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14 Apr, 2010 07:25

Scandal over Israeli army’s illegal operations

An Israeli court has lifted a gagging order preventing the country's media from covering the case of the journalists accused of revealing classified military information to the press.

It concerned the controversial killing of Palestinian militants on the West Bank, reportedly against the Supreme Court's ruling, which many claim was murder. The case has sparked major debate on media freedoms in the country.

The Israeli media reported it as another West Bank operation in 2007. Two Palestinian fighters were killed in a shootout, one of them 25-year-old Ziad Malaisha.

In the village of Jaba in the Palestinian West Bank city of Jenin, a different story is being told. Ziad’s family believes the Israeli soldiers came looking for him with the goal of bringing him back dead.

Ziad Malaisha was a medical student who headed up the West Bank branch of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad. His father says it was a role which predetermined his death.

“Israel was never committed to international law. They brought five hundred soldiers to kill my son; they surrounded the house and shot him dead,” Sobhir Malaisha, the father of the killed Islamic Jihad leader, said. “There is no way that one boy can be such a threat to five hundred soldiers, so they planned to kill him. Not all the operations Israel is doing in the territories are known to the Israeli public. If people knew, they would protest.”

Hardly any protest is happening now in Israel with public attention instead focusing on the journalists who broke the story. In 2006, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled deliberate assassinations by the army to be illegal, but in 2008 classified military documents leaked to journalists indicated that Ziad Malaisha’s killing and more than a dozen others were deliberately planned assassinations in breach of the court ruling.

It all began when young journalist Anat Kam copied 2,000 secret documents onto her computer during her compulsory military service. She gave them to Israeli journalist Uri Blau a year and a half ago.

“I believe that she did a service to Israel. I believe that she did not damage the security of Israel but rather that she actually helped the security of Israel,” said American blogger Richard Silverstein who broke the story, “because among the documents that she leaked were the military plans for operation Cast Lead which became the Gaza War.”

Anat Kam says she felt compelled to make the Israeli public aware of what the army was secretly up to, but not everyone agrees with what she did.

Anat Kam is facing charges of espionage. Some are calling for her to be put behind bars.

Founder and director of Im Tirtzu pro-Zionist and pro-Israel movement Ronen Shoval insists that “When you steal 2,000 papers from the army it’s not because you want to improve the army, it’s because you want to make damage to the army and the army is not something that archaic, when she really is making damage to the army – she may threaten my life and my brother’s life and my friend’s life because we are in the army.”

At the center of the scandal is Uri Blau, the journalist who received the secret files from Anat Kam who is in self-exile in London. His editors at Ha’aretz, one of Israel’s leading dailies, say they are negotiating a deal with the Israeli authorities to allow him to return without being arrested.

“For the foreign media it is about freedom of the press; for the Israeli media it is about the information of security in the army – this is mostly what they are concerned about,” explained Israeli journalist Dimi Reider. “I think you are right in that they are trying to take attention away from the original story and the message to reporters and to sources would be ‘don’t mess with us’.”

The Malaisha family understands this message all too well. They are not even thinking of legal action; they just want to make sure that their son’s story is not forgotten in the media storm.