Israel's censors under scrutiny

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The Independent Online
Fairy tales, children's stories, books on folklore, philosophy and history are among the 4,000 titles that have been banned in Israel and the occupied territories in the past 25 years. Writers, such as the poet Sami al-Kilani or the children's author Ali Jariri, have gone to jail on the ground that their work constitutes a security threat, while hundreds of books have been burnt after raids on university libraries.

So threatening is the published, spoken or even sung word that musicians and singers have joined writers in jail for 'incitement' during concerts or private parties. The army censorship unit, said to operate 24 hours a day, has a staff of 50.

In a review of Israeli censorship in the occupied territories, Article 19, the London-based organisation promoting freedom of expression, calls on Yitzhak Rabin's government to abandon the suppression of freedom of expression imposed by his predecessors on Palestinians. Schools, universities, theatres and religious institutions are all affected. Soldiers raided and damaged mosques, and harassed religious leaders.

Regulations in force since 1945 require the press to have a licence to operate, authorisation to print and a permit to distribute. Dozens of journalists and editors have gone to jail. During the Gulf war, when freedom of expression was yet more fiercely curtailed, 10 Palestinian news agencies were shut down and several face bankruptcy from repeated closures. Arrests continued this year: a photographer and a journalist working for the Gaza Strip newspaper al- Sha'ab were sentenced to administrative detention in May. Access to telephone lines for journalists is tightly controlled, and a ban on fax machines in the West Bank was introduced in June 1991. A freelance reporter working for Reuters and CBS, Taher Shreiteh, went to jail for failing to report that he owned a fax.

Schools and universities in the West Bank were closed in February 1988 to curb the intifada, affecting more than 300,000 children. The authorities described the schools as centres of 'unrest' and 'violent protest', the universities as 'traditionally a hot-bed of anti-Israel protest'. They reopened gradually during 1991, but children have lost many days of schooling through curfews and disturbances. Teachers and parents have reported growing illiteracy, a decline in the desire to learn, and increases in truancy and disruptive behaviour.

After the deaths of some Jewish settlers in the occupied territories in January, several journalists were told to leave the country. But the orders were commuted to administrative detention following Mr Rabin's electoral victory.

'Cry for Change. Israeli Censorship in the Occupied Territories'. Published by Article 19, 90 Borough High Street, London SE1 1LL. pounds 3.