JERUSALEM - International journalists based in Israel appealed to the country’s Supreme Court on Monday to overturn a government decision barring foreign correspondents from entering the Gaza Strip.
The Foreign Press Association filed the court petition against the military’s Gaza commander, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit after the government failed to heed a letter signed by heads of the world’s largest news organizations calling for the ban to be lifted.
The court petition charged the media ban constitutes “a grave and mortal blow against freedom of the press and other basic rights and gives the unpleasant feeling that the state of Israel has something to hide.” It requested an urgent hearing.
The Tel Aviv-based Foreign Press Association represents foreign correspondents working in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Israel has long restricted movement across its border with Gaza, but it closed the area to all but essential supplies on Nov. 5 after an upsurge in Palestinian rocket fire. For the first time, that included a blanket ban on foreign reporters entering the territory.
The government routinely prevents Israeli journalists from entering Gaza because of fears for their safety, but up to now foreign reporters had been permitted in, even during times of heavy fighting.
Since the ban, coverage in Gaza has been largely left to local Palestinian staff and a handful of foreign journalists who entered before the ban took effect, including two Associated Press reporters.
Israel’s Defense Ministry says foreign journalists will be allowed in only once Gaza militants stop shooting.
The letter protesting the ban, signed by The AP, Reuters, the New York Times, the BBC, CNN and other major news organizations, was sent last week to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
In responding to the letter, Defense Ministry spokesman Shlomo Dror said Israel was displeased with international media coverage, which he said inflated Palestinian suffering and did not make clear that Israel’s measures were in response to Palestinian violence.