JERUSALEM, April 7, 2010 — -- There is a news story in Israel that everyone is talking about, but which cannot be published or broadcast here. Because of a restrictive gag order on all Israeli newspapers and broadcasters, the details of the story about leaked military documents are only available in the foreign media.
The draconian measure, which is due to be appealed in the Supreme Court, has led to a chorus of complaints across the Israeli media world.
The New York City-based Jewish Telegraphic Agency published the story two weeks ago for the first time and it has since been published around the world, which means that any Isreali within reach of the Internet can access the details.
Journalist Anat Kam, 23, has been under house arrest since December. Israeli authorities accuse her of leaking classified military documents about a controversial "shoot to kill" policy pursued by the Israeli army in the occupied West Bank.
She has denied the charges but faces a 14-year sentence, if convicted.
Kam was in uniform satisfying her compulsory national service at the time of the alleged offense.
She worked in 2007 for the office of General Yair Naveh, who was then senior commander in the West Bank. He authorized the killing of three Palestinian militants in direct contravention of a Supreme Court ruling, which placed severe restrictions on the army's right to assassinate militants, according to a 2008 investigation by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The state's preventing publication of the story in Israel has created a storm of debate about press freedom and the health of Israeli democracy.
"Gag orders impinge on the freedom of the press, and this is allowed if publication is highly likely to cause grave damage to the state," Dalia Dorner, head of the country's Press Council and a former Supreme Court justice, told told Israel Radio Tuesday. "But if the whole world knows, this alone constitutes a reason to withdraw the injunction."
Israeli Papers Slam 'Blind Faith in Defense Establishment'
The popular tabloid Yedioth Aharanot published a link to the Web site of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency's original story about the case, with the headline: "What the Shin Bet [intelligence service] does not want you to know?"
The Maariv daily paper took a more satirical line with its declaration: "Due to a gag order we cannot tell you what we know. Due to laziness, apathy and blind faith in the defense establishment, we know nothing at all."
A preliminary request to the Supreme Court to have the order lifted has already been rejected once. A formal appeal is expected to be launched by several media organizations today .
The case highlights a recurring tension inside Israel over the reporting of security-related matters. Given the state's turbulent history and its carefully maintained narrative of being under a permanent state of threat, magistrates and lower courts have often issued rulings favoring the security establishment.
The advent of the Internet and the freedom enjoyed by the foreign media is making the imposition of these media restrictions more difficult to justify.