Israel Resource Review 14th November, 2003


Why Do News Agencies Question Security Checks for Journalists in Jerusalem??
David Bedein

Israel Government Press Office Director Danny Seaman is asking for security checks on all journalists -- whether or not they work for bona fide news agencies. For that security check request, some news agencies are demanding that Seaman be removed from office.

This past Tuesday, I covered the special session of the Knesset Law Committee where left-wing Knesset member Roman Bronfman filed a formal motion against Seaman's demand for a security check of journalists. Bronfman, who emigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union, claimed that "only in totalitarian regimes like Syria, North Korea and Iran do governments require security checks of journalists."

When I applied for press credentials to cover public events in Washington, D.C., (at the U.S. State and Defense Departments, not the White House), I indeed got my press pass - but not before undergoing a security check with the Washington, D.C., District Police and the FBI.

It is obvious what Bronfman's outrage is about: holding Israel up to a higher moral and democratic standard among nations, especially among its enemies.

Israel has traditonally been extra "inclusionary" in allowing press operations.

Possession of an Israeli government press card enables the holder of that card to cover any and every sensitive security spot in Israel. For years, hundreds of Palestinian Arab journalists working alongside foreign news agencies have been issued Israeli government press cards, giving them full intelligence access to the entire country.

The Israeli government rarely did any background security checks before issuing the Israel Government press cards. The reasoning: the news agencies employing their stringers were fully responsible for them.

More than twenty years ago, the late Morton Dolinsky, then the director of the Israel Government Press Office, remarked with great irony that he, an old-time Israeli conservative and Menachem Begin appointee, had actually issued an Israeli press card for Ramonda Tawill, who would soon become Yasser Arafat's mother-in-law.

Tawill received that card as the head of an agency that provided the foreign press with the "PLO point of view."

The methodology was to provide qualified freelance reporters, or "stringers," to work with all the major visiting media in Israel, to work as photographers, cameramen, translators and "fixers" - the people who would make the essential arrangements for the foreign press. The procedure was simple.

A visiting newsperson would come to the Beit Agron Press Center and get Israel Government Press Office (GPO) press credentials for himself and for the Arab stringer who was accompanying him -- even though it was an open secret that the Arab stringer was also reporting back to a media agency that was set up by the PLO.

With the outbreak of the hostilities in 1987-1988, the Arab press services for the journalists at Beit Agron grew and expanded. As many as five Arab media services were operating in East Jerusalem to provide hundreds of visiting journalists with "fixers." And the Arab media professionals also provided Israeli journalists with these same expanded same services.

By 1990, recognizing a media opportunity when he saw one, Arafat appointed a prominent Arab journalist to coordinate the work of the more than 100 Arab stringers who were then working with the foreign press, all of whom held valid GPO cards, many of whom reported back both to the journalists who employed them and to Arafat's staffers.

With the creation of the Palestine National Authority (PNA), one of Arafat's closest advisors who later became a PNA cabinet minister was appointed to be the head of one of the best organized and most professional Palestinian Arab media outlets that continues to provide stringers and foreign press to this day.

Over the years, I can attest from personal and professional experience that not all of the Arab stringers showed loyalty to Arafat. Indeed, it was Palestinian Arab journalists who helped uncovered Arafat's secret bank accounts. It was Palestinian Arab journalists who uncovered countless instances of torture, imprisonment and execution of Palestinian dissidents against Arafat. It was Palestinian Arab journalists who filmed the Palestinian Arab Security Services training children for combat. All this took courage, with Arafat's representatives "breathing down their backs."

Thus, the real concern today is that it just might be that some local stringers might not pass "the test," especially the ones who have been assigned by Arafat to work for the foreign press.

A tragedy is clearly hovering in the Israeli air.

And, by the way, Romanda Tawill's press pass has expired. So the question now remains: will Danny Seaman soon be forced to renew the press credentials for Arafat's mother-in-law?

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UNRWA Commissioner General Peter Hansen: A Profile of Unprofessionalism
UN Watch, Geneva

In a recent interview with The Jordan Times, UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen said, "I challenge [the Israeli government] to produce anything I've said that's been one-sided or unbalanced." As the only nongovernmental organization exclusively mandated to monitor the integrity of the United Nations, UN Watch will gladly pick up that gauntlet. The UN Charter requires UN officials to have "the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity." Hansen fails this test, having demonstrated his pro-Palestinian bias on several occasions.

Hansen's partiality was most prominently on display last year during Operation Defensive Shield. He demanded on April 7, 2002, that Israel "end this pitiless assault on civilian refugee camps." Months later, in a July 22 press release, Hansen admitted that "undoubtedly, there were weapons and munitions that had been produced in the camps, as had been the case in Jenin." Having headed UNRWA for over seven years, Hansen could not in good faith have been ignorant of terrorist activities in the camps.

