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Israel removes American employed by Palestinian news agency

By Howard Schneider and Samuel Sockol
Thursday, January 21, 2010; A12

JERUSALEM -- The American editor of a Palestinian news agency was removed from Israel on Wednesday after being questioned by authorities about his "anti-Israeli" views.

The case highlights what some nonprofit organizations say is a tightened Israeli policy toward foreign nationals who live or work in the occupied West Bank. It comes amid an intensifying feud over foreign government funding for organizations seen to promote Palestinian interests even as Israeli politicians and nongovernmental organizations try to curb the flow of money from outside.

Jared Malsin, chief English editor of the Maan News Agency, based in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, was detained a week ago at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport and denied entry into the country.

Malsin has worked for the news agency -- a nonprofit organization supported by grants from the U.S. and European governments and the United Nations -- for 2 1/2 years, relying on a series of three-month tourist visas to extend his stay without a work permit. The technique is used by some foreign employees and volunteers at organizations based in Palestinian areas, who say they face difficulty acquiring work visas from the Israeli government.

Malsin was returning from a trip to Prague when he was detained. On Tuesday, he dropped his request for a court hearing after a week in custody; on Wednesday morning, he was put on a flight to New York.

"They judged me to have anti-Israeli politics," Malsin, 24, said from a cellphone as he boarded the El Al plane. "It's outrageous that would even appear in a legal argument, that a person's politics would be a relevant issue."

An official with the Israeli Interior Ministry said Malsin had refused to answer questions about his presence in Israel and had "exploited" the fact that he is Jewish to say he wanted to explore immigrating to Israel.

"He was asked, why would he want to make aliya and become an Israeli citizen, as his opinions are clearly anti-Israeli," Interior Ministry official Mietal Rochman wrote in an account of Malsin's interrogation at the airport, which included a check of numbers stored in his cellphone and a review of his writings on the Internet. "The passenger chose to remain silent." Malsin's attorney provided a copy of Rochman's report.

When asked about whom he planned to stay with and other questions, "he refused to cooperate," said Sabine Haddad, a spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry. "It's the minimal right of the country to ask questions. We don't mind who he is. If he does not want to answer, he should know he could be sent back"

Malsin's girlfriend, Faith Rowold, a U.S. volunteer for a Lutheran Church group in Jerusalem, also was denied entry when the couple arrived last week. She has been sent out of Israel.

Maan, founded five years ago to focus on news from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, publishes in Arabic, English and Hebrew, and it is considered among the more balanced Palestinian news organizations.

Its staff members have access to U.S. Embassy and other diplomatic officials, and its tone -- while highlighting issues such as violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians -- is regarded as more tempered than Web sites or publications affiliated with Palestinian or Islamist political parties.

"There is no incitement. There is no hate in our work," said Raed Othman, Maan's general director. "This is punishment for internationals who come to help the Palestinians."

Sockol is a special correspondent.

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