Police ordered Israeli media outlets on Monday to turn over all photographs taken at Saturday's Negev demonstrations against plans to resettle 30,000 of the area's Bedouin.
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Police provided no explanation for the unusual order, but they are investigating violent clashes between stone-throwing demonstrators and police, who employed stun grenades, tear gas and water cannons during the protests against the Prawer plan.
The "day of rage" demonstrations ended with 34 protesters arrested and 15 officers wounded.
The Southern District of the Israel Police communicated the order, which was approved by Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court judge Sarah Habib, directly to photographers via a text message.
"All the media in the State of Israel to hand over any documentation of the riots at Hura Junction and the surroundings on November 30, 2013,” the message said.
Haaretz and Israel's two biggest news networks, Channel 10 and Channel 2, have said they would challenge the order in court. Other major outlets, such as daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth and the news websites Ynet and Mako, have yet to respond to the police request.
Arik Bachar, the secretary general of the Israel Press Council, said on Monday his organization successfully intervened in two similar cases in recent years.
“The High Court of Justice has already decided that turning to a journalist is only the last resort, and that when it comes to decisions of this kind [the police] shouldn’t be trigger happy,” said Bachar. “The Press Council will keep an eye open and intervene on the issue as necessary. In any case, we recommend that journalists who received such an order file an objection, and in the event that it is denied they should take the case to higher judicial instances."
The Association of Israeli Journalists echoed Bachar on Monday casting the move as an ethical breach by the police and the justice system.
"The association strongly condemns the attempt to use journalists as an investigative tool and considers it a serious blow to the trust between the public and the press," the organization said in a statement.
In 2011, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court required the newspaper Makor Rishon to hand over to the police pictures of the rioting at the base of the Ephraim Regional Brigade. Photojournalist Miriam Tzahi, shot a few pictures at the site, but acceded to the request of the young right-wing activists to stop photographing, and told them she wouldn’t publish the pictures.
The rare request by police comes days after organizers of Saturday's protests said the police and Shin Bet had threatened them and warned against staging the demonstration.
Southern District Police Commander Yoram Halevy said on Sunday the district’s legal department is considering criminal proceedings and damages over the violence toward officers and the destruction of police vehicles.