The Ministry of Defense refused to allow foreign correspondents to cross over from Israel into the Gaza Strip on Monday, despite a court ruling, a representative of the foreign media in Israel said.
The Supreme Court had ruled last week that eight foreign correspondents could enter the Strip if the Gaza crossings were open to allow humanitarian relief.
On Monday, however, Israeli officials, citing security risks, prevented the journalists from entering the Strip when the crossings were opened to allow 200 foreigners to leave the salient.
Israel has allowed no foreign correspondents to enter the Strip from Israel since it began its Operation "Cast Lead" against Hamas on December 27.
The Israel Foreign Press Association petitioned the Supreme Court on the issue, and Israel agreed to allow a poll of eight journalists into the Strip when the crossings were opened.
Two of the places would be assigned by the Israel Defense Forces, and the other six placed would be decided on the basis of a lottery in the presence of an attorney.
Foreign journalists vie for the few slots to get into Gaza
Since the Israel Defense Forces operation began in the Gaza Strip late last month, Sderot has become a communications hub, mainly for journalists from around the world.
"There are masses of requests," says Noam Katz, director of public relations at the Foreign Ministry. "A reporter from CNN stands there and protests the state's decision on the air."
There are currently around 400 to 500 foreign journalists in Israel, and since the ground operation began, senior correspondents have begun to stream in. CNN's Christiane Amanpour is at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem, the producers of NBC television's "Meet the Press" are in Israel from the United States, as is Bob Simon of CBS' "60 Minutes."
The BBC's Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, is also in Israel. Everyone will have to wait for the policy to change and for Israel to allow the media into Gaza to cover the events.
In contrast to the open policy that prevailed during the Second Lebanon War, the Defense Ministry decided to close the Strip entirely to the press.
Catrin Ormestad, who writes for The Economist and a number of Swedish papers, said the Israeli policy was very tough and she did not have much of a chance of being a member of the group of eight because she was not as high-profile as Fox or CNN.
Israel says it does not want the foreign press in Gaza due to concerns that something might happen to them that will hamper Israel's operations. "What if one of these media stars gets hurt? Even if it isn't Israel's fault, it will be perceived as fundamental for the Palestinians," an Israeli source said.
That is apparently only part of the reason. Keeping the foreign journalists in Israel, sources say, is good for Israel's image because the media is experiencing the war from the Israeli side. As soon as the IDF gets a hold in the Strip, it is expected that the IDF Spokesman will let Israeli and foreign journalists in with the army. For the time being, the only presence documenting events is the spokesman's office.
Israel is also being very strict about military censorship. On Saturday night, Channel 2 reported that a journalist from Iranian television in Israel broke censorship rules and an arrest order was issued against him. According to Danny Seaman, the director of the Israel Government Press Office, the reporter had been refused a press card for security reasons.
The approach is stricter in general, Seaman explained, because "too many times we have spoken in too many voices. This time it's clear that the system is unified and serious. That was also one of the Winograd Committee's conclusions, but this time there won't be censorship violations that won't be dealt with."