The Government Press Office has rejected a request for a press card from an Arab Israeli journalist, alleging she has links to terrorist organizations in the West Bank, but has refused to back up the claim.
Hiba Masalha, 30, is a journalist for Al-Arz Productions in Nazareth, and hails from the Galilee town of Daburriya. She holds a degree in communications from the Arab American University in Jenin in the West Bank. In 2017 she married a Palestinian citizen, who acquaintances say has been arrested several times by Israeli security forces, and has served time in administrative detention. Masalha herself has never been investigated by Israeli security services.
Although a GPO card is not required to work as a journalist in Israel, it allows the holder access to events and areas restricted to the press. Masalha, who has worked as a journalist within Israeli territory, applied for credentials in accordance with the GPO’s rules, alongside her colleagues at Al-Arz. All had their requests approved, except Masalha. She has submitted an appeal to the Prime Minister’s Office, through I’lam – The Arab Center for Media Freedom Development and Research.
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Masalha’s rejection letter says the decision was based on Section 3 (F) of the GPO’s rules: “Cards will not be given … to any applicant if the director is of the opinion, after consultation with security authorities, that providing the cards may endanger state security.”
It adds that the information the GPO received from security officials shows that Masalha has connections to people “identified with terrorist organizations in Judea and Samaria and has expressed support in the past” for these groups. GPO director Nitzan Chen did not provide further details about the information he received.
The Shin Bet security service confirmed that they recommend Masalha’s request be denied.
Chen said that the reasons Masalha’s request was denied were laid out in the rejection letter she received, and that the decision was made based on concrete evidence. He added that this was Masalha’s first request, and that she can apply for press credentials again in six months.
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I’lam’s appeal of the decision states that the GPO’s response does not specify with which individuals and terror groups Masalha is supposedly in touch, or how she expressed support for them. In addition, it says, the decision to reject the application is based completely on the position of the Shin Bet without detailing the judgment made by Chen, and what if anything was done to confirm the Shin Bet’s allegations.
“Hiba has never been politically involved,” I’lam states, “and has never been summoned to clarify her statements or for questioning by security officials, has never been indicted, has never stood trial or been convicted in a court of law and has not been denied employment by any professional group due to security or other concerns,” the appeal says.