Israeli journalist threatened for exposed war crimes

Issue 

An Israeli journalist who went into hiding after writing a series of reports showing lawbreaking approved by Israeli army commanders faces a lengthy jail term for espionage if caught, as Israeli security services warned at the weekend they would "remove the gloves" to track him down.

The Shin Bet, Israel's secret police, said it was treating Uri Blau, a reporter with the IsraeliHaaretz daily newspaper who has gone underground in London, as a "fugitive felon".

A warrant for his arrest had been issued.

Options being considered include an extradition request to the British authorities or, if that fails, a secret operation by Mossad, Israel's spy agency, to smuggle him back, Maariv, a right-wing Israeli newspaper, said.

It was revealed on April 12 that Blau's informant, Anat Kamm, a 23-year-old former conscript soldier who copied hundreds of classified documents during her military service, had confessed shortly after her arrest in December to doing so in order to expose "war crimes".

The Shin Bet claims that Blau is holding hundreds of classified documents, including some reported to relate to Operation Cast Lead, Israel's December 2008-January 2009 attack on Gaza.

Other documents, the basis of a Haaretz investigation published in 2008, concern a meeting between the head of the army, Gabi Ashkenazi, and the Shin Bet in which it was agreed to ignore a court ruling and continue carrying out executions of Palestinian leaders in the occupied territories (West Bank and the Gaza Strip).

Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet, is demanding Blau reveal his entire document archive and take a lie-detector test on his return to identify his sources, Haaretz said. The newspaper and its lawyers have recommended Blau remain in hiding to protect his informants.

Haaretz revealed that, shortly before Israel's attack on Gaza, it agreed to pull a printed edition after the army demanded at the last minute that one of Blau's stories not be published.

His report had already passed the military censor, which checks that articles do not endanger national security.

Lawyers and human rights groups fear the army and Shin Bet are trying to silence investigative journalists and send a warning to other correspondents not to follow in Blau's path.

The Shin Bet's determination to arrest Blau was revealed after a blanket gag order was lifted late last week on Kamm's case. She has been under house arrest since December.

She has admitted copying hundreds of classified documents while serving in the office of Brigadier General Yair Naveh, in charge of operations in the West Bank, between 2005 and 2007.

Kamm is charged with espionage with intent to harm national security, the harshest indictment possible and one that could land her in jail for 25 years.

Haaretz said Blau fears that they will try to identify his other informants if he hands over his archive.

Blau learned of his predicament in December, while out of the country on holiday. He said a friend called to warn that the Shin Bet had broken into his home and ransacked it.

He later learned they had been monitoring his telephone, email and computer for many months.

Jeff Halper, an Israeli analyst, said: "The real question is whether this exceptionally heavy-handed approach is designed only to get back Kamm's documents or go after Blau and his other sources.

"It may be that Kamm is the excuse the security services need to identify Blau's circle of informants."

Blau has already published several stories, apparently based on Kamm's documents, showing that the army command approved policies that not only broke international law but also violated the rulings of Israel's courts.

His reports have included revelations that senior commanders approved extrajudicial assassinations in the occupied territories that were almost certain to kill Palestinian bystanders; that, in violation of a commitment to the high court, the army issued orders to execute wanted Palestinians even if they could be safely captured; and that the defence ministry compiled a secret report showing that the great majority of settlements in the West Bank were illegal even under Israeli law.

Although the original stories date to 2008, the army issued a statement belatedly this month that Blau's reports were "outrageous and misleading".

No senior commanders have been charged over the army's lawbreaking activities.

B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, said its research had shown that, "in many cases soldiers have been conducting themselves in the territories as if they were on a hit mission, as opposed to arrest operations".

It added the authorities "rushed to investigate the leak and chose to ignore the severe suspicions of blatant wrongdoings depicted in those documents".

Media coverage of the case in Israel has been largely hostile. Yuval Elbashan, a lawyer, wrote in the April 12 Haaretz that Blau's fellow military reporters and analysts had abandoned their colleague and proven "their loyalty to the [security] system as the lowliest of its servants".

[Abridged from Electronicintifada.net. Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His website is .]

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