Soldier-turned-journalist under house arrest in Israel

Israel has held a journalist under secret house arrest since December based on allegations that during her military service she leaked classified documents suggesting that the Israeli army violated laws dealing with targeted killings.

Anat Kam, 23, was arrested and charged in December 2009 under Israel’s espionage and treason laws, JTA has learned. Prosecutors are seeking a 14-year sentence, which is considered severe by Israeli standards.

At the time of her arrest, Kam was working as a reporter for the Israeli Internet site Walla, which until recently was owned by Ha’aretz. But the charges are related to Kam’s service in the Israeli army, when she is alleged to have photocopied sensitive documents. Kam has denied the charges.

Dov Alfon, editor-in-chief of Ha’aretz, which published a story in November 2008 suggesting alleged army violations, said the linkage between Kam’s arrest and the article, made in a number of blogs, is “absurd.”

Kam’s arrest has been under a gag order in Israel, which Ha’aretz says it is appealing. With the gag order in place, it is impossible to know the prosecution’s reasoning for a 14-year sentence.

In a case from 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, a nuclear technician who revealed the existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons capability to the British press, was sentenced to 18 years. He eventually served the full sentence.

The fact that Kam allegedly photocopied the documents while in uniform may weigh against her. Israel sustains vibrant freedoms of speech and press, but there is a strong taboo in the country against relaying information garnered while in service.

“Ha’aretz asked the court to lift the gag order, not just in the public interest but also to allow us to defend ourselves from this absurd allegation,” Alfon said. “More than a year passed between the publication and her arrest, a year in which [journalist] Uri Blau published several other front-page articles criticizing the army’s conduct.”

The Nov. 26, 2008 story in Ha’aretz revealed the existence of documents defying a 2006 Supreme Court ruling against assassinating wanted militants who otherwise might be arrested safely.

In one document, dated March 28, 2007 and reprinted by Ha’aretz, Gen. Yair Naveh, then the central commander, permitted open-fire procedures upon identification of any of three leaders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, even if it was not apparent they posed a threat.

Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff then and now, approved the targets on March 29, 2007, according to minutes of a meeting reproduced by Ha’aretz, and also said troops were to withhold fire only if they were unable to identify “more than one” passenger in the targeted vehicle.

Both orders violated the law, according to experts cited by Ha’aretz.

One of the three wanted men, Ziad Malisha, was killed near Jenin on June 20, 2007 in what the IDF at the time said was an “exchange of fire.”

Naveh told Ha’aretz that troops under his command at times did not observe arrest procedures if the suspect was a “ticking bomb” and did not immediately surrender. The newspaper also quoted the army as saying that arrest was not possible in the Malisha case.

Kam reportedly served in Naveh’s office at the time of the memos.

Israeli courts have gagged not only the details of Kam’s arrest but also news of the arrest itself. The appeal against the gag order, which has been joined by other media outlets, will be heard April 12 in Tel Aviv District Court.

It’s not clear why a gag order was imposed in this case, Kam’s supporters say, especially since the military censor approved publication of the original Ha’aretz story. Some have speculated that the prosecution is using the gag order to prevent public outrage. The investigation into Kam was a joint effort of military intelligence, the police and the Shin Bet internal security service.


Ron Kampeas

JTA D.C. bureau chief