The FPA Annual General Meeting was held on April 27th, 2014. The guest speaker was the Minister of Economic Affairs, Naftali Bennett. .
Outgoing chairman Crispian Balmer summarised the activites of the past twelve months:
"So another year passes for the FPA, and with it my term as chairman of this great organisation. As ever, I have to thank the harmonious board for all its hard work over the past 12 months. I must also thank Glenys, a tireless warrior for press freedom, a thorn in the side to local officialdom, without whom, this organisation would rapidly grind to a sorry halt. Her contribution, enthusiasm and belief in the FPA cannot be underestimated. She is a rock.
Looking back over this past year, I am delighted to say that we managed to organise some good events following the lull of 2012/2013. Isaac Herzog, Yuval Steinitz, Danny Danon and now Naftali Bennett have all come and addressed our members. Many others were approached, but only a few took the bite. I would like to think that we would attract many more top class speakers in the months ahead and would urge all members to use their best contacts and persuade them to be our guest. The board does not hold the keys to this organisation. It belongs to everyone and the more people who get involved and try to boost our organisation the better.
Planning events is only a very small part of what the FPA does. Much of the board’s activity goes on behind the scenes, struggling with the powers that be in both Israel and Palestine to protect the rights of our members. It can be frustrating, it can end in failure, but this work must never stop.
We had some wins. For starters, we finally managed to get refunds totalling some 79,000 shekels to a handful of our TV members after we took legal action against over payment of VAT. Better than getting a rubber bullet shot at your stomach from close quarters, or have a stun grenade burn your leg, or have your car windscreen shattered by rock-throwing settlers while IDF soldiers stand-by, or have a rubber bullet fired deliberately at your car as you follow police orders and drive away from a sealed off zone, or have a gun pointed straight at your face for just trying to do your job.
Sadly all those things have happened to FPA members this year, and as per usual we issued angry statements. As per usual, nothing seemed to happen. We went to talk to the IDF and we are still trying to find a responsible adult at the Border Police to discuss our multiple concerns about the way they carry out their business. Unless the authorities take our complaints seriously and change attitudes on the ground, one of our members will be maimed or killed. The violence is rising. A sense of impunity seems to reign amongst the security forces, and, to the best of our knowledge, not a single person has been indicted, punished or even reprimanded over incidents that we believe represented a blatant abuse of power. This is obviously deeply discouraging, but it does not mean we should stop our fight, stop protesting and stop caring, quite the contrary! Yes, worse things happen in Syria, and in many other neighbouring countries, but Israel proudly promotes itself as the only democracy in the Middle East. As such it should aspire to full protection of a vibrant press. I was delighted to see the Israeli Press Council picking up our cause and would like to thank Arik Bachar for his support.
To give credit where credit is due, relations with the GPO have improved markedly in the past couple of years. They have intervened in individual B1 visa cases and have doled out a significant number of new GPO cards for our Palestinian members.
Our lawyers roared into action when the Knesset unexpectedly looked poised to force foreigners to get Israeli driving licences. We won a temporary reprieve, but we must be realistic and recognise that sooner or later this will probably happen. Sorry.
One of the oddities of working in the Holy Land is the threat that you might have to take your clothes off if you want to see the prime minister. I like to think that our zero- tolerance of this has drastically reduced the number of strip searches, but sadly one of our members was forced to undress to attend July 4th celebrations at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. We dutifully put out a statement to denounce this and shortly afterwards Al Houra TV sacked a producer in Jerusalem who had brought this violation to our attention. Al Houra said the two events were not associated. I do hope so. Because It would be represent a new low if the companies that employ us fail to support us or appeared happy to let such abuses pass unnoticed.
My time is almost up, but before I go, I would like to pay homage to our fine colleague, Sky cameraman Mick Deane, who was shot dead last August, while filming on the streets of Cairo. Mick was a neighbour of mine in Jerusalem, a great professional and a gentle spirit. No one has been arrested for his brutal killing, and I would bet all my life savings that the person who pulled the trigger will never be tried. An outrageous scandal that can only compound this terrible tragedy.
I know the results of the board election are not yet know, but we do already know that the next chairman will be our long-time board member Samar Shalabi. This is an historic moment. For the first time in the 57-year history of the FPA, we will have a Palestinian chairman. About time too! I wish him all the very best, as I am sure we all do.
Crispian Balmer, Chairman
The Foreign Press Association