On 16 August 2002, RSF protested the expulsion of Ahmed Bahaddou, a cameraman with the British news agency Reuters, who was put on a flight to Jordan on 15 August after having been refused entry to Israel and detained overnight at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport.
RSF Secretary-General Robert Menard described Bahaddou’s expulsion as “new evidence of the discriminatory policies pursued by the Israeli authorities towards Arab journalists.” Two other Arab journalists have been expelled since the Israeli army began its incursion into Palestinian territories in March.
“We also call on Danny Seaman, head of the Israeli government’s press office, to comply promptly with the commitments he made to Tim Heritage, head of the Reuters bureau in Jerusalem,” Menard added. Seaman reportedly said that Bahaddou would be authorised to return to work in Israel on condition that he only cover the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
A Belgian national, Bahaddou was held for 20 hours in a cell at Ben-Gurion Airport after being refused entry on 14 August. ”I feel humiliated. I don’t feel like I’m in a democratic country,” he told Reuters by telephone from the airport. On 14 August, Seaman said the Interior Ministry had denied Bahaddou entry under pressure from trade unions that object to foreign cameramen working in Israel. “Bahaddou attempted to enter Israel without the proper visa,” Seaman noted.
Bahaddou has often covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since November 2001, without any difficulty until now. Like most foreign journalists, he would enter Israel on a three-month tourist visa and would subsequently obtain the accreditation authorising him to work. However, in early July, the Israeli authorities asked him to obtain a work permit.
The Israeli cameramen’s union recently protested to the Interior Ministry about the large number of foreign cameramen employed by international news media in Israel, to the detriment of Israeli cameramen. However, RSF notes that international news agencies are usually forced to use foreign cameramen to cover the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This is partly because Israeli journalists cannot enter these areas for security reasons. It is also because many Palestinian journalists, lacking press cards, cannot move freely between the different territories.
Since the start of 2002, the Israeli Press Office has refused to renew the accreditation of many Palestinian journalists. Some now only have an accreditation valid for several months, as opposed to the two-year accreditation that used to be issued. Others only have a new document describing them as “media assistants”.
Other Arab journalists have been expelled in recent months. On 3 June, Mashhour Abu Eid, a correspondent for the Jordanian government news agency Petra, was escorted back to the border between Israel and Jordan (see IFEX alert of 7 June 2002). A United States national, Jassem al-Azzawi of Abu Dhabi TV, was expelled on 6 April after his accreditation was withdrawn. In addition, Yusri El Jamal, a Reuters sound man, is still being held by the Israeli authorities following his arrest on 30 April (see IFEX alerts of 31 July, 28 June, 24 and 6 May 2002). A military court rejected demands for his immediate release on 18 June, and on 11 July his detention was extended for three months.