+972 Magazine » Haggai Matar http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Sat, 28 May 2016 13:37:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Israeli tribunal upholds ban on British human rights activist http://972mag.com/israeli-tribunal-upholds-ban-on-british-human-rights-activist/119615/ http://972mag.com/israeli-tribunal-upholds-ban-on-british-human-rights-activist/119615/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 15:42:00 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=119615 Human rights activist Gary Spedding was refused entry to the country in 2014 over suspicions that he would ‘incite a riot.’ Jerusalem tribunal shortens ban from 10 to 5 years.

British peace activist Gary Spedding holds up his passport, with a refusal stamp from the Israeli border authorities. (photo: Aaron Dover)

British peace activist Gary Spedding holds up his passport, with a refusal stamp from the Israeli border authorities. (photo: Aaron Dover)

An Israeli tribunal rejected last week an appeal filed by a British human rights activist who was banned from entering the country for 10 years. The tribunal based its decision on secret evidence handed over by the Interior Ministry.


Gary Spedding, a 26-year-old human rights and pacifist based in Northern Ireland, was refused entry and banned from Israel in January 2014 due to his social media activity. Spedding, who is active in reconciliation efforts in Northern Ireland as well as Israel/Palestine, had planned on visiting Israel for a round of meetings, including with several members of Knesset.

Despite previous visits to the country without any problems, Spedding was denied entrance at Ben Gurion Airport, where he was told that his activity on social media raises suspicions that he may incite riots in Israel and the occupied territories. He was held at the airport, where he was informed that the Interior Ministry refused his entry and banned him for 10 years. He was promptly sent back to the U.K.

Refusing entry and deportation of political activists who are critical of Israel’s occupation has become a common occurrence in the past few years. However, unlike most activists, Spedding decided to appeal the Interior Ministry’s decision. Attorney Gaby Lasky appealed the Interior Ministry’s decision to the Entry to Israel Law Review Tribunal, where she argued that the decision to refuse him entry stemmed from his political opinions, and that the ban harms not only Spedding, but the Knesset members and Israeli citizens who are interested in meeting with him.

Although the appeal was filed in October 2014, the tribunal only came to a decision last Wednesday. Judge Sarah Ben Shaul Weiss’ decision is laconic and does not truly get to the heart of the matter or respond to the arguments made in the appeal. “According to the law, the interior minister has broad-ranging powers derived from the Entry to Israel Law,” Weiss writes. “The appellant has no right… to enter Israel, even if he previously entered the country and was not accused of disturbing the peace during his previous entries.”

Weiss did recognize that some of the reasons stated for refusing Spedding entry are invalid, cutting his ban down to five years, and ordering Spedding to pay NIS 1,500 in legal expenses.

“The judge writes that she rejects the request, while at the same time shortening the ban — that is, she is able to intervene and thinks that he should be able to enter the country,” Lasky told +972. Spedding is planning on appealing the tribunal’s decision.

“One can see the tribunal’s bias by the very fact that it is making the appellant pay legal expenses in a situation where the appeal was partially accepted. In these cases there is no room for legal expenses — this is a bad legal mistake.”

“The ruling is disappointing but not unexpected,” Spedding told +972. “I had hoped for a positive decision, which would have allowed me to return to Israel and Palestine this summer, but it seems this was not to be. This is happening to many international activists as they try to enter Israel and Palestine. Since my deportation in January 2014 I’ve read of at least 20 other cases where international activists have been treated in similar ways. I’ve seen far more instances where Palestinians have suffered far worse treatment at the entry points. Such discrimination and degrading treatment must end.”

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Famed feminist British historian refuses prestigious Israeli award http://972mag.com/famed-feminist-british-historian-refuses-prestigious-israeli-award/119480/ http://972mag.com/famed-feminist-british-historian-refuses-prestigious-israeli-award/119480/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 08:34:43 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=119480 Catherine Hall withdraws from $330,000 prize due to Tel Aviv University’s complicity in the occupation.

Famed British feminist historian Catherine Hall announced she will withdraw her acceptance of a prestigious award presented by Tel Aviv University for political reasons. Hall was awarded $330,000 by the Dan David Foundation, and was supposed to accept the award at a university ceremony held Sunday. The BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement called on her and other recipients to refuse the prize due to Tel Aviv University’s complicity in the occupation.


Three months ago it was announced that Hall would be awarded the prize for her groundbreaking research on the history of gender, race, and slavery. Hall is a well-known feminist political activist. According to a statement published Friday by the British Committee for Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), which supports BDS, Hall withdrew from the prize “after many discussions with those who are deeply involved with the politics of Israel-Palestine.”

BRICUP’s statement included the BDS movement’s reasons for targeting Israeli academic institutions, which include dozens of joint projects between universities and the Israeli army, cooperation by Israeli academics in developing military strategy and planning the separation wall, etc.

The Dan David Prize, a joint initiative by the Dan David Foundation and Tel Aviv University, will be given to two other social historians, three leading economists on poverty and inequality, and three nano-technology researchers. The prize is considered one of the most prestigious in Israel, and is often presented by Israel’s president.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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For first time in years, Israeli academics pay solidarity visit to Palestinian university http://972mag.com/for-first-time-in-years-israeli-academics-pay-solidarity-visit-to-palestinian-university/119273/ http://972mag.com/for-first-time-in-years-israeli-academics-pay-solidarity-visit-to-palestinian-university/119273/#comments Fri, 13 May 2016 11:09:21 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=119273 An Israeli delegation of academics visits Kadoorie University in the West Bank city of Tulkarm to show support following a string of IDF raids on the campus.

