Why Israel censored reporting on the Jordan embassy shooting | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 25.07.2017
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Middle East

Why Israel censored reporting on the Jordan embassy shooting

In the hours after a shooting at Israel's embassy compound in Amman, Israelis were unable to read about the incident in local media. Why does the country continue to censor the press?

Two Jordanians were killed and an Israeli security guard injured in a shooting at the Israeli embassy complex in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Sunday evening, but no Israeli could turn to local media to get information about the incident - at least in the hours immediately after it took place.

All media outlets in Israel must comply with military censorship, and the incident in Amman was initially not approved for publication by the Israeli Military Censor.

In closed WhatsApp groups, reporters were told that the reason the government suppressed the story was so that Israel could "safely evacuate the embassy of all Israeli staff" and bring its employees back home.

Since international media outlets are naturally not obliged to follow Israeli censorship guidelines, many Israelis were able to read the news on foreign websites and took to social media in the search for answers, especially as an Israeli national was involved.

According to Israel's government, an Israeli security guard opened fire after a 17-year-old Jordanian, who had entered the embassy complex to replace furniture, attacked him with a screwdriver.

Watch video 00:31

Israeli embassy compound in Jordan hit by deadly attack

But reports on Jordanian media suggest that it wasn't the Jordanian workman who attacked the guard, but that he himself was shot by the guard during an argument between the two.

Although there was no official gag order issued by the court, the Israeli Military Censor did not allow the incident to be published on local media - a rule all media outlets in the county are bound to when reporting about security issues.

But some Israelis were not satisfied by the obscurity, taking to Twitter to express their resentment.

"What's the logic behind hiding the events in the Jordanian capital from the Israeli public?" one user asked.

An Israel-based journalist protested the censorship by simply tweeting a blackened breaking news message.

Even some Israeli officials commented on the incident regardless of the injunction, either unaware of or simply ignoring it, but were immediately criticized by other users referring them to the censorship still in effect.

Oren Hazan, a member of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, tweeted: "our neighbors from east to the Jordan [river] need some re-education. It's starting to feel like a goodbye."

"I'm very happy that you're violating the military censorship, but claiming that [we] need to cut diplomatic ties with Jordan is simply embarrassing," another user tweeted in response.

'Archaic' method

For many in the country, the idea of military censorship is perhaps not ideal, but not unreasonable. "Was there even a censorship order on that incident? I did not know that," Evyatar Cohen, a video producer from Israel, told DW.

"In principle I'm always in favor of the public's right to be informed, but if it reaches a point of a life-threatening situation, I fully accept the idea of censorship and even gag orders," he said. "There's always a way for the press to go around it, or hint, and make sure that the message still spreads through social media."

But for Daphna Lavie, an international relations student from Tel Aviv, this is an unacceptable excuse. "I understand that many times people's lives are at stake, but to be honest, in the age of social media it just seems pointless," she said. "We all get push notifications from international media, we all have Twitter or Facebook or both - it's not like people can't get the information."

"It makes it look like Israel is simply using its archaic power to censor information, when in fact it should be able to handle such a complicated situation even without placing gag orders or military censorship," Lavie added. "Most Western countries don't have that - and we shouldn't either."

Jordanian security forces surround Israel's embassy in Amman (picture-alliance/abaca)

Jordanian security forces sealed off the area around Israel's embassy in Amman after the incident

By Sunday evening, the entire embassy staff was waiting in vehicles outside the compound in Amman preparing to be taken back to Israel, but Jordanian authorities demanded to interrogate the Israeli guard.

"It was probably unclear whether the staff will be released - I get that," Lavie said. "I'm just saying that Israel needs to figure out a solution, because at the end we all got this information from other media."

And indeed, Israeli authorities released information about the incident in Jordan in the early hours of Monday morning, after several conflicting reports on foreign news sites.

The Prime Minister's Office announced that at roughly 11:00 p.m. local time (9:00 p.m. CET) on Monday, the Israeli embassy staff in Amman, including the Israeli ambassador to Jordan, Einat Schlain, had arrived in Israel.

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