Jenin was also the subject of Hansen's most infamous statement. On April 18, he led a UN delegation there, after which he said: "I had hoped that the horror stories of Jenin were exaggerated and influenced by the emotions engaged, but I am afraid these were not exaggerated and that Jenin camp residents lived through a human catastrophe that has few parallels in recent history." The most well-known of these "horror stories" was Saeb Erekat's claim to CNN that 500 Palestinians had been killed. Not only did Hansen's statement give this Palestinian lie a UN endorsement, his reference to a human cost with "few parallels in recent history" exposed Hansen's one-sided sympathies. Only three weeks before Hansen's statement, a suicide bomber murdered 29 Israelis on the eve of Pessah in Netanya - killing indiscriminately an even greater number of civilians than were killed accidentally in Jenin. One of the deadliest terror attacks in Israel's history apparently slipped his mind.

Hansen has also tried to suppress Palestinian abuse of UNRWA facilities. UNRWA's July 22, 2002, press release asserted that UNRWA is responsible only for the integrity of its own facilities, not the policing of the entire camps, and "[Hansen] could say with absolute certainty that there were no questionable activities in any UNRWA installations." Yet, at the December 5, 2001, meeting of signatories to the Fourth Geneva Convention, Hansen admitted: "Outside parties have entered UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip and shot at Israeli positions," and "armed Palestinians have on occasions entered UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip during the last year."

Hansen may also have covered up the involvement of Palestinian UNRWA employees in terrorist organizations. Reacting to the death of two UNRWA employees, including Osama Tahrawi, in an Israeli missile attack in Gaza last December, Hansen said: "This loss of civilian lives, of people working for a humanitarian UN Agency, is completely unacceptable." But was Tahrawi a civilian? The al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades reportedly claimed him as a member, and his mother told a New York Times reporter: "All the young men here left their houses. Some had guns, some not. Osama had a gun."

These are just a few examples--independent of any Israeli government allegations--of Hansen's failures to live up to the standards expected of an international civil servant. Additionally, Israel claims that one UNRWA employee admitted to using an UNRWA ambulance to transport arms for Hamas, while another used an UNRWA vehicle to hide armed terrorists en route to an attack.

In the end, Hansen himself provided the most damning evidence of bias. In the very same interview in which he proclaimed his objectivity and issued his challenge to the Israel government, he dropped all pretense of neutrality. After characterizing the two sides to the conflict as "asymmetrical" militarily, he asserted that Israelis and Palestinians were also "asymmetrical in the legitimacy of their cause."

The challenge for Hansen is going to be defending that statement and keeping his job.

To contact un watch:
Phone: (41-22) 734-14-72
Fax: (41-22) 734-16-13

Issued by UN WATCH, Geneva, November 12th, 2003

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Update on US-Saudi military cooperation
Middle East News Line

U.S., SAUDIS PREPARE FOR BOLSTERED MILITARY TRAINING ABU DHABI [MENL] November 12, 2003 -- Saudi Arabia and the United States are completing details for an accelerated military training schedule for 2004.

The U.S. Defense Department has drafted a schedule for bolstered military training of the Saudi military and National Guard for the next year. The proposal has been relayed to Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz and will be discussed in early 2004 during the resumption of annual defense dialogue between the two countries.

The Pentagon has sent a new chief for the U.S. military training program to Saudi Arabia. On November 3, the new U.S. training chief met Prince Sultan in what was termed as the opening of the discussion of an accelerated U.S. training effort for the kingdom.

Later, Asa Hutchinson, deputy secretary for homeland security, visited the kingdom and discussed security cooperation and visa controls with Saudi officials. Hutchinson told the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat that the United States intends to increase training for Saudi security forces.

The United States has also proposed training of Saudi junior land force officers in a program designed to deepen the relations between the U.S. Army and the Saudi Army. Until now, the U.S. military has focused its training programs largely on the Saudi Air Force and Saudi National Guard.

Last month, a senior State Department official said Saudi Arabia has agreed to expand defense and military cooperation with the United States in what could pave the way for major U.S. weapons sales to the Arabian kingdom. The official said the first stage of the expanded cooperation would focus on U.S. training of Saudi forces.

Both countries have agreed that training will take place in Saudi Arabia and the United States, officials said. Saudi officers have not trained in the United States over the last 18 months because of security concerns that stemmed from the Al Qaida attacks in 2001. Officials said those security concerns have largely disappeared amid increased cooperation between the two countries in the war against Al Qaida.

Details of the training program as well as other areas of an expanded military relationship will be discussed at a Saudi-U.S. conference in Washington in the first half of 2004. Since the Al Qaida attacks in 2001, Saudi Arabia had refused to hold its annual military cooperation talks with the United States.

On Wednesday, A-Sharq Al Awsat said Saudi security forces in Riyad and Mecca uncovered a cache of booby-trapped devices including copies of the Koran that contained explosives.

The newspaper said that Islamic insurgents had planned to disguise themselves as women in traditional Islamic dress and distribute the booby-trapped Korans among pilgrims in Mecca during the Ramadan fast month.

Earlier, security forces raided insurgency hideouts in both Riyad and Mecca and five Islamic insurgents were killed in the clashes. Police said they uncovered tons of rocket propelled grenade launchers and explosives in Mecca, as well as a large number of meat cleavers and swords. In July, police found booby-trapped souvenir clocks in the shape of the Koran as well as water bottles containing explosives.

Al Qaida has claimed responsibility for Saturday's suicide bombing that killed 18 people in Riyad and warned the next targets would be in the United States, the Gulf and Iraq, the Saudi weekly Al Majalla said on Tuesday.

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