It isn’t often there are victories to report in the struggle for justice for Palestine. But through the combined efforts of U.S. bloggers, reporters and Israeli activists, the Israeli state has backed down from its persecution of Israeli-Palestinian journalist and political activist, Majd Kayyal. Today, he was released from prison and placed under house arrest. The secret police also dropped the most serious charges against him of contact with an enemy agent and hostile organization (Hezbollah). Now, he is charged with visiting an enemy state.
I should note that every Israeli Jewish journalist who has done the same (and there are at least three I can think of) has been threatened with investigation by the police, but no case was ever pursued. A clear double-standard.
Besides coverage here, at Electronic Intifada, and at the brave Israel blog, O139, Matt Lee, AP’s State Department correspondent raised a timely question on Kayyal’s behalf at this week’s press briefing. Jamil Dakwar of the ACLU first brought the case to my attention. And Israeli activists protested the Palestinian reporter’s arrest in Tel Aviv on April 16th (see video). Adalah, the Israeli-Palestinian NGO and Majd’s employer, defended him. After the fact (naturally), even the NY Times has gotten into the act. It interviewed Kayyal as part of its report, which is unusual for the Times in such Palestinian security cases.
Now, I would challenge those Israeli Jewish journalists like Lisa Goldman and Ron Ben Ishai, who visited “enemy states” but were not charged with a crime to make their voices heard on Majd’s behalf.
UPDATE: Lisa Goldman wrote about Majd’s case for the liberal Zionist site, 972 Magazine. She’s apparently unaware of the international campaign for Kayyal and didn’t acknowledge it in her post. Nor did the other two 972 posts on the case. In fact, Goldman wrote this inaccurate statement:
And a judge granted the Shin Bet’s request for a gag order, so the media did not report on the arrest either.
Kayyal’s name was published in the Israeli blog to which I linked above, plus Rotter and another site.
Zvi Barel wrote an impassioned plea on Kayyal’s behalf in which the Haaretz columnist noted that he had violated the law the Palestinian was charged with numerous times, and not received so much as an invitation from the secret police to regale them with any of his travel stories. But the glaring omission from Barel’s piece was an acknowledgement that the sole reason he could even write this story was the intrepid work of largely foreign journalists who rejected the Israeli gag and compelled the security police to remove it and free its prisoner. Israeli journalism has a strong case of amnesia. All that it does it does on its own merit. It owes nothing to anyone.
Though this is a victory, it was one earned only through the help of foreign groups. It can’t be emphasized enough that the Israeli system, if left to itself, would trample democratic rights, especially those of Palestinians. This makes the efforts of outsiders critical to protect the vulnerable inside Israel. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. And let no liberal Zionist or Israeli nationalist dare make the claim that Israeli democracy “worked” in this case. It didn’t. If Israeli democracy worked it wouldn’t have charged him to begin with.
I have also contacted Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists along with Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. None have taken any action that I know of on Majd’s behalf. It would be helpful for them to weigh in even now to protect Majd’s rights to practice journalism undeterred by criminal charges.
I founded a Facebook group on Majd’s behalf as well. I invite you to join, post updates on this case and Israeli press freedom in general, and invite others to join as well.