Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) yesterday, 28 July 2014, seeking to oblige the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) to air radio spots produced by B’Tselem which incorporate the names of a few of the more than 200 Palestinian children killed in Gaza in Operation Protective Edge. The IBA refused to air the radio spots on the grounds of being “controversial”, not balanced, and possibly provoking public controversy over the military operation.
In the petition, Attorneys Hagai Kalai and Gilad Barnea wrote that at the heart of the matter lie Muhammad Malakeh, 2 years old; Siraj al-'Al, 8; Basem Kaware', 10; Amal al-Batsh, 2; Saher Abu Namous, 4, and many other children. Is it permissible to state their names and the fact that they died in the Gaza Strip, or does the very mention of these facts constitute a controversial political statement which disqualifies it for airing in a paid radio spot on Israeli national radio?
The petition states that the present intense fighting with the heavy toll it is taking on Israeli civilians and soldiers, and especially on Palestinian civilians, served to motivate B’Tselem to try to raise public awareness of the harm to people not participating in the fighting. Although all Israeli channels are covering the fighting around the clock, Israeli media have refrained from any substantial discussion of the heavy Palestinian casualties. At best, the multitude of women, children and elderly injured or killed are mentioned as a statistic, and briefly at that. The terrible human suffering of these people, most of whom are uninvolved civilians, remains unarticulated on Israeli media.
B'Tselem argued in the petition that some of the grounds the IBA cited as justification for its refusal – namely, that the timing of the broadcast and the identity of the organization behind it lend the dry facts political meaning – are at odds with previous court rulings. As for the IBA’s argument that the radio spots can be rejected for not giving the names of Israelis killed, it is absurd: not only have Israeli children, thankfully, not been killed since the operation began, but the point of the broadcast was to bring to the fore names that had not been mentioned by the media. In effect, the proposed radio spots would fulfill the role of balancing partial, one-sided media coverage.
The IBA's argument that the contents might provoke a critical debate in Israel with regard to the operation cannot be merited. It is the public's right (and duty) to know the facts, and healthy public debate over the implications of the situation in its entirety must be permitted. This is especially true in view of the fact that the IBA is currently airing spots by organizations such as the National Resilience Headquarters that is calling for the operation to continue until "victory" is achieved – whatever “victory” may mean – or by the ultra-orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement youth, calling on Jews to fulfill certain religious commandments, such as donning tefillin [phylacteries], with a view to promoting the operation's success. In its petition, B'Tselem noted that, contrary to the IBA's position, national resilience depends on the ability to take a good, hard look at the heavy price being paid on both sides of the border. It depends also on the ability to make courageous decisions based on full understanding of their implications. It is the IBA's duty to enable such informed public debate.