Saturday, April 03, 2010

Journalist "in hiding" from Israeli secrets case

AN Israeli journalist who has made his name exposing the conduct of the military and security services is "in hiding" in Britain, The Independent newspaper has reported. The paper's diplomatic correspondent Kim Sengupta, says Israeli sources who prefer to remain anonymous believe Uri Blau, a reporter at Haaretz, who has been away in Asia, is hoping to negotiate with Israeli prosecutors before he returns.

The news comes days after it emerged that another Israeli journalist, 23-year old Anat Kam, who supposedly took leave of absence from her job, has been held under house arrest for the last three months on charges that she leaked classified documents to the press while completing her military service.

It is being suggested that documents which Anat Kam saw provided Uri Blau with the basis of an article he wrote for Ha'aretz in November 2008. This said that one of two Islamic Jihad militants killed in Jenin in June 2007 had been targeted for assassination in apparent violation of a ruling issued six months earlier by Israel's supreme court. While not outlawing assassinations in the West Bank altogether, the ruling heavily restricted the circumstances in which they were permissible, effectively saying that they should not take place if arrest was possible.

Blau left Israel for a trip to Hong Kong with his girlfriend in December. While he was away the Israeli authorities are said to have seized his computer, after arresting Anat Kam, presumably looking for evidence of a connection between them. This may have persuaded Blau to prolong his stay abroad. And though not sure where he was, friends did note lately that his name was appearing on stories from London -among them one suggesting a split between British security and the Foreign Office over the latter's decision to expel a suspected Mossad officer operating under diplomatic cover.

Perhaps a stay in London will be a good opportunity to compare notes with British colleagues on the way official "secrecy" operates to obstruct good reporting!

It was Uri Blau who wrote about Israeli soldiers choosing their own tee shirt designs, such as one charmingly depicting a pregnant woman in the sniper crosshairs, with the slogan "kill two for the price of one". It was also Blau who reported that the military had asked Shin Bet security to identify Israeli peace campaigners and left-wing activists who might be joining protests in the West Bank. Maybe it was not by chance that a member of Tel Aviv-based Anarchists against the Wall, Matan Cohen, was shot in the face at Bil'in.

But while the military might not like any of Blau's stories, the significance of tying him into the Anat Kam case could be that making this a "security" issue. they may accuse him of encouraging her to "steal" secret documents. Ms.Kam is held on "espionage" charges, which could carry a lengthy prison sentence. It is alleged that she passed classified documents to a male journalist while working as a clerk in the Israel Defence Forces Central Command during her military service. She was arrested more than a year after Uri Blau's report, which was cleared by military censors at the time of publication, when she was working for the news service Walla, until recently owned by Haaretz.

Meanwhile the Israeli press and TV have been gagged from reporting any of this, even though the news has been coming out in overseas blogs like Richard Silverstein's Tikkun Olam, and Anat Kam's detention was reported by the Independent's Israel-based correspondent Donald McIntyre last week. Ha'aretz and Channel 10 say they will go to court to challenge the reporting ban on April 12. Anat Kam's trial could open on April 14.

  • It will not be the first time that the Israeli state has tried journalists on "security" issues, nor the first time it has clamped down on reporting. In November 1966, Maxim Ghilan and Shmuel Mor were tried in secret and jailed for revealing in the magazine Bul that Mossad had assisted the Moroccan secret police in the kidnapping of Moroccan trade unionist Mehdi Ben Barka. Israeli media were not allowed to report on the case until after stories had appeared in the foreign press. Ghilan and Mor were only released after the Israeli government's advisers persuaded it that their imprisonment had brought more unwelcome attention than the article in their obscure magazine.

    • In January 1983 the Israeli scientist Marcus Klingberg, who had been at a top-secret government biological research centre, was told he must travel to a plant abroad. He was then lifted on his way to the airport, and interrogated for some time. Accused of passing secret information to the Soviet Union, he was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment, of which he served 16. For the first ten years both his arrest and sentence were kept secret.

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