Israeli court and state rule that children's deaths too controversial to publicise

August 10, 2014
Sarah Benton

Two reports from B’Tselem plus New York magazine asks why so many children are being killed.

B’Tselem petitions Israel’s High Court to oblige Israel Broadcasting Authority to broadcast names of Gazan children killed

Press release from B’Tselem
July 29, 2014

Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) yesterday, 28 July 2014, seeking to oblige the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) to air radio spots produced by B’Tselem which incorporate the names of a few of the more than 200 Palestinian children killed in Gaza in Operation Protective Edge. The IBA refused to air the radio spots on the grounds of being “controversial”, not balanced, and possibly provoking public controversy over the military operation.

In the petition, Attorneys Hagai Kalai and Gilad Barnea wrote that at the heart of the matter lie Muhammad Malakeh, 2 years old; Siraj al-‘Al, 8; Basem Kaware’, 10; Amal al-Batsh, 2; Saher Abu Namous, 4, and many other children. Is it permissible to state their names and the fact that they died in the Gaza Strip, or does the very mention of these facts constitute a controversial

political statement which disqualifies it for airing in a paid radio spot on Israeli national radio?

The petition states that the present intense fighting with the heavy toll it is taking on Israeli civilians and soldiers, and especially on Palestinian civilians, served to motivate B’Tselem to try to raise public awareness of the harm to people not participating in the fighting. Although all Israeli channels are covering the fighting around the clock, Israeli media have refrained from any substantial discussion of the heavy Palestinian casualties. At best, the multitude of women, children and elderly injured or killed are mentioned as a statistic, and briefly at that. The terrible human suffering of these people, most of whom are uninvolved civilians, remains unarticulated on Israeli media.

B’Tselem argued in the petition that some of the grounds the IBA cited as justification for its refusal – namely, that the timing of the broadcast and the identity of the organization behind it lend the dry facts political meaning – are at odds with previous court rulings. As for the IBA’s argument that the radio spots can be rejected for not giving the names of Israelis killed, it is absurd: not only have Israeli children, thankfully, not been killed since the operation began, but the point of the broadcast was to bring to the fore names that had not been mentioned by the media. In effect, the proposed radio spots would fulfill the role of balancing partial, one-sided media coverage.

The IBA’s argument that the contents might provoke a critical debate in Israel with regard to the operation cannot be merited. It is the public’s right (and duty) to know the facts, and healthy public debate over the implications of the situation in its entirety must be permitted. This is especially true in view of the fact that the IBA is currently airing spots by organizations such as the National Resilience Headquarters that is calling for the operation to continue until “victory” is achieved – whatever “victory” may mean – or by the ultra-orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement youth, calling on Jews to fulfill certain religious commandments, such as donning tefillin [phylacteries], with a view to promoting the operation’s success. In its petition, B’Tselem noted that, contrary to the IBA’s position, national resilience depends on the ability to take a good, hard look at the heavy price being paid on both sides of the border. It depends also on the ability to make courageous decisions based on full understanding of their implications. It is the IBA’s duty to enable such informed public debate.

Attorney General asks Court to adopt new policy formulated in response to B’Tselem’s petition, aiming to preventing broadcast of radio spot with names of children killed in Gaza

Attorney General’s recommendation to change rules as B’Tselem’s radio spot awaits approval raises concern of improper discrimination

Press release from B’Tselem
August 06, 2014

On Wednesday, 6 August 2014, Attorneys Hagai Kalai and Gilad Barnea submitted the response by Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem to the attorney general’s position as presented to Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) earlier this week as part of the state’s response to the organization’s petition. B’Tselem’s response emphasizes that the existing rule clearly establishes that it is permissible “to broadcast a political advertisement provided that it concentrate solely on a factual message.” B’Tselem’s proposed radio spot meets these conditions. B’Tselem adds that the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) is not permitted to consider the advertiser’s identity, as it did, nor consider whether the facts presented may be interpreted differently by different listeners. Neither is the IBA permitted to assess the facts presented in reference to what it perceives as the government’s position. Such conduct contradicts the IBA’s obligation to act independently and raises grave doubts regarding its ability to foster effective criticism of the regime.

