The case has unearthed – not for the first time – what advocates of civil liberties see as one of the more troubling features of life in a state perpetually in conflict with its neighbors: limits on freedom of the press. But to those primarily concerned about how to get the upper hand in an unfriendly region, censorship and secrecy play a crucial role in the seemingly never-ending war.
"This is part of a wider attack on freedom of speech in recent years, which includes harassment of demonstrators as well as court orders of censorship," says Dan Yakir, chief legal council for the Association for Civil Right in Israel (ACRI). "These are worrying signs. It shakes fundamental notions of civil liberties in a democracy."
Mr. Yakir led the push to get the court to release the gag order, along with Haaretz, Israel's Channel 10, and – finally, on Thursday – Israel's own attorney general. Pressure had mounted as details were already being reported in foreign newspapers in recent days.
Some gag orders are issued because they involve minors or other people deserving of protection, he says. But often, as in this case, the army or law enforcement authorities only have to declare something a "security" issue for there to be a total blackout.
"Magistrate judges quite easily issue gag orders based on requests from the security forces and the police, without any consideration as to the freedom of press and the right of the public to know," says Yakir.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement applauding the decision to lift the gag order on Thursday.