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Israeli journalist flees to UK over arrest fears

April 1, 2010 2:03 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 17, 2011 9:39 P.M.)
By: George Hale

New York - Ma'an - An Israeli journalist is in hiding in the United Kingdom over concerns he could face charges in Israel for his role in exposing top secret military documents as part of an investigation into army assassinations in the West Bank, Ma'an has learned.

Haaretz reporter Uri Blau reported in November 2008 that Israel's army has repeatedly violated a 2006 ruling by the High Court of Justice against certain types of "targeted assassinations," predominantly those in which a non-combatant was killed.

A year after the story's publication, Israeli authorities seized Blau's computer, Ma'an has learned. Blau, who happened to be in China at the time, remains abroad. Colleagues say he fears arrest if he returns to the country. Blau did not respond to inquiries about his present location, although his colleagues say he is somewhere in the United Kingdom. His latest story's dateline is London.

Although no charges against Blau have been announced, authorities are seeking his return in connection with the case of another Israeli reporter who authorities allege provided Blau with information that inspired his story. Israel's Shin Bet intelligence service has banned news media from mentioning the case or identifying the reporter, Anat Kam, 23, who has been held secretly under house arrest for months.

While a number of Israeli journalists who contacted Ma'an believe Israel's intelligence community wants to make an example out of Kam in an effort to dissuade others from exposing secret documents in the future, knowledgeable Israeli sources have confirmed that Blau is the real target. "This is bigger than you think," said one source who remains in contact with the Haaretz reporter. "They're really after him."

Nevertheless, it is Kam who faces the serious charges of espionage and treason, which could result in over a decade in prison if convicted. Israeli prosecutors will claim on 14 April that she copied and leaked at least two classified military documents during her mandatory army service years earlier.

'Hundreds of documents'

These documents are believed to be the same two reproduced by Haaretz Magazine in 2008, although colleagues say Blau's original report was longer, and that its approval by Israel's military censor came only after Haaretz agreed to remove certain allegations. After the censor became aware of hundreds of other classified documents -- allegedly provided by Kam -- proving the assassinations story was just the tip of the iceberg, that part of the story was cleared in exchange for silence on other more damaging elements.

No side in the case has officially confirmed involvement, a point of concern noted by press freedom groups. Israel's military did not return calls seeking comment, nor did a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose office approved the publication ban.

Haaretz has not confirmed that Kam, who denies involvement, was Blau's source. Despite criticism that the newspaper has remained notably silent, it has fought the order in court. It has also submitted reports on the detention to the censor, who rejected them outright.

Another Israeli newspaper, Ma'ariv, has published ambiguous references to the case. One came in a January op-ed about a non-existent country that secretly jails journalists, asking its confused subscribers whether that country should still be considered a democracy. Another reference appeared as a satirical correction. "Due to a gag order, we can't tell you what we know. Due to laziness, indifference, and misplaced trust in the defense establishment, we don't know anything," the Hebrew-language daily explained Friday.

While Kam's ongoing detention is well-known to local and foreign journalists based in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, no Mideast-based news organization has independently reported it until now. Most international reporters, including those with foreign agencies and newspapers, sign an agreement with the censor before they are granted Israeli press credentials, and fear arrest upon exposing the case. Based in the Palestinian territories, Ma'an is neither a party to this agreement nor bound by the gag order.

Jared Malsin and Mya Guarnieri contributed to this report.
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