The attorney general’s response to the HCJ seeks to overturn an existing rule, despite the absence of any new circumstances justifying such a change. He proposes a new test including a series of questions to be applied in determining whether or not to approve the broadcasting of advertisements. For example, the IBA will be required to consider whether an ad may be construed as political or as provoking ideological controversy; whether alternative media exist for the publication of the information; the timing of publication; and the advertiser’s identity. B’Tselem notes that these considerations have no basis in case law, contradict the existing rule, and are unlawful and unconstitutional. The IBA is not permitted to consider the advertiser’s identity: this constitutes improper discrimination and violation of freedom of speech. The upshot of the attorney general’s position is that the IBA can prohibit the broadcasting of any spot, even a factual spot, presenting information it believes might support a controversial position, even if only implicitly.

The attorney general’s new “policy” in its entirety was formulated only after B’Tselem filed the current petition and in reaction thereto. Instead of examining the petitioner’s radio spot on the basis of IBA policy, the above-mentioned policy was crafted in the course of the response to the petition for the purpose of preventing the broadcasting of the proposed radio spot. Changing the tests to be applied in order to reject B’Tselem’s radio spot heightens concern regarding lack of proper administration. The Court has previously recognized that changing rules according to a request by a specific body raises grave suspicion of administrative discrimination.

B’Tselem further notes that the new norm the IBA and the attorney general seek to establish lacks any documentary support and is not based on the IBA’s internal rules and guidelines. This new policy could be amended at will and is not publicly transparent. Once the current proceeding is completed, there is no reason why the policy might not be amended again in order to permit the broadcasting of a political ad by a body that is more popular with IBA management.

The current rule was established in the People’s Voice petition and was accepted after a hearing before an expanded HCJ panel. B’Tselem emphasizes that if the HCJ sees fit to consider changing this rule, this will entail the continuation of the hearing before an expanded panel in order to clarify the constitutional issues raised by the petition.

Why Are So Many Children Dying in Gaza?

By Katie Zavadski, New York magazine

July 21, 2014

The most appalling images out of Israel and Gaza over the past few weeks have been those of children: Four boys killed minutes after playing soccer on the beach, by shells that seemed to be “chasing them.” A father stuffing what remained of his young child into a plastic bag. A teenager burned by an angry mob in retribution for the deaths of his three Israeli peers.

According to most estimates, around one in five Palestinian deaths in Operation Defense Edge has been that of a child. If counting solely civilian casualties, the number is bound to be higher, but Hamas estimates do not distinguish between deaths of militants and bystanders. (Everyone, such a count implies, is fighting for the cause of liberation.) Benjamin Wallace-Wells suggested that these deaths, and the brutal beating of a Florida teen, have been main contributors to the outpouring of social media support Gaza residents have received. Defence for Children International, an international NGO, called for an immediate end to strikes on Gaza, citing the high numbers of dead children and calling the strikes a violation of international law.

Why are so many children dying in Gaza? The answer is surprisingly simple.

According to the CIA World Factbook, about half of the Strip’s population is under the age of 18. The median age in Gaza is just 18 and a few months. With the elder population amounting to an almost-negligible percentage, young children are easily the most vulnerable.

One of the most commonly cited refrains about Gaza is that it is one of the most densely populated places on Earth, a complicated claim because it varies widely across the region. Gaza City has about as many people per square mile as NYC and much fewer than Hoboken. At the Jabalia camp, however, U.N. estimates say over 100,000 refugees reside on 1.4 square kilometer of land. (That’s about half a square mile, for reference.) In either case, though, Israel isn’t exactly firing into a rural region. Even UNICEF’s count that children account for one third of civilian casualties in Gaza means that things could be going much, much worse.

Digging into age breakdowns some more doesn’t change much. UNICEF says about half the children who’ve died in Gaza during Operation Defensive Edge have been under age 12. (That’s one sixth of civilian casualties, for those keeping count.) In contrast, more than 40 percent of the population is age 14 and younger. Shoot a rocket blindly into the Strip and your chances of hitting a prepubescent child are almost 50-50.

Why is the population so disproportionately young in Gaza? For starters, it has the 35th highest birth rate in the world, behind almost exclusively African nations. In contrast, its infant mortality rate is quite low: less than that of Brazil and Vietnam, and just slightly higher than that of China. Statistics show that these numbers run up to a birth rate of just over four children per woman — doubling the population with every generation and making it ever-younger.

The result is lots of children and an ever-growing population for already-scarce resources. No emigration means everyone born into Gaza has to stay.

This also puts a strain on Gaza’s long-term memory: an ever-increasing proportion of the population has never known Israel as anything but an overwhelmingly more powerful enemy. Fully 40 percent of the population doesn’t even remember anything before Israel’s 2005 disengagement from the Strip. This is the third armed conflict in their short lives.

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