Israel’s High Court of Justice has overturned the government’s ban on accrediting Palestinian journalists.
The decision comes after global news agency Reuters and Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arabic television station, brought a case against the Israeli government to reverse a decision it made in 2001.
The administration refused to renew press cards previously granted to Palestinian journalists, because they were considered a security threat during the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But Justice Dalia Dorner ruled: “This special threat is theoretical and insubstantial and is no justification for harming the protected interests of freedom of expression and flow of information.”
The government was ordered to renew the press card of Reuters Television senior producer Ahmed Seif, who had held a press card for 12 years before it was revoked. Seif called the move “a good step for freedom of expression.”
Reuters said in a statement: “We are very pleased with this landmark ruling in defence of press freedom. We now look forward to seeing it applied.”
The court also ruled that press cards should be issued to Al Jazeera staff who had been denied them, subject to obtaining work and entry permits. Al Jazeera journalists had earlier been given security clearance to interview Israeli President Moshe Katsav, but no press cards.
Press cards are required by reporters working inside Israel as well as on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and are deemed the only credentials recognised by the Israeli Defence Force, which controls movement between Palestinian communities.
The International Federation of Journalists has welcomed the court’s decision.
“This is a step towards ending an unacceptable and appalling system of professional apartheid that has been imposed by Israel,” said Aidan White, IFJ general secretary.
By Wale Azeez