on national security

Last summer there was an article in Lebanon’s The Daily Star newspaper, as well as in all of the television media, that revealed two Israeli journalists entered Lebanon on non-passports. Lisa Goldman (here is Goldman’s blog where she writes about her communication with Lebanese people) and Rinat Malkes entered on a Canadian passport and on a Brazilian passport respectively. Their presence here was revealed after Goldman aired footage of her reporting here on Israel’s Channel 10.

Here are some excerpts from The Daily Star article (which is reprinted on a blog in its entirety) that ask us to think about some crucial legal and ethical questions:

“The word Israel must not be mentioned in Lebanon,” said Malkes in her article in the right-wing Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, describing how the two journalists cut out the labels from their clothes before arriving in Beirut to hide any Hebrew inscription that may reveal their true identities.

One Lebanese who grew up in Dahiyeh and was interviewed by Goldman stated that she not only misquoted him, but deceived him from the start, supplying him with a false name and misinforming him that she was writing for a European paper as a Canadian. “She completely hid her Israeli nationality, saying she was from Vancouver, and gave me a different name from Lisa Goldman … she also said she was writing for a European paper,” he said on Monday.

“If I’d known she was Israeli, I would’ve had her arrested,” he added. “What she did was extremely wrong, and it could get me into a lot of trouble – she has me doing an interview on camera … my family are extremely worried about repercussions from officials for talking to her … But I didn’t know she was Israeli.”

According to Magda Abu-Fadil, the director of the journalism training program at the American University of Beirut, the mere fact that a journalist would misidentify herself or conduct an interview under false pretenses, is in itself unethical.

“In general terms, I don’t think you should assume a false identity unless something like national security is involved or the public good is at stake, like saving someone’s life,” she said. “But this is not the case here – this situation does not fall under the category.”

“If you believe that your job is to inform your public about vital issues of interest and importance to them as best you can, then you may excuse yourself from breaking any rules,” he continued. “The important issue then is whether you can actually report fairly when you do so under false pretense.”

Yet the deception may have serious repercussions on those who were unwittingly taken in under false pretenses by the two Israeli journalists. “You have to ask, how did they represent themselves, and did they endanger anyone locally?” Abu-Fadil asked. “Suspicions may arise and people may not want to deal with those that were interviewed if they think they are in contact with Israelis.”

The question on everybody’s lips now, however, is what can be done to ensure this does not happen again? Abu-Fadil suggested a system for monitoring foreign journalists who enter Lebanon to check their backgrounds. “We don’t want a police state, but by the same token, is there anything than can keep track of who these people are?” she asked. “It is much harder to do these days with new technology, but we need to be more vigilant and organized on how to deal with journalists.”

Maluf added that monitoring all foreign journalists may not be necessary, but because Lebanon is currently in a state of war with Israel, there should be a monitoring system of “any and all Israeli incursions of any kind into our country,” he said.

It enraged me on a number of levels that these Israelis snuck into Lebanon. On some level I really want to know how different lying and sneaking into the country is as a journalist than if they were (or are?) Mossad agents? How does one know? Given how many times Israelis have used deception to harm people in this region why should one give anyone the benefit of the doubt. Of course this leads Israelis to violate Lebanese law by entering the country under false pretenses.

I found an article critiquing this above-quoted Daily Star piece in the Columbia Journalism Review. The writer says that she is a friend of one of the above-mentioned journalists. Although she mentions that it is illegal for Lebanese people to have any contact with Israelis, she dismisses this legal fact. Instead, she goes on about such violations of this law–including during the July 2006 war–in reference to Israeli-Lebanese bloggers chatting online. She ignores the entire history of Mossad agents operating in Lebanon in ways that have killed many thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian people living here. Moreover, the author, Gal Beckerman, as well as Goldman conflate being Jewish with being Israeli–two very different things:

It’s a damaging allegation, premised entirely on the fact that Lisa—though she never lied—did not announce herself as an Israeli. To many Lebanese, the very presence of a “Jewish reporter,” as she was described in the piece, is threatening. One Lebanese journalism professor in the article even talked about setting up a monitoring system to detect “any and all Israeli incursions of any kind into our country.”

Lisa was trying to give Israelis a better idea of their neighbor to the north. She defended herself here. And the gist is this: “It is not pleasant to be put in a position of having to lie. I tried to avoid doing that as much as possible, which is why I wandered Beirut on my own and did not hire a local translator or driver, who might later be tainted by association with the dreaded Jew. However, accusing me of unethical behaviour is what we in Israel call chutzpah, given that the reporter [who wrote the piece about her] failed to contact me for a comment—which is basic Journalism 101, as I’m sure the esteemed professors of journalism who are quoted in the article will confirm. The bad ethics rap is rather disingenuous, given that I risked abduction and imprisonment by the Hezbollah if I declared that I was an Israeli citizen.”