Delegation of Israeli academics visiting Kadoorie University (photo: Haggai Matar

Delegation of Israeli academics visiting Kadoorie University (photo: Haggai Matar)

For the first time in many years, a delegation of Israeli academics made an official visit to a Palestinian university. The first, small delegation arrived a month ago, and the second, last Saturday. The visits – meant to express support for Palestine Technical University — Kadoorie following a string of incidents by the IDF that are damaging its academic freedom – come after years in which no Palestinian university agreed to meet with any Israeli academics, out of concerns it would hurt BDS efforts and due to anti-normalization with Israel and the occupation. Kadoorie University appears to be the first in the Palestinian academic world to determine that meeting with Israelis who actively oppose the occupation does not violate the boycott or anti-normalization efforts.

The Israeli delegations were initiated and led by (full disclosure) my mother, Anat Matar, along with Hilla Dayan, both within the framework of “Academia for Equality.” Beyond solidarity, the point of the meetings is to start organizing an international conference for academic freedom, which will be held at the university in Tulkarm at the end of the year.

The connection with Kadoorie University was formed as a result of Amira Hass’ article last December in Haaretz, when she reported on the military’s harassment on the university and its students. It began in 2002, with the partial expropriation of the institute’s agricultural land – established as an agricultural school by an Iraqi Jew, Ellis Kadoorie, in the 1930s – that the army turned into a shooting range for soldiers. Bullets from the range sometimes hit the library building, which is nearby.

Since the latest wave of violence that began in October, Hass reported, youth would come to throw stones toward the soldiers in the shooting range and at a nearby checkpoint, and the soldiers would shoot tear gas, putrid skunk water, rubber bullets and even live bullets into the heart of the campus, sometimes even raiding it. According to data collected by the university, which was presented at the meeting on Saturday, over the course of 85 days the campus was attacked 130 times, 138 employees and students were injured by army gunfire, hundreds suffered from tear gas inhalation, several of the greenhouses were ruined, the library building was out of use due to the stench of the skunk water, and the university had to shut down 12 times. When the university administration tried to build a wall to prevent youths from throwing stones at the soldiers, the army confiscated their bulldozer and shut down the construction.

The university is now saying that since Hass’ article was published the soldiers have stopped training at the range, and with it the stone throwing and the campus raids. However, only a month and a half ago, soldiers came at night and raided the student union offices and confiscated its posters and flags, said Dr. Dirar Eleyan, the university’s vice president. “The ability to stop the confrontations is in the hands of the army at all times. All they had to do was leave the range and no one would have thrown stones,” he said on Tuesday.

MK Dr. Jabareen standing near the plaque in honor of unviersity founder Ellis Kadoorie (Photo: Haggai Matar)

MK Yousef Jabareen standing near the plaque in honor of university founder Ellis Kadoorie (Photo: Haggai Matar)

Dozens of academics in Israel and around the world turned in recent months to the army and joined the university administration’s call for academic freedom by dismantling the range, allowing the university to build a wall, and ending the raids into the university grounds. While in the past the army told Hass they would continue using the range and that the wall was built without permit, in a first such comment made to +972, they said the range would be dismantled and that the army won’t oppose the building of the wall, if it is built in Area A (the border between Area A and C goes through the university grounds).

No academic freedom under occupation

Back to the Saturday visit. Around 20 Israeli academics from various university, among them MK Dr. Yousef Jabarin (Hadash, Joint List) arrived on the campus and met with university staff members on the weekend afternoon. The meeting started with a series of lectures in the university administration conference room, afterwards a tour of the campus, of the greenhouses and the shooting range (abandoned since December), a view of the Nitzanei Shalom settlement industrial zone and the separation wall (which is so close to the campus that you can hear the cars driving on Israel’s main north-south highway, Highway 6, from the other side) and eventually everyone got together again for lunch and to formulate plans for the international conference.

Elian represented the university and said that 6,000 students currently study there (of them 30 Palestinians with Israeli citizenship from Tira and Taibeh) and that some of their graduates serve today, among other places, in various government positions in Jordan and Iran. The first goal of their campaign for academic freedom is to ensure the welfare of their students and their ability to continue studies regularly.

Huda Barkat, a lecturer in economics at the university, said she herself was hit by a stray bullet during one of the army’s campus raid, and asked to pass on a message to Israeli society that the staff insists on the right of the Palestinian people to freedom. “All the campuses are suffering from occupation, not just Kadoorie,” said Dr. Tahani Abu-Daqqa, a member of the PLO committee for coordination and cooperation with Israeli society. A few of their members also came to the meeting. “We suffer from violence against the students and the staff all over. Only the establishment of a [Palestinian] state is a real solution. If we manage to lead to a change here, it will be a positive message for the students that there is an Israeli partner.”

Indeed, army raids into academic institutions in the occupied territories, the confiscation of flags and equipment, violations of freedom of movement of academics and their arrests are not rare in the West Bank. Only recently, Israel arrested a Palestinian astro-physics professor who in the past worked with NASA without charge or trial — a practice called administration detention.

