Israeli Arab Photographer Detained, Forced to Strip Before Covering Event Attended by Netanyahu

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu surrounded by his security guards and a photographer at the event at  Ziv Medical Center in Safed, June 19, 2017.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu surrounded by his security guards and a photographer at the event at Ziv Medical Center in Safed, June 19, 2017.Credit: Rami Shllush

A Channel 2 photographer was detained by security for almost two hours on Monday when he came to film an event at a medical center that was attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.

Eli Venus arrived with a number of reporters, some also from Channel 2, to cover the event at Ziv Medical Center in Safed. However, while the others passed through security with no issues, Venus was separated from his colleagues and placed behind a divider for about an hour and a half. There he was forced to strip and remain unclothed for some 15 minutes. The equipment he had brought with him was x-rayed several times.

During the ceremony itself, he was questioned twice more by security guards, and was even escorted outside for a few minutes.

Venus is a resident of Ghajar, a village on the Lebanese border whose residents are Syrian Alawites. The northern part of the village is technically over the Lebanese border, but its residents carry Israeli identity cards.

Channel 2 took a grave view of the way Venus was treated, saying it smacked of discrimination because he hailed from Ghajar. The television channel said that Venus received his Israeli press card three months ago after various security checks and a long wait, and noted that it was issued by the Government Press Office, an arm of the Prime Minister's Office.

“Journalists are not above the law, but there was no justification for detaining him in a humiliating manner, as happened this morning, because of his community affiliation,” Channel 2 stated.

Zionist Union's Shelly Yacimovich commented that the protracted, humiliating detention of Venus shows that even when they are cleared citizens bearing government ID cards, Israel's Arabs remain vulnerable to abuse. Not only is freedom of the press at stake, said Yacimovich, but so is human dignity and the nature of the relationship between the state and its Arab citizens.

She called for an inquiry into the decisions made during the incident, as well as a public apology and compensation to Venus for mental anguish.

The journalists' organization condemned the security guards for their “disgraceful” treatment of Venus ahead of Netanyahu’s appearance at Ziv, noting that he carries a GPO press card which had been issued after security checks by the Shin Bet – checks that Venus paid for himself. There was no reason to hold him up and humiliate him as the prime minister’s security guards did, the organization stated, noting that it seems discriminatory. Living in a village by the Lebanese border is not grounds for such behavior, it added.

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