A day after the police ordered Israeli media to turn over photographs of Saturday’s pro-Bedouin protest in the Negev, Arab journalists said they had received similar requests in the past, including demands to testify and reveal sources.
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Samira Haj Yahya, a radio correspondent and writer for the Al-Shams website, said the police wanted her to come in for questioning after she wrote an article on a murder in the Arab community.
“When I realized what it was about I told them that if they wanted they should come to me,” she said. “The policeman told me that if I didn’t cooperate and show up to testify they’d issue a court order against me. I refused and tried to explain to them that these were my sources and I was unwilling to talk.”
But Haj Yahya relented and went over to the Taibeh police station. “They asked me where I got the information, took out the pictures I had shot and asked me to identify the people in them. They also wanted to know who had spoken to me about the incident,” she said.
“I was insulted that as a journalist they were treating me this way. We have the ability to influence the Arab community, and for this work I’m willing to take a risk and endanger those close to me. That’s not the treatment I deserve.”
For the police, spokeswoman Luba Samari is in charge of contacts with the Arab-language media, including foreign media operating in Israel. Most Arab journalists declined to be mentioned by name for this article, fearing that a clash with Samari would end their contacts with the police.
“Our only link to the police is Samari, so we have a problem when we want to receive background material and try to write in-depth articles,” said a journalist from Nazareth who works for a large Arab-language media outlet.
“I’m a journalist who has been working with the police for seven years, and I’ve never had a chance to sit with an intelligence officer who explained to me what’s happening in Arab society. I’ve never had private talks with senior police officers, either.”
She said the police wanted to talk to her because of an article she intended to publish. “I was questioned once when I wrote a story involving a bishop,” she said. “The police officer who showed up at the editorial offices said publication could be harmful to him, and that if something happened we’d be responsible. We published the story, but not all of it.”
Prof. Amal Jamal, the head of the political communication program at Tel Aviv University, says the police’s starting point is that the Arab community can only receive superficial information.
Prof. Mustafa Kabha of the Open University’s Department of History, Philosophy and Judaic Studies, says an Arab journalist will never be granted a meeting with a police intelligence officer to hear a survey on crime.
“All this is because the Arab journalist is still seen by the police as someone who’ll use the information against them and pass it on to criminal elements,” said Kabha. “The police want the debate to be on crime and violence in the Arab sector, and leave the Arab-language media as superficial and shallow as possible.”
Prof. Daniel Gimshi, head of the criminology department at the College of Management and a former police brigadier general, says the police are missing a chance to have a discussion with Arab society. It would be good if the police created a full partnership with leading journalists, he said.
A police spokesman, meanwhile, said the police “want cooperation with journalists in the sector,” referring to the Arab community. “We consider it an interest of the organization, but unfortunately this cooperation is often limited because reporters from this sector aren’t open to various initiatives including meetings with commanders, background talks, participation in conferences and briefings for reporters.”