William Booth, the Washington Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief, was conducting interviews by the Damascus Gate outside of the Old City’s walls in Jerusalem this afternoon when Israeli border police detained him and accused the journalist of incitement.
A statement released by the police said officers detained Booth on suspicion that he had played a role in “disturbance of the peace” for “propaganda purposes.” Once it was determined that he had not, he was released.
“A passer-by complained that he witnessed a number of people intending to stage a provocative situation and disturbances by young Arabs toward policemen responsible for security in the area, apparently for propaganda purposes. In view of the complaint, the policemen detained a number of suspects in order to clarify the facts in a sensitive and discreet manner at the nearby police facility,” said the statement from police spokesperson Luba Samri, adding Booth was “released immediately by the investigating officer without any other steps taken in the matter.”
Update: Israeli police have now issued a third statement in the case, stating that the original complaint was “without foundation.” Full text at bottom of this post.
A video of the incident courtesy of Reuters photographer Ammar Awad shows a nonplussed Booth and a colleague standing next to two officers, stating their passport and identification card were confiscated.
Washington Post correspondent Ruth Marks Eglash who was at the scene, posted a picture of the detained journalists on social media. A spokesperson for the Post commented to the New York Times “we regard the detention of any of our journalists anywhere as extremely troubling.”
Head of the Foreign Press Association, Reuters Jerusalem bureau chief Luke Baker said “Now released, but the brief detention and questioning still seems wholly unacceptable,” on Twitter.
Israel’s Government Press Office later added Booth was “unnecessarily detained” and “probably the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
The statement read, “a correspondent for the Washington Post was unnecessarily detained by the Border Police – probably the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding. Freedom of the press is a supreme value in the Israeli democracy. Israel is doing its utmost to enable the foreign press to work freely, without any pressure. We call upon the security forces and journalists to act with restraint and to avoid confrontations during these tense times. The GPO endeavors to prevent such incidents; we shall examine today’s events and draw the necessary conclusions.”
Booth’s detention comes at a time of tense words from the Israeli government aimed at the foreign press corps in Israel, and increased governmental scrutiny of Israeli journalists.
Two weeks ago CBS News posted the headline “3 Palestinians killed as daily violence grinds on,” omitting that the three Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces during an attempted attack on Israelis. The headline was later changed, but not before it caught ire from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which lambasted the news outlet for “unprecedented chutzpah, a slanted and false headline.”
Israel’s Government Press Office weighed in on social media, stating it would consider revoking press credentials of foreign journalists who expressed bias in their headlines, conflating who was victim and who was attacker in deadly confrontations.
“We do not agree that the foreign media are biased, and the legitimacy of Israel’s campaign against terrorism is entirely determined by how Israel conducts that campaign. It has nothing to do with the foreign media,” said a statement by the Foreign Press Association in response to the announced Knesset sessions.
The statement added, “A free and open media is the bedrock of a democratic society. Parliamentary subcommittee hearings that start from the premise that the foreign media are biased tend to look like poorly conceived witch hunts.”
No foreign journalists have had their press credentials invalidated since the headline in question was published.
At the same time Israel’s military censor, a government body that requires journalists to redact certain details in their reporting that relates to defense and national security issues, expanded their reach to Israel’s blogging community. All journalists credentialed by Israel’s Government Press Office are required to sign a statement agreeing to the military censor. In practice Israeli journalists are held to a higher standard than foreign press, as Israeli newspapers are at times made aware of what pieces of information are unpublishable, and foreign press generally are told to make corrections after the time of publication.
However, in recent months Israel’s blogging community has been fast to report on security stories, or post information to social media where the army censor had placed a gag order. Notably after the arrest of Israeli activist Ezra Nawi in January, Israeli activists and bloggers posted details that would have otherwise been sealed. The army censor then issued notices to these agencies that they now must comply with the media standard.
+972 Magazine’s Editor-in-chief Mike Omar-Man published a letter to his readers yesterday explaining the new policy in-depth. Omar-Man said his organization will now observe the military censor, and he will not be able to disclose when and what articles have been redacted.
“After consulting with counsel, we believe that at this point in time we will have no choice but to submit certain articles to the military censor before publication in the future. And although we are forbidden from publishing the full list of topics that are subject to censorship, they include everything from equipment the army is using in the West Bank, troop movements, the location of rocket strikes, the identities of high-ranking security officials, and certain information about national infrastructure,” said Omar-Man.
“If and when the IDF Censor does demand changes to one of our articles we will be forbidden from telling you, our readers, when and where we were censored. And while we begrudgingly accept our legal obligation to submit certain articles for prior review, we plan to fight with our full resources any attempts at actually censoring us,” Omar-Man added.
Update. The Israeli Police have now issued a third statement on the case:
“Regarding the detaining and questioning of a Washington Post correspondent, we would like to make it clear that following an inquiry into the circumstances of the event it has been ascertained that the information which had been given to the officers was without foundation. We regret if any distress was caused to those who were detained. The police are aware of the need for sensitivity and officers are instructed to allow journalists to do their work including in centers of friction that are especially sensitive due to the security situation, with emphasis on the public peace and the security of the journalists themselves while honoring and realizing the important value of freedom of the press.”