“There is no academic freedom under occupation,” said MK Jabareen, who was a lecturer of law at Haifa University up until a year ago when he was elected to the Knesset. “But you can work to help Kadoorie University as part of the fight against occupation, and it is important for these things to take place. Palestinian academic freedom is not high up on the agenda of Israeli academia, and this needs to chance.”

Don’t put the Israelis in one basket

Some of the speakers stressed the unique character of the meeting, which, as mentioned, hasn’t taken place in many years. Since the Second Intifada, and even more so since the boycott movement began in 2005, Palestinian universities have objected to any cooperation with Israeli academics, no matter who or where, claiming it “normalizes” the occupation.

The thought behind this approach is that holding “coexistence” meetings between the sides while Israeli academic institutions in Israel play an active role in maintaining the occupation only perpetuates the occupation and the power dynamics it depends on. This approach is increasingly widespread in Palestinian society (and Arab in general), primarily among political activists. One notable exception is the popular struggle against the separation barrier, settlements and occupation, whose activists have for years developed an approach that believes partnership with Israelis that don’t only talk but actively and clearly oppose occupation alongside Palestinians – is not normalization.

Palestinian students on campus at Kadoorie University (photo: Haggai Matar)

Palestinian students on campus at Kadoorie University (photo: Haggai Matar)

It appears this is the approach adopted by Kadoorie University. “The question of normalization is first and foremost a question of who we are meeting,” Dr. Eleyan said. “Do these academics support the security establishment and the occupation or oppose it? Do they support human rights, equality and Palestinian independence? We don’t cooperate with Israeli institutions, but if there are individual academics who share our values and oppose the occupation – it’s important we support them.”

“We need to work hard on our side to make sure we don’t relate to all Israelis the same,” he added. “We don’t do justice when we put everyone into one basket. We support BDS and oppose normalization, but it’s not normalization if we empower people who oppose the military regime.”

At the end of the meeting, the participants agreed to establish a joint committee that would operate to continue to organize international support and plan a large conference for academic freedom at the university at the end of the year.


The IDF spokesperson responded with the following statement: “Until a few months ago there were disturbances from the university on a daily basis, of hundreds of Palestinians toward the Tulkarm checkpoint. During these disturbances, IDF forces used crowd control methods, but not inside the university. The shooting range area is a military zone that complies with all security protocols, and the shooting that takes places there is not aimed at the university. In the coming months, it will stop being used once construction of a new range is completed. Regarding the claims of preventing the building of a wall on university grounds, the IDF has no such objection of a wall being built in Area A.”

A large amount of video footage taken at the university between October and December and presented at the meeting contradicts the IDF’s claims. The video shows IDF jeeps and soldiers moving around the campus, between the greenhouses and near the administration buildings and library, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets. The last video is from March, in which you can see the military raid the offices of the student union.

This article was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here

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Gag orders in Israel have tripled over last 15 years http://972mag.com/gag-orders-in-israel-have-tripled-over-last-15-years/119196/ http://972mag.com/gag-orders-in-israel-have-tripled-over-last-15-years/119196/#comments Mon, 09 May 2016 13:35:25 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=119196 As the Military Censor has become more liberal, authorities have turned to gag orders as a convenient alternative for controling the dissemination of information.

Illustrative photo of a judge (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com

Over the past 15 years, the number of gag orders issued in Israel has more than tripled. But that is only a rough estimate because no state body actually monitors them.


Noa Landau, the former news editor of Haaretz newspaper and currently a fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, has submitted a freedom of information request to the courts’ directorate and the answer she received consisted only of the number of requests for gag orders that have been submitted over the last five years. It did not specify how many of them have been upheld, fully or partially, what kind of information was gagged (the defendant’s name, the charges, the mere fact that an investigation was ongoing?), who submitted the requests, etc.

A similar freedom of information request was submitted to the Justice Ministry, which said in response that it is unable to provide relevant information. Israel Police and the Israel Defense Forces have yet to respond. Even if they do, the data will be incomplete, because private individuals are also entitled to request gag orders, as well as the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency, which is not bound by the Freedom of Information Act. What’s more, the army has its own judicial system which is also authorized to issue gag orders (as it has done in the recent case of the Hebron shooter, Sgt. Elor Azaria).

Upward and onward

According to the figures revealed by Landau, 231 requests were submitted in 2015, as opposed to 186 in 2011 (more than a 20-percent increase). The proportion of the requests that have actually been upheld remains unknown, but the legal experts and journalists that she sampled were hard pressed to think of an instance where a request for a gag order has been rejected. Also, the number of gag orders that newspapers received roughly corresponds to the number of requests.

In 2004, the Seventh Eye media watchdog reported that in 2000-2001, the annual rate of gag orders stood at around 60, and climbed to 110 in 2003. These are based on data collected from the newspapers themselves, where the orders aren’t archived systematically. Be that as it may, in the space of a decade and a half, the number of requests almost quadrupled.

The reason for this spike is the tendency of the defense establishment to opt for gag orders as an effective tool to bypass the more lenient military censorship.

Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com

Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com

The direct effect is the stifling of an open debate on policy, which is increasingly unlikely to be reconsidered and altered. Every terror attack or deadly clash with Palestinians (including what seems to be a cold-blooded murder in Qalandiya) is immediately gagged, as was the now-notorious arrest of left-wing activist Ezra Nawi. And we are still reeling from the manipulative use of gag orders in the wake of the kidnapping of three teenage settlers in June 2014, which was used to justify a military operation against Palestinian masquerading as an attempt to locate them and save their lives.

Information courts

Dr. Tehila Schwarz-Altschuler of the Israel Democracy Institute, who together with Dr. Guy Lurie is about to publish a report on classified intelligence in the digital age, concurs with the criticism.

“Gag orders have become a more attractive option as the jurisdiction of the military censorship was eroded by the High Court of Justice,” she says.

“On the surface, it’s better that the courts decide on these matters and not the censor, but the system finds ways to bypass that. For example, sometimes an investigation is launched for no reason other than telling the court that there’s an open investigation that can be protected only by a gag order.”

The authors of the report recommend a complete overhaul of the policing of information in Israel. Currently, it is regulated in three ways: The Military Censor, gag orders and espionage laws (that sometimes apply to journalists as well). They say that in the event that the Military Censor is abolished, courts should be allowed to issue gag orders based on security grounds, as long as a separate information court is established, where the hearings will be held.

They also recommend limiting gag orders to 24 hours – with an extension possible only in the presence of a representative of the Press Council.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Palestinian journalist to spend four more months in Israeli detention http://972mag.com/palestinian-journalist-to-spend-four-more-months-in-israeli-detention/118991/ http://972mag.com/palestinian-journalist-to-spend-four-more-months-in-israeli-detention/118991/#comments Mon, 02 May 2016 18:51:07 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118991 High-profile Palestinian journalist Omar Nazzal has been arrested on terror charges that Israel considers classified and therefore neither he nor his lawyer can see. The army issued an order to keep him in jail for another four months – without trial. 

Demonstration in support of administrative detainees, Jaffa, Israel. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills)

Demonstration in support of administrative detainees, Jaffa, Israel. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills)

The Israel Defense Forces issued on Monday a four-month order for the administrative detention of Omar Nazzal, a Palestinian journalist who was arrested last week at Allenby Crossing on his way to a meeting of the European Federation of Journalists in Sarajevo.

Initially the Shin Bet claimed that Nazzal, a freelance journalist and a member of the Palestinian Journalists’ Guild, was an active member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which Israel defines as a terror group. But Nazzal’s attorney has denied that his client is involved with the PFLP. The military prosecutor acknowledged on Wednesday, at a hearing held at Ofer Military Prison, that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against Nazzal. Nevertheless, he claimed that there was enough classified material against him to justify administrative detention. The military court accepted this claim.

As a consequence of the administrative detention order issued against him today, Nazzal will be imprisoned with neither the right to know what he is accused of, nor the right to defend himself against charges. Administrative detention orders can be extended for up to six months at a time, with no limit on the number of renewals.

Nazzal’s attorney, Mahmoud Hassan, tried last week to convince the military court that his client was just a journalist, and that the state could not possibly regard him as an authentic security risk given that the army chose not to arrest him at home, but rather to wait until he arrived of his own free will at the Allenby border crossing in order to travel abroad.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in response that “Nazzal was arrested for his involvement with the Popular Front that, based on top-secret intelligence submitted to the court, poses a clear and present danger to Israel’s national security. His administrative detention was declared lawfully and as a last resort after every other option to neutralize the danger had been ruled out.”


The detention of Omar Nazzal has elicited condemnations from journalists’ organizations around the world, while demonstrations in his support were held last week in various locations throughout the West Bank and Gaza.


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Lebanese mega-band wins battle against Jordanian conservatives http://972mag.com/lebanese-mega-band-wins-battle-against-jordanian-conservatives/118981/ http://972mag.com/lebanese-mega-band-wins-battle-against-jordanian-conservatives/118981/#comments Mon, 02 May 2016 12:28:36 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118981 Jordan scraps a ban on Mashrou’ Leila, a progressive and incredibly popular Lebanese band, following an international uproar


Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila in concert (source: Youtube)

Mashrou’ Leila, the immensely popular Lebanese will be allowed to perform in Jordan, the government announced after the cancellation of a concert scheduled for Friday sparked an enormous backlash.

Jordan is one of the few places where the band’s many Israeli and Palestinian fans are allowed to travel to see their concerts. But last Tuesday, they were told that the concert in Amman’s Roman Theater was cancelled because it violated the “authenticity” of the place.


It later emerged that Amman District Governor Khaled Abu Ziad, who issued the ban, succumbed to pressure from Christian and Muslim groups. The latter campaigned for banning the band, whose songs tackle homosexuality (the lead singer is openly gay), promote freedom of religion and criticize Middle Eastern politics.

Mashrou’ Leila was indirectly told that they would be permanently banned from the kingdom, even though they had given numerous concerts there.

On Thursday, following public expressions of solidarity by Jordanian, Arab and Western artists, Abu Ziad said that “the concert could go ahead,” but it was too short a notice.

The band posted a thank you note to their supporters, in which they said: “We take pride in playing music for an audience like ours… We take immense pride in being part of a conversation that has played a part in harnessing popular attention to the subject of artistic and intellectual censorship, and freedom in the arts.”

