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Journalists fume over arrest of Washington Post reporters in Jerusalem

(London Post)    A day after Washington Post reporters were detained in Jerusalem for “incitement,” social media users are furious. Journalists in Israel, which claims to be “the only democracy in the Middle East” are even more worried.

The head of the Jerusalem bureau of the Post, William Booth, and local reporter Sufian Taha, were interviewing Palestinians when they were ” unnecessarily detained by the Border Police – probably the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding,” according to the Israeli government.

In an official statement Israel has apologized for the incident, adding that “freedom of the press is a supreme value in the Israeli democracy.”

Police have also expressed their regret for the detention, which stirred a massive public outrage in Israel and out, saying that “following an inquiry into the circumstances of the event it has been ascertained that the information which had been given to the officers was without foundation.”

The event took place at the Damascus Gate in the old city of Jerusalem, when police officers in the area had received information on “local Arab residents that were there specifically to be filmed and photographed by journalists,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told DW.

“In terms of security that is very problematic, and that’s why our officers needed the journalists to be removed from the place. They were questioned at a police facility rather than on the spot due to security measures taken at the Damascus Gate, but as soon as we knew that there was no incident whatsoever that they were involved in, they were released,” he added.  However, social media users and journalists alike were not impressed by the apologies.

Freelance journalist Alaa Daraghme from Ramallah says he has been involved in countless clashes with Israeli soldiers and border police, who “constantly ignore identifying indicators of journalists.”

“Last October I was accompanying a Danish journalist for coverage of the current uprising [in the West Bank], as the Israeli military shot tear gas at us in Qalandia,” he told DW.

In another incident, he says, “I was personally hit by a rubber bullet in my head, although I was wearing a journalist vest and carrying my camera and other heavy equipment. They know we are journalists,” he claims.

And indeed, the country which consistently claims to be “the only democracy in the Middle East” is suffering from a rather poor reputation in terms of press freedom.

The 2015 World Press Freedom Index, published by the NGO Reporters Without Borders, ranks Israel in the low place of 101 out of 180 countries, below Bolivia, Kenya, Lebanon, Uganda, Kuwait and Sierra Leone.

Infografik World Press Freedom Index Englisch

“I understand the Israel foreign ministry was quick to apologize to the Washington Post reporter who was detained for questioning – an important and right move,” Noa Landau, a senior journalist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote on her Facebook page.

“You may also want to apply the same method when it comes to false investigations of Arab/Palestinian journalists,” she urged.

Nevertheless, police insisted that the current situation in Jerusalem in very unique, and required a responsible reaction.

“At the moment, specifically after recent attacks that took place over the last 48 hours at the Damascus Gate – and we’re not just talking about knife attacks, we’re talking about improvized weapons that have been used against our police officers – there was heightened security in that area,” Rosenfeld explained.

“We regret if any distress was caused to those who were detained,” Israeli police said in a statement.

Israel Inhaftnahme von Journalist William Booth in JerusalemIsraeli border police detain William Booth

“We are aware of the need for sensitivity and officers are instructed to allow journalists to do their work including in centers of friction that are especially sensitive due to the security situation, with emphasis on the public peace and the security of the journalists themselves while honoring and realizing the important value of freedom of the press.”

But even if this specific incident has ended quickly and peacefully, it is only one of many small events that are mounting up and eventually hurt a balanced journalistic coverage, Daraghme argues.

“Of course I want to do my job, but sometimes I’m just afraid. What if they [the Israeli army] will shoot me? What if they will arrest me? What if they will think I’m a terrorist and shoot? After they realize I’m just a journalist it will already be too late.”

Remarkably, the actual Washington Post journalists involved in the incident have refused to comment on the report.

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