WEST BANK: American journalist booted from Israel after being questioned about his views
In a case that has angered press freedom groups, Jared Malsin, the American editor of a Palestinian news agency based in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, departed Israel on Wednesday after being denied entry to the country.
The 24-year-old journalist was put on a plane to New York after spending a week in detention and being interrogated by Israeli authorities about his "anti-Israeli" views, news reports said.
Officials insisted that Malsin, who is Jewish, had not been deported from Israel but left the country voluntarily after a court rejected his appeal for a visa, according to the Reuters news agency. They said Malsin was denied entry into the country when he refused to answer their questions at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport when returning from a holiday.
"He refused to cooperate," Sabine Hadad, a spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry was quoted as saying by Reuters.
She said Malsin refused to answer questions "about his past" in the country.
Malsin's girlfriend, a U.S citizen working as a volunteer for a church group in Jerusalem, was reportedly also denied entry when she arrived at the airport last week and subsequently sent out of Israel.
During his nearly 2 1/2 years of work with the Maan news agency, a nonprofit organization supported by grants from the European Union, the United Nations and the U.S. that reports on Israel and the occupied territories, Malsin had apparently used three-month tourist visas in his stay and did not have a proper work visa.
The technique is supposedly rather commonplace by some foreign employees in the Palestinian areas who claim to have an increasingly difficult time obtaining work visas from the Israeli authorities, according to a report by the Washington Post.
Reuters quoted an Israeli document that said Malsin was questioned after having entered the country "many times without proper visa arrangements." When the journalist said he lived in the West Bank town of Beit Sahour, officials said, they searched his name on the Internet and concluded his reporting "had a critical eye on Israel."
The document said the officials believed Malsin was "taking advantage of being Jewish in order to obtain a visa."
Malsin said he found it "outrageous" that his political views would prove such a big deal.
"They judged me to have anti-Israeli politics," he was quoted as saying by the Washington Post. "It's outrageous that would even appear in a legal argument, that a person's politics would be a relevant issue."
The International Federation of Journalists called the Malsin case "an intolerable violation of press freedom."
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photo: Jared Malsin, left, meets with U.S. Consul General Daniel Rubinstein in Bethlehem in the West Bank. Credit: Associated Press