They added that they hoped that the government statement “will be the first step towards securing the possibility of us playing in Jordan again in the near future, perhaps under more just conditions, even though we have no reason to know for sure at this point that this will be possible, as the approval is for tomorrow’s impossible concert.”

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Charged with conspiracy — for renting a rope to climb over the wall http://972mag.com/charged-with-conspiracy-for-renting-a-rope-to-climb-over-the-wall/118868/ http://972mag.com/charged-with-conspiracy-for-renting-a-rope-to-climb-over-the-wall/118868/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 10:56:13 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118868 Despite admitting that the young man was only looking for work, police decide to charge him with conspiracy to commit a crime — renting a rope and ladder.

A Palestinian man descends into the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina after climbing over the wall from the West Bank village of a-Ram, July 3, 2015. (File photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian man descends into the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina after climbing over the wall from the West Bank village of a-Ram, July 3, 2015. (File photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli police prosecutors indicted a 26-year-old Palestinian man in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Wednesday morning for climbing over the separation wall in order to find work.

According to the indictment, last Friday Muntaner Ben-Mahmoud Barakat went to the West Bank village of a-Ram, which is separated from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina by the concrete separation wall. He paid somebody NIS 50 ($13) to use a ladder and rope to climb over the wall (which the indictment calls a “fence” for some reason), climbed over the wall, and made his way toward Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem to find work. Police arrested him before he got too far.


The two charges on the indictment are “illegally entering Israel” and “conspiracy to commit a crime,” which carries a penalty of up to two years in prison. The conspiracy? Renting a rope to climb a wall to find work.

It is worth noting that the indictment was filed by a prosecution unit belonging to the police and not the State Attorney’s Office. In the past, police have been known to file overly ambitious and severe indictments in cases where the state prosecution would not, and have even been ordered by the attorney general to drop certain prosecutions, most notably in the case of Daphni Leef and other social justice protesters.

Professional and government committees have been recommending for decades that the police stop acting as a prosecutorial body. However, despite a government decision 15 years ago to absorb the police prosecution unit into the State Attorney’s Office, police continue to file the vast majority (87 percent) of indictments in Israel.

“The fact that the police prosecution is subordinate to the police makes it difficult for the prosecution to fulfill the very purpose for which it exists: to represent the public interest objectively or quasi-judicially,” the Israel Democracy Institute wrote in a 2014 position paper. “[B]ecause the police prosecution is subordinate to the Israel Police, which is a hierarchical security body, the prosecution has an overly zealous tendency to achieve convictions and, thus, to ignore the mistakes and possible biases of the investigating body, namely the police.”

Palestinians use a ladder to climb over the Israeli separation wall in A-Ram, north of Jerusalem, on their way to Al-Aqsa mosque in the Old city of Jerusalem to attend the second Friday prayer in the fasting month of Ramadan, 19 July 2013. (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinians use a ladder to climb over the Israeli separation wall in A-Ram, north of Jerusalem, 19 July 2013. (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Beyond the overly ambitious charge sheet against Barakat, who even the state admits was just looking for work, it seems that the price of rope has skyrocketed in East Jerusalem.

Less than a year ago photographer and journalist Oren Ziv reported on Palestinian youths who climb over the wall in East Jerusalem for our Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. In July of 2015, he found, it only cost NIS 20 ($5) to rent the requisite equipment.

Tens of thousands of Palestinian laborers illegally cross into Israel searching for work every day through holes in the fence, by climbing the wall, or simply crossing in areas where Israel has built no barrier separating its sovereign territory from the West Bank, which it rules under a military occupation.

Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man contributed to this report. A version of this article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Israel arrests Palestinian journalist en route to int’l conference http://972mag.com/israel-arrests-palestinian-journalist-en-route-to-international-conference/118842/ http://972mag.com/israel-arrests-palestinian-journalist-en-route-to-international-conference/118842/#comments Mon, 25 Apr 2016 18:15:45 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118842 Omar Nazzal, a well-known journalist in Ramallah, has been in custody since Saturday on terror charges, based on secret evidence. His lawyer says that his alleged contact with militants was an integral part of his job.

A Palestinian human rights activist is led to the Jerusalem District Court in handcuffs following his arrest Tuesday morning, January 20, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Illustrative photo of Israeli authorities arresting a Palestinian. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israel arrested a Palestinian journalist on Saturday while he was trying to leave the West Bank en route to Sarajevo for a meeting of the European Federation of Journalists.

Omar Nazzal, a Ramallah-based independent journalist and a member of the board of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, was arrested before crossing Allenby Bridge into Jordan and has since been detained on “security charges,” Israel claimed.


He has yet to be questioned and be told what charges he is facing, even though his remand was extended on Monday.

Contacted by Local Call, Shin Bet Security Services said the suspect is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which Israel sees as a terrorist organization

Nazzal is a former employee of the pro-Islamic Jihad radio station Falastin al-Youm (Palestine Today), whose offices were shut down by Israel last month. It should be noted that he left the job long before Israel started to crack down on the station.

For some time he has been banned from going abroad, a restriction he has been attempting to lift for more than a year.