In fact, no, people here in Lebanon do not go around thinking about the “dreaded Jew.” Nor is the presence of a “Jewish reporter” the problem. What is the problem is that Israelis are obviously entering the country, lying about their identity, and whether or not they are also journalists, they could easily be up to many other things. Including spying. Including carrying out terrorist attacks. It has happened too many times before to even leave such a question unanswered. Moreover, why is it that she failed to mention that Goldman’s own country questioned her because her presence here also violated Israeli law?

Lebanese and Palestinian people who live here put themselves at risk when they are exposed to Israelis. Because it is obvious they cannot be trusted, why should anyone take a chance on an Israeli regardless of their dual citizenship (I’ve been told that something like 70% of Israelis have multiple citizenship by the way). But also Jews who live here–say American–also are at risk in some ways by these Israeli Jews who invade and evade Lebanese borders. Understandably people are suspicious enough when meeting Jews here–and even Americans (CIA has an equally reprehensible track record in comparison to Mossad). When Israelis come in and hide their identity they are risking the lives of many people. And no, this has nothing to do with being Jewish. And yes, it does have everything to do with integrity and being honest about who one is when one is asked.

When people like myself travel to Palestine and have to deal with foreign Israelis controlling the border we are often Googled. I know this because when I’ve been interrogated by them they have asked me about things that they would only know from Googling me and reading about me on the Internet. Of course it is infuriating because they have no business controlling the border of a country that is not their own; they are foreign invaders and colonists.

My question is this: why is it that Lebanese border security (as well as consulates and embassies abroad) cannot Google people before they enter the country. It would have been very easy to find out that Lisa Goldman is an Israeli from Tel Aviv by such a search regardless of whether or not she also has Canadian citizenship. When you are at a state of war with another country it is in your best interests to conduct security in a way that keeps possible spies or terrorists out of the country. Certainly my country, the U.S., is obscene with the levels of “security” they go through to monitor who is even granted a visa or not. I think all of us who are foreigners living in Lebanon should be subjected to at least some measure of scrutiny before welcoming us in with open arms. I’m not arguing that the same measures should be used (lest we export American fascism to Lebanon) but I do think security of Lebanese and Palestinian people here must be considered a priority.

If Lisa Goldman had been Googled, as she herself apparently asked someone to do while she was sitting in De Prague cafe in Hamra she would have easily been found out. In a long article written about her experiences in Lebanon she writes:

The following day, after a night of bar hopping that had produced what was quite possibly the worst hangover of my life, I saw Najib at Café de Prague, a popular student hangout near the American University of Beirut. I was pretty sure he had already seen me, but assumed he had ignored me because he was involved in a conversation. So I went over to say hello, and asked if we could still meet for his promised tour of Beirut architecture. I mentioned that I had gone out drinking the previous night in Gemmayzeh, a nightlife hub that was remarkably similar to Tel Aviv’s Lilienblum Street, and had a terrible hangover. He did not respond to my chatter, nor did he smile in return. Suddenly he interrupted me and, with a hard, suspicious look on his face, asked “Lisa, what are you really doing in Beirut?”

There it was – the paranoia. I looked at him and said slowly, “Najib, I’m doing exactly what I told you yesterday. I’m going to write some human-interest articles about the atmosphere in Beirut one year after the war. I don’t have any nefarious intentions, and my life is pretty much an open book. Google me and you’ll see. But if you don’t feel comfortable meeting me again, I’ll understand. No hard feelings.”

“Okay,” answered Najib. Meaning, okay – let’s not meet again.

That was the first time I felt the ground shift beneath me, and I was afraid. As I walked away from Café de Prague I cursed myself for my indiscretion. What if this guy Najib told the wrong people that there was an Israeli journalist wandering around Beirut? Had I told him the name of my hotel? By the time I’d walked another hundred metres, I had revised my itinerary for the remainder of the week. Several people – Lebanese and foreign reporters, mostly – had warned me strongly against entering the dahiyeh. They told me that the outskirts were iffy, but the interior was a real risk: Hezbollah security guys on mopeds patrolled the streets and frequently stopped, questioned and requested identification of strangers. Two reporters told me that they’d had their names googled at a checkpoint leading into the so-called security square in the middle of the dahiyeh, where the senior Hezbollah members lived. A blonde, blue- eyed Beirut woman who sometimes worked as a translator for foreign correspondents told me she was harassed by Hezbollah security the last time she took some journalists to the Dahiyeh. “They tried to stop me from walking the streets and taking photographs in my own city!” she said heatedly. A couple of people who lived in the dahiyeh said they would not run the risk of showing me around their neighborhood.

I don’t know for a fact whether or not Hezbollah Googles reporters or foreigners who enter Dahiya–I know that I’ve been there many times and have never had that happen to me. But if they do they’d be a great asset at the borders. Particularly those Hezbollah officials who are fluent in Hebrew.


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