Israel deports Reuters cameraman

Israel deported Reuters cameraman Ahmed Bahaddou, a Belgian national, to Jordan Thursday after detaining him overnight in a cell at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport.

Daniel Seaman, the head of the Israeli government’s press office, said the Interior Ministry had denied Bahaddou entry Wednesday under pressure from trade unions, which say foreign news media were employing too many foreign cameramen and not enough Israelis.

Foreign news organizations employ Israeli cameramen in Israel but they do not work in Palestinian-ruled areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, forcing the foreign media to turn to Palestinian or foreign cameramen.

Israel has complicated matters by refusing to accredit most Palestinians working for foreign news organizations because of what it says are security concerns stemming from the nearly 2-year-old Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

“Mr Bahaddou attempted to enter Israel without the proper visa,” Seaman said.

The move was unusual because most foreign journalists are allowed to enter Israel on a tourist visa and only later receive press accreditation and permission to work.

Bahaddou, 33, has completed several temporary assignments covering the Middle East conflict. He had applied for a work permit before leaving Israel for Jordan earlier this week after his tourist visa expired.

The Interior Ministry has not responded to his application for a work permit although the Government Press Office had told Reuters Bahaddou would receive one under an understanding that he work only in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Bahaddou was held in a small cell at the airport with five Chinese nationals and a Hungarian tourist. He was escorted to the plane in a police car.

“It’s quite humiliating,” Bahaddou said. “I’m frustrated. This does not seem like a democracy.”

He said his cell contained twin beds and an air conditioner and was noisy because it was next to the baggage ramp.

Bahaddou has worked for Reuters as a cameraman based in Brussels for nine years. He has frequently worked for Reuters in Israel and had entered and received accreditation without any problems on at least four previous visits.