“We have been in contact with the State Prosecution and the legal department of the IDF’s Judea and Samaria division, but they just deferred us from one functionary to the other and never gave a reason for the ban or said when it would expire,” Mahmoud Hassan, Nazzal’s lawyer, said. “When he tried to leave, he had no idea whether the ban was still in place, and in any event didn’t believe he was going to be arrested.”

His remand was extended Monday based on secret evidence presented to the military court by police. A spokesperson for Israel Police declined to comment on the charges, saying that “it is a very sensitive case.”

Speaking for the defense, Hassan told the court that the fact that he wasn’t arrested in his home but only when he arrived at the border crossing means that he doesn’t pose a clear and present danger and should be released.


He added, despite being oblivious to the charges, that Nazzal’s journalistic vocation requires him to meet with different people, some of who are militants, “for the sole purpose of doing his job.”

The judge said that the detention of a journalist “requires a much greater deal of discretion, lest we infringe on the freedom of expression,” yet he was convinced by the secret evidence presented to him that the presumed offenses “exceeded the realm of journalism” and, on account of suspected perjury, he decided to extend the defendant’s remand.

“Israeli journalists enter refugee camps all the time and meet with Islamic Jihad militants,” Hassan told Local Call. “It’s only because he’s Palestinian that he’s being indicted. He’s a serious and reputed journalist, who I presume was arrested for doing his job, but I have no way to know.”

Shin Bet emphasized that he was arrested for his involvement in terrorist activity.

“Nazzal has recently been appointed as director of Falastin al-Youm, which was declared illegal in February 2016,” a spokesperson said. “He has been associated with the Popular Front for years, including very recently.” However, they failed to address the fact that it’s unlikely that an individual would be involved both with Islamic Jihad, a religious fundamentalist organization, and the Popular Front, a left-leaning secular group.

Journalist associations from around the world as well as the Palestinian Authority published urgent calls for his release. In addition, a solidarity demonstration was held in Ramallah on Sunday.

“It was shocking to hear that a participant to a congress for journalists from all over Europe has been arrested by the Israeli authorities on his way to attend and banged without any reason being given,” said Jim Boumelha, the president of the International Federation of Journalists. “The 100 delegates representing over 320,000 journalists in 51 unions from all over Europe will be demanding that their colleague is released forthwith.”

Also condemning the arrest, the Palestinian Ministry of Communication said that there are 19 Palestinian journalists currently in Israeli custody, including the administrative detainee Mohammed al-Qiq, who is slated for release after he agreed to suspend a 90-day hunger strike.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Israel’s state archivist opens up about censorship, digitization http://972mag.com/israels-state-archivist-opens-up-about-censorship-digitization/118567/ http://972mag.com/israels-state-archivist-opens-up-about-censorship-digitization/118567/#comments Wed, 13 Apr 2016 20:42:32 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118567 Israel’s state archivist confirms that nearly half a million pages have been sent to the IDF Censor, which has redacted historical documents that already saw the light of day, and talks about why he didn’t foresee the storm that erupted over his decision to end access to paper documents.

The doors to the Israel State Archives (Courtesy of Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research)

The doors to the Israel State Archives (Courtesy of Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research)

Israel’s state archivist did not foresee the storm that erupted this week over his decision to end public access to the Israel State Archives’ physical documents as part of a otherwise welcomed digitization process.

Historians, academics and civil liberties groups are worried by the lack of public debate surrounding the changes, in addition to the IDF Censor’s role in the digitization and online publication historical documents.


In an article published here on Tuesday, two groups of historians and academics argued that in other countries national archives undergoing digitization are maintaining access to physical paper documents, and that for various reasons, losing access to the paper originals harms the ability to conduct historical research.

Several hours after the publication of the original article, I managed to finally speak with State Archivist Yaacov Lozowick about the changes he is making and the unexpected response it stirred up. (The State Archives had not responded to our request for comment prior to the publication of the original article.) In the interview Wednesday, it also became clear that the IDF Censor’s role in the State Archives is far more comprehensive than was previously stated or understood.

“I’m astounded by people, some of whom make a living from media outlets that are only digital, or who work in the digital world, who are attacking us for moving from paper to digital,” Lozowick said at the start of the telephone interview. “We have limited resources, and we cannot do it all. We needed to decide: either paper or online, and we decided to focus on online.”

“I hear and I read people explaining why moving to digital documentation severely — or even fatally — harms historical research. I never imagined that serious and educated people would make such arguments in 2016. It seemed like such a clear choice. Furthermore, we presented the process in various forums. There are cabinet decisions from 2012 and 2014, there were discussions on the Archives’ blog, and there were other articles on the matter.”

But the cabinet decisions and the other articles only dealt with the digitization process, not the accompanying decision to cut off access to the paper archives. There’s no argument that digitization is a good thing, only about the fact that there will be no more access to the original paper documents.

“Perhaps. I didn’t make that distinction myself, and there was no prior decision about it. A few weeks before we launched the new website the logistical team told me that we need to choose one or the other, so I chose digital and not paper. By the way, that was the second time I’ve made that decision. In 2000, when I was the director of archives at Yad Vashem, we made the same decision and we moved all viewing over to microfilm and photographs. In exceptional cases when people were able to explain why they needed to see the originals, we allowed them to view [the originals]. We will do the same now.”

