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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Israeli journalists barred from elections

Whatever a 'free press' means in 'Palestine,' it apparently does not include Israeli reporters. Maybe they're trying to give Amira Hass Hess an exclusive?

Israeli journalists wanting to cover the Palestinian Legislative Council elections Wednesday have run into a last-minute glitch: They are not allowed.

Some journalists writing for Israeli papers had made arrangements to pick up their election press cards from the Palestinian Central Elections Commission Tuesday, only to learn that the Ministry of Information had given a last minute order prohibiting them.

"It's not up to us," said Ammar Dweik, the commission's chief election officer.

The election press cards allow journalists to enter the schools where polling stations are set up. Without them, journalists must interview from outside the school walls.

Danny Seaman, director of the Government Press Office, had no comment. "I'm not responsible for the Palestinians' decisions," he said.

Palestinians are familiar with such bans. Because of security considerations, they are not allowed into Israel unless they have a reason and have received a special pass after passing a security check. Palestinian journalists can get GPO press cards if they have that permission and if they are specifically covering what is going on in Israel.

For that reason, most Palestinian and Arab media organizations hired journalists from East Jerusalem or Israeli Arabs, who by virtue of their Israeli ID cards had freedom of movement, said Rula Manssah-Basal, the head of the Arab journalists department of the GPO.

"This could be a quid pro quo," said Michael Murphy, country director and head of the observer mission of the National Democratic Institute.

There's one big difference here: Israelis are not known for trying to control the news that comes from here or for taking reporters cameras from them.

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