sake of brevity.