“So I admit, I didn’t conduct a broad public process because it didn’t occur to me that it would bother anybody at all. If you look at a scanned document on the website you’ll see that everything is preserved: the front and back sides, hand-written annotations, notes, everything. And you can work with that, engineer it, add annotations, perform OCR (optical character recognition). If I had those tools when I was doing my doctorate I would have finished it in two years.”

Illustrative photo of archived documents. (Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo of archived documents. (Shutterstock.com)

I move the conversation to the State Archives’ relationship with the IDF Censor. By law in Israel, any article or publication in Israel that touches on a number of designated topics must be approved by the military censorship apparatus. The IDF Censor has been expanding the types of publications over which it demands compliance in recent months.

Lozowick says that around 5 percent — but no more than 10 percent — of the digitized materials in the archives have been sent to the IDF Censor for approval. To put that in proportion, according to the State Archives over 9 million pages of documents have been scanned thus far, which means that it has sent almost half a million pages to the IDF Censor. Israel’s censorship regulations, by the way, largely forbid revealing what documents — or even which specific words — have been stricken by the censor.

The problem with all of this, according to the historians, academics and civil liberties groups who oppose the current process, is that it is turning the IDF Censor into an additional, filtering layer that stands between state documents and the public. In the past when the State Archives staff (who are obligated to take state security into consideration when making decisions about whether to unseal specific documents) decide to unseal a document, it would become available in the viewing room and would not be scanned, or it would be scanned but the censor would bar its publication online. Either way, it would still be available to researchers in the Archives’ viewing room, so argue those who oppose the new process.

“There’s not actually anything new here,” Lozowick retorts. “For a few years, since before my time here, the IDF Censor has demanded that all of the [various government] archives send them any materials that deal with matters of security, in accordance with the law. It’s been happening for years and it never bothered anybody. Where did the problem come from? We sent a tsunami of materials to the censor for review, and those will be dealt with. And in the meantime there’s a possibility that some materials slipped through the cracks and made it to the viewing room, materials that we approved, which should have gone to the censor. But once we deal with this one-off situation we’ll go back to a situation where nobody notices it (the censorship process, h.m.).”

“By the way, the gap between what we unseal [under the authority of the archive law] and what the censor objects to is very narrow. It’s a single-digit percentage or even less. Our team and the Censor’s staff are familiar with the same materials, and their decisions are usually the same decisions. And yet in practice, if we see that the censor has objected to something that we had already placed in the viewing room and which people are already reading, and then when we upload it to the Internet the Censor tells us that a certain paragraph needs to be redacted — we redact the material in the physical viewing room as well.”

(Read more here about documents that mysteriously disappeared from the State Archives after already being published and written about.)

You’re saying that you gave the Censor a foothold in the Archives’ viewing room even though the law doesn’t authorize them to prevent the unsealing of documents there?

“Yes. They told us that it’s inconceivable for there to be different authorities, with different laws, where one authority unseals something and the other doesn’t. That gap was discovered a few years ago and it was closed a while ago — for better or for worse. If we had insisted that we are separate from the Censor and that they cannot interfere in [what we unseal] because the law doesn’t allow them to, it’s reasonable to assume that they would change the law and then we would be subordinate [to the Censor] in the [Archives’] viewing room.”

“If there is a good reason why something should be redacted and we hadn’t noticed it, then we’ll fix it and re-seal it and redact it. There is also the opposite situation where we argue with them and they accept our position and the materials remain unsealed.”

“Six months or a year from now, when we clear this backlog that has been created, we will give the Censor everything as partners in our process. We are trying to include them in our process.”

You mean, the censor will work from inside the archives?

“Yes, they’ll just be here. Digitally there are various ways of doing it. We are working hard with them to find a way. Instead of us looking at [a document] and then they look at it and then we either make the requested changes or argue about it — so we can do it all more efficiently.”

A version of this article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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The end of history at Israel’s state archives? http://972mag.com/the-end-of-history-at-israels-state-archives/118541/ http://972mag.com/the-end-of-history-at-israels-state-archives/118541/#comments Tue, 12 Apr 2016 14:10:50 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118541 As part of a welcome digitization process, the Israel State Archives will soon revoke access to original paper documents, and the documents it puts online will be subject to military censorship. But academics and civil liberties groups are fighting back.

Illustrative photo of the digitization of archives. (Lilyana Vynogradova / Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo of the digitization of archives. (Lilyana Vynogradova / Shutterstock.com)

(Correction appended below)

Israel’s State Archives (ISA) will no longer give researchers and the public access to its historical materials and documents once it starts putting digitized documents online. Furthermore, and documents it does release will be subject to review by the country’s military censorship apparatus.

Currently, the military censor does not review every document given to researchers.


The changes at the State Archives will lead to a serious reduction in the availability and exposure of historical documents, the burying of documents that have already seen the light of day, and conducting historical research in Israel will become far more difficult than it is today, academics and legal experts are warning.

The new restrictions, which are scheduled to be implemented in the coming days, were formulated behind closed doors and are being presented as a benign digitization project.

The changes were revealed for the first time at the end of February, when letters began appearing in the State Archives’ viewing room in Jerusalem, announcing “ending the use of paper files.” The letters, signed by State Archivist Yaacov Lozowick, said that the State Archives plans to launch its new website in April and that it will include more than 10 million scanned pages (a mere 2.5 percent of the 400 million documents in the archive).

