The most dangerous place in the world for journalists is the Middle East. The iron-fisted rule Hamas has on the Gaza Strip provides a powerful example of what happens when the press is not free to report what they see and hear. Israel is the only country in the region with a free press.
The United Nations Security Council (May 27, 2015) unanimously adopted a resolution condemning all violations and abuses committed against journalists and strongly deploring impunity for such acts.
Israel Ambassador David Roet addressed the high-level meeting:
Thank you very much Madame President, and congratulations to Lithuania for a successful presidency of the Security Council. I would like to thank Minister Linkevičius, for personally chairing this meeting.
I would like to take a moment to recognize that we have Marianne Pearl in the Security Council with us today. The brutal murder of Marianne's husband Daniel in Pakistan in 2002 shocked the world, but Marianne’s tireless work ensures that his legacy lives on. Daniel is remembered very fondly in Israel. יהי זכרו ברוך - May his memory be blessed.
This discussion could not come at a more critical time for journalists in conflict situations. These brave men and women serve as the eyes, ears, and mouth of the entire world, in the very places that many would prefer us blind, deaf, and mute. Justice Louis Brandeis famously said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Today, unfortunately, there are many places under a total eclipse. Without the work of courageous reporters, repressive regimes go unchecked, atrocities go unrecorded, and the public remains unaware of the reality on the ground.
Those who work in places of conflict and strife ensure the free flow of information- from distant battlefields around the globe to our Ipads in the comfort of our homes.
There are places in the world where a camera is considered a deadly weapon, where a tweet is an act of treason, and a microphone is grounds for arrest. Extremists groups target journalists not only to silence them but to declare war on the most fundamental values of the free world - the freedom of opinion and expression, the freedom to speak our mind, and the freedom to receive and impart information. They seek to force their barbaric ideology on us by dictating at the point of a gun what we can and cannot say. Make no mistake, these groups recognize no borders and their violence and intimidation is not restricted to any specific region of the world.
The shots at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris were meant to silence the community of journalists world-wide. However, as the hundreds of thousands of citizens of France proclaimed in the streets - we will not allow the enemies of free press to silence our freedoms.
In these times of instability, journalists are compelled to report from nations ruled by fear and repression, and from lawless lands ruled by warlords. Those whose duty it is to report on the horrific events in these areas face unprecedented dangers of being abducted, tortured, and brutally murdered.
The most dangerous place in the world for journalists is the Middle East. From Saudi Arabia to Iraq, and from Gaza to Iran, freedom of the press is under siege. The hope for new freedoms shriveled under the harsh reality of Middle Eastern autocrats and theocrats. They are determined to use any means at their disposal to silence those who would question their legitimacy.
Ten months ago in Iran, a Washington Post reporter, Jason Rezaian, was arrested along with his wife. He has been detained without bail, denied access to an attorney, accused of espionage and quote, "propaganda against the establishment." Just yesterday his shadowy trial opened. Not surprisingly, the hearing to decide his fate will be conducted behind closed doors.
In other parts of the Middle East, terrorists have seized control, and journalists face an even more barbaric fate. These fanatical zealots mock the very idea of human rights, and prefer rule by the sword over rule by law. Their idea of due process is a masked man beheading a helpless human being on his knees, and posting the execution on youtube.
The iron-fisted rule Hamas has on the Gaza Strip provides a powerful example of what happens when the press is not free to report what they see and hear. Israeli families spent last summer racing to bomb shelters, knowing they had only seconds to take cover from Hamas rockets.
Thousands of rockets were fired in broad daylight from hospitals, schools, and childrens’ playgrounds. Yet, those who turned on their TV or opened their newspapers did not see reports of the obvious war crimes committed by Hamas.
Ask yourselves, why did so few pictures of these rockets, or the Hamas terrorists who launched them, ever see the light of day?
The answer to this question comes from the stories of the journalists themselves: Italian journalist Gabriele Barbati dared not report that Hamas-launched rockets killed Palestinian children in a refugee camp, until he was, in his own words "out of Gaza far from Hamas retaliation". An Indian film crew videotaped a Hamas missile launch just meters from their hotel room, but waited until they were beyond the reach of Hamas to air the damning footage.
Under such conditions, missiles launches go unseen, the use of human shields goes unreported, and falsehoods are accepted as truths.
While Hamas routinely harasses and intimidates journalists, the Palestinian Authority is no better. According to a U.S. State Department Human Rights report, PA security forces harass, detain, and prosecute journalists for trying to do their jobs. Furthermore, the PA abuses the idea of a free press by using state controlled media outlets to broadcast hateful rhetoric and dangerous incitement.
There is only one exception to the rule in the Middle East. According to Freedom House, an organization which monitors suppression of freedom around the world, Israel is the only country in the region with a free press. We in Israel understand that a free press is the cornerstone of democracy.
Those of us fortunate enough to live in an open society know that with a free press comes bad press. In Israel, we know this all too well. The press is free to challenge the strategic assessment of the head of the army, to debate the reasoning of the chief justice, and to give political advice to the Prime Minister and his cabinet. Israel is a model for how a democratic nation, even while facing immense challenges, can maintain a free and thriving press.
Threats to journalists and the free press are threats to our way of life. When a journalist cannot report the truth, and the public is left in the dark, tyranny, dictatorship, and abuse of human rights will follow.
It is the responsibility of the international community to work together to protect journalists across the globe. The United Nations was founded on the basis of allowing free and open debate to ensure a peaceful world. Only a determined commitment by this Council to safeguard the free press can ensure the promise of this vision for ourselves and for future generations.
I thank you Madam President.
Photo: Israel Ambassador David Roet addressing the UN Security Council (archive)
Copyright: UN Photo/ Loey Felipe