Censorship of the Palestinian Press in East Jerusalem, February-March 1990

February-March 1990, Summary

The vast majority of the daily and periodical press available in the territories was published in East Jerusalem. There the press operated under Israeli law and was subject to fewer restrictions than the handful of periodicals published in the territories themselves. We thought it appropriate to concentrate on the East Jerusalem press both because of its intrinsic importance and because it operates under the same laws that apply in Israel.

The first part of this Information Sheet surveys censorship of the East Jerusalem press in the context of censorship restrictions relating to the Israeli press in general.

The second part consists of an analysis of material approved and censored in two East Jerusalem papers over given periods.

The third part consists of examples collected by B'Tselem: reports, articles, photos, and cartoons that were banned for publication in the East Jerusalem press, and of correspondence between the censor and the editors of the papers in question.

Few people, if any, would dispute the fact that Israel's security requirements necessitate military censorship.

Security requirements may indeed constitute a justifiable reason for taking legitimate measures intended to protect public safety. However, when used unwisely, "security requirements" can easily be turned into a sweeping justification for arbitrary measures and for unjustifiable infringement upon public and individual freedoms.

It is incumbent upon the censor to realize the gravity of the responsibility inherent in his role when limiting freedom of expression, a freedom which Justice Agranat characterized as a "preeminent right" over which security interests have priority "only when truly required by the situation." This applies even when the censor operates under the protection of a law, the legacy of a foreign occupier, which grants him extraordinarily broad powers.

B'Tselem's investigation indicates that at least in the case of the Palestinian press in East Jerusalem, the censor was a long way from adopting Justice Agranat's narrow approach. The investigation reveals that the censor practiced massive censorship of journalistic material of almost every variety, source, and subject. In dozens of cases we examined, the censor banned reports that had been translated verbatim from the Hebrew press; items that were purely political in content, including statements by government ministers and other Israeli public figures; items on reports of human rights organizations; and items that had been approved for publication in other East Jerusalem papers. Photographs and political cartoons fared no better.

The IDF Spokesperson and the censor explained some of these phenomena as mistakes. However, the frequency with which such "mistakes" occurred indicates either the existence of a deliberate policy, or alternatively, a degree of negligence which was entirely inappropriate in the treatment of so sensitive a subject.

It is important to reiterate that according to Israeli law, the Palestinian press in East Jerusalem is in every respect part of the Israeli press. It is therefore hard to avoid the conclusion that another basic principle of democracy had been violated here: the principle of equality before the law.