Foreign Journalists Speak Out Against Ban on Entry to Gaza

Israeli authorities have said little about why journalists are not being allowed into Gaza.

The Foreign Press Association held a news conference Thursday to protest the Israeli government's ban on international journalists entering the Gaza Strip.

British Broadcasting Company journalist Jo Floto noted that the only countries in the world where BBC journalists are currently denied access are North Korea, Myanmar (Burma) and Zimbabwe. "We don't want Gaza to join that very select and regrettable club," he said.

In the three weeks since the ban was imposed the FPA sent an open letter to its members and filed an official protest with the Prime Minister's Office, signed by leaders of the world's international news organizations.

Signers of the letter include AP Chief Executive and President Tom Curley, Reuters Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger, New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, ABC News President David Westin, BBC News Director Helen Boaden and other top executives from CNN, the Canadian TV network CTV, the German broadcaster ZDF, and the French news service Agence France Presse.

The organization also appealed against the ban to the High Court of Justice, which gave the state two weeks to respond. In addition, FPA representatives requested an urgent meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and senior ministry official Amos Gilad.

FPA chairman Steven Gutkin, who also serves as the Associated Press bureau chief in Jerusalem, said that Israel controls the only official entrance to the Gaza Strip. "We believe the current denial of access amounts to a serious violation of freedom of the press, and runs counter to Israel's own claims that it is a democracy that respects media liberties," Gutkin said.

In the past two weeks, coverage in Gaza has been largely left to local Palestinian staffers and a handful of foreign journalists who entered before the closure went into effect.

Israeli authorities have said little about why journalists are not being allowed into Gaza, saying that reporters are not being singled out because many are being kept out. They say access will be restored when Palestinian militants stop firing rockets.

Government spokesman Mark Regev rejected the notion that the Gaza ban violates press freedom. "Israel cherishes the freedom of the press," he said. "All journalists who work in Israel know that freedom for a fact."

Gutkin noted Olmert's comments earlier this week after a visit to the Newseum in Washington D.C., a museum dedicated to journalism. Olmert expressed pride in Israel's record on a free press.

"Now Israel has a chance to match those words with policy," Gutkin said.