Catrina Stewart
The Independent
January 13, 2011 - 1:00am

A pregnant newswoman from the Arab Al Jazeera television network walked out of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's annual foreign press conference after security officials asked her to remove her bra.

Arab reporters, who were among several hundred foreign journalists invited to the briefing and cocktail reception held Tuesday evening, complained that they were subjected to humiliating and invasive security checks upon arrival, prompting an angry response from the Foreign Press Association in Israel. "While we appreciate the need for security, it is not remotely acceptable to invite people for cocktails at a five-star hotel and then make them undress at the door," the FPA said in a statement.

Najwan Simri, a 31-year-old Palestinian producer at Al Jazeera, said that she was humiliated by the rigorous security search. "They told me to take off my jacket, my skirt and then my shirt, and finally, they told me to take off my bra," she said. "I then thought to myself, 'Enough, I won't do it'."

Ms Simri, who is in the early stages of pregnancy, said she was ushered on arrival into a queue of other Arab journalists where she waited upwards of half an hour before she was taken out for a strip-search. A female officer then roughly groped her and insisted on using a metal detector even after being told her of her condition, the producer claimed.

Ms Simri then demanded her clothes back, saying that she wanted to leave, but was forced to endure another lengthy wait in her slip. She and a female colleague who had not yet been searched walked out. "I have no problem with security, but I felt this was done not to check me, but rather because I am an Arab," Ms Simri said.

Reporters and photographers from other Arab channels also complained about their treatment, but the FPA said that the invasive searches were not confined to Arab media. The Wall Street Journal's Jerusalem bureau chief, a white American, was also forced to undergo a strip-search, it said.

In a letter of complaint, Walid al-Omary, the Jerusalem bureau chief of Qatar-owned Al Jazeera, reminded Israeli officials that its journalists had come to the press conference at Israel's invitation. "We demand that we be treated equally and are not discriminated against because we are Arab journalists," he wrote. "These humiliating methods... harm our [ability to] work."

The invitations had asked corres-pondents to arrive at least an hour before Mr Netanyahu was due to speak to allow enough time for the security checks. Most Western journalists attending the event were processed swiftly, and were not asked to strip. "We regret the incident, however the issue of security checks is not the GPO's [government press office] responsibility," said Oran Helman, director of the GPO.

Israel's security service said in a statement to Israel's Ynet website: "All guests were subjected to a security check in accordance with the customary security procedures in such events. Three female reporters refused to be examined under these procedures and chose not to attend the event."


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