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Inside the Israeli Media Blackout | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Tel Aviv, Asharq Al-Awsat- With the Israeli Government finally acknowledging last month’s military strike in Syria, Asharq Al-Awsat looks at the impact the temporary media blackout had on the Jewish states local press.

Up until recently, the Israeli media was facing a storm of criticism due to its surrender to military censorship regarding “the Israeli attack on a strategic location in the region of Deir Ezzor, Syria”.

The story was first broken through Syria, and then several other details emerged in the Arab and Western press. During this period Israel refrained from uttering a word on this matter and the government imposed strict military censorship regarding it, preventing the local media from publishing anything on the matter.

This resulted in much criticism from circles that believe in freedom of the press which usually include the liberal wing, leftists in addition to various academic elements. Professor Moshe Nimrod, who lectures in several Israeli university institutes commented on the issue saying, “Regardless of the validity or non-validity of the security or the media situation, there is a reality in that the whole world is talking about this subject while us Israelis, to whom this subject is related…are forbidden from talking about it. This is a horrendous failure by the Israeli media.”

During this period, the Israeli media was trying to find original material to publish regarding this topic. It published any new information in this respect that was issued in the West. It also issues lengthy daily analyses and comments. Despite the fact that the international media including that of Syria no longer paid the issue great importance, but was still a priority for the Israeli media and all its branches.

‘Yediot Aharonot’ newspaper, the largest Israeli newspaper, sent Ron Ben Yishai to Syria in order to find new information. He risked his life and arrived at Deir Ezzor, which is only four kilometers away from where he said he was injured. He returned to Israel with an exciting report on the region, its people and their thoughts on the Israeli raids on Syria, however, he could still not shed any light on the mysteries that surround this issue.

‘Maarib’ newspaper, which has been unable to send its correspondent to Syria, sent a delegate to the occupied Syrian Golan Heights to meet with its residents who may have some information on the subject via their contacts such as relatives on the other side of the border.

But the truth behind the exact events from Israeli sources were yet to see the light of day in Israel, even though many Israeli reporters knew what actually took place through Israeli officials. However, they have had to commit to strict military orders regarding censorship. Even ‘Haaretz’ newspaper, which used to breach censorship rules, committed this time and refrained from publishing any information that it had on this subject. What did happen? And what is the reality of this extraordinary commitment? Israeli journalist Amos Levin believes that this commitment is not natural or normal. In fact, he believes that a secret or several secrets lie behind this issue. He believes that what is most important in this respect is the domination and dictatorship that is beginning to characterize some editors and owners of newspapers. He added, “The journalist does not decide on any issue alone. The scope of freedom that the journalist enjoyed over the past years is becoming narrower. I believe that senior management of newspapers is ordered to abide by strict rules or else we would have seen newspapers rise against the government and the army, forcing them to acknowledge the public’s right to know.”

But journalist Yair Stern considers such commitment [to rules] a national responsibility. He said, “Although I do not agree with military censorship, I am committed to it. At the end of the day, there are top political and security considerations that are set by senior officials and experts who have their own priorities so who am I to interfere in the strategic considerations of the state?”

Asked whether he was convinced by the claim that reasons behind the prohibition of publishing are related to security strategy and nothing else, he replied, “I said I do not agree with prohibiting publishing in any way. But at the same time, I do not agree that there should be rebellion towards any decision. First and foremost, we are a law-abiding state, and democracy does not mean chaos. Also freedom of publication does not justify setting new rules in the country and in the free world in general that would be based on breaching resolutions of legal institutions.”

As for journalist Moshe Navon, he shows great concern for what has happened and says that journalists have become reserve soldiers in this battle. He said, “You know that almost every journalist in Israel is like every citizen; he/she serves in the Israeli reserve army once a year. This means that they are soldiers. Some of them have taken this affiliation seriously in the past and some of them have rebelled. This assures you that you live in a sound country. But this time, no one is rebelling. Everybody is on board. This is a distinctive trait. It seems that this time, they consider themselves soldiers in the reserve army. They are disciplined and completely committed. This is a very disturbing.”

Asked why he didn’t rebel and publish this news, Navon said, “Because I am not free. I also work for several newspapers and these newspapers have heads and managers. I am tired of getting into debates with them and I do not want to be the fighter who dies for a cause like this, especially as I am confident that the details of this issue will soon be published in Israel. Why the urgency? Let’s just wait and see. The government itself will decide at some stage that it is in its best interest to leak the news. In this case competition between journalists will be based on the tiniest and most trivial of details and the public will regain its confidence in newspapers.”