Washington Post reporters William Booth and Sufian Taha were detained for interrogation on Tuesday by Border Police at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, on suspicion that they attempted to stage a riot by Arab youths there, Israeli media reported. Apparently, they had been wandering around the gate asking passersby “strange questions” as a complaining citizen described it.
The two were released shortly thereafter. Ruth Eglash, another Post reporter, tweeted that the cops told her friends that they were suspected of incitement. A Jerusalem police investigating officer met the two at a station and released them.
Booth has a history of anti-Israel bias, habitually pointing the finger strictly at Israel. He accused the Israeli foreign ministry of preempting a negative UN report last summer when the MFA lampooned know nothing reporters in a biting, if somewhat heavy-handed satirical clip.
Jerusalem Police released a statement saying that “a passerby complained that he had witnessed the intent of a few people to stage a provocative situation and disorderly conduct by Arab youths against police, ostensibly for propaganda purposes. Police detained a few suspects for a sensitive and discrete clarification at the nearby police facility. Following the clarification, when it appeared there had been no presence of criminal activity, the detainees were immediately released by the investigating officer with no subsequent action taken against them.”
Earlier in the day, police arrested an Arab resident of Jenin, 26, near Damascus Gate, who was carrying a concealed knife up his sleeve and was suspected of planning to carry out a stabbing attack. Police stopped and frisked him, to discover the knife.
GPO Director Nitzan Chen also released a statement, which added up to a lot of responses over a 30-minute inconvenience:
“The Government Press Office regrets today’s incident at Damascus Gate in which a correspondent for the Washington Post was unnecessarily detained by the Border Police – probably the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding. Freedom of the press is a supreme value in the Israeli democracy. Israel is doing its utmost to enable the foreign press to work freely, without any pressure. We call upon the security forces and journalists to act with restraint and to avoid confrontations during these tense times. The GPO endeavors to prevent such incidents; we shall examine today’s events and draw the necessary conclusions.”
To sum up: the last thing the GPO needs is a midfield tackle with the WashPost, so they apologized for what had been a proper response by police. Incidentally, after all was said and done, we still trust the Israeli passerby who spotted Booth harassing folks with his bizarre questions. To quote PM Netanyahu on another occasion: If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, for heaven’s sake, don’t apologize!