Lozowick wrote that the public will be able to request specific documents be scanned within two weeks (it currently takes two days to request a paper document). The letter also notes that “as part of the preparations we will have to cease providing original paper documents.” (The original Hebrew document can be read here.)

Quite ironically, the notice about revoking access to paper archive documents appeared only as a printed letter and not on the State Archives’ new website, which has since been launched.

The doors to the Israel State Archives (Courtesy of Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research)

The doors to the Israel State Archives (Courtesy of Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research)

When the changes were announced, a group of researchers asked for and held a meeting with Lozowick. “We’ve known about the multi-year digitization plan for a long time, but this was the first time they said that the provision of paper documents would cease, not to mention the matter of the censorship,” said Noam Hofstadter, a researcher at the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research.

The law that regulates Israel’s State Archives obligates the state to publish documents from various government ministries and branches 15 years after they first enter the archives. After 15 years (or longer under certain circumstances) a special ministerial committee can decide to keep specific documents classified based on national security, foreign relations, privacy or maintaining trade secrets. In reality, however, the committee has not met in eight years and it is the state archivist himself who decides whether or not to publish historical documents. We have already seen cases recently in which the State Archives has decided to re-classify documents that were already published.

“What the state archivist told us is that because the Internet is going to become the only channel for viewing documents, releasing documents will be considered publishing them according to the censorship regulations, which means that there will be another body filtering the release of documents,” Hofstadter added. “The state archivist confirmed to us that even documents which have already seen the light of day will go back to being classified.”

“We expect that those people in the State Archives who decide what to publish or not to publish will treat the documents differently now that they know they will be online, indexed by Google, and not just accessible to those researchers who physically come to the archives,” he added.

The Akevot researcher also said the state archivist admitted that scanned documents relating to state security have been scanned and published online without the approval of the military censor, and that in hindsight, the State Archives believes that it broke the law in doing so.

Who needs paper, anyway?

Illustrative photo of archived documents. (Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo of archived documents. (Shutterstock.com)

In the letter the Association for Civil Rights in Israel sent to Lozowick last week, Attorney Avner Pinchuk criticized the fact that a process as significant as revoking the public’s access to the physical archives was done without any public debate or announcement, and even without consulting the Higher Archives Council. (No such discussion appears in the council’s published protocols.)

Regarding the matter of censorship, Pinchuk argues that, “as opposed to news media outlets, which [regularly] fight the Censor over the right to publish sensitive information, one cannot reasonably expect the State Archives to be able to or even want to act similarly.” Likewise, the letter continued, the arrangements for censoring archive documents do not contain the usual mechanisms for resolving disputes with those who want to publish censored information.

The letter from ACRI adds that the current censorship regulations forbid mentioning that certain information has been barred for publication, which means that someone accessing the digitized archives will not even know a document has been stricken. The IDF Censor has been widely criticized recently for attempts at extending its reach into social media and other digital media. We wrote here about how +972 was affected by such an over-reach by the IDF Censor earlier this year.

‘Only in Iran’

Also opposing the new arrangement in the State Archives are dozens of members of Israeli academia — deans, heads of university departments dealing with history, the Middle East, Judaism, and more —who recently signed a petition against revoking physical access to paper archive documents.

“It is important to note that digitization is a good thing,” wrote Dr. On Barak, a senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University’s department of Middle Eastern and African history, a member of the Social History Workshop, and a leading voice in opposing the archival changes. “We aren’t just a bunch of old professors nostalgic for the smell of paper. As somebody who has worked in various archives I can say that in other places that are undergoing digitization they are preserving access to the paper documents, even if there’s less demand for it. Only in Iran did the digitization process lead to cutting off access to the paper files.”

According to Barak, there have been numerous studies in recent years about the necessity of preserving access to original paper archive documents. Among other reasons, access to physical documents is so valuable because thumbing through documents or skimming through a book can help find relevant information much faster than advanced digital searches. Furthermore, original paper documents can be valuable because of the way they were arranged, the other documents that were placed with them, and even the hand-written annotations or attached notes that can be lost in the scanning process. It is important, therefore, to be able to compare scanned documents with the originals.

“All of that was done without any consultation, public debate or feedback from end users,” Barak said. “Already the archives law is being used to bury [documents] that would otherwise be easily accessible via the freedom of information law. And yet, if they only said that the unscanned documents would be viewable, and if they spoke to those professionals who will be carrying out the scanning and digitization, I would be satisfied. It is clear that a compromise is necessary here.”

According to Hofstadter, Lozowick told him the main reason paper documents will no longer be accessible is budgetary and related to limited manpower resources. “Even in the optimal case the State Archives only expects to scan everything in its possession within 30 years’ time. Can’t they push that to 40 years and leave the public viewing rooms open?”

The Israel State Archives did not respond to our request for comment at the time of publication. Its response will be published here if and when it is received. [Update, April 13: I conducted a full interview with the state archivist, Yaacov Lozowick. Read it here.]

Correction [April 13]:
An earlier version of this article suggested that all documents that the State Archives scan and publish online will be sent for review to the IDF Censor. In reality only those documents deemed to relate to security matters must be sent for censorship. The error did not appear in the original Hebrew article and took place in translation.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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