As America’s leaders knew at least as far back as Thomas Jefferson, a functioning media is critical to the informed citizenry necessary for a working democracy. That was the partial basis of the Israeli high court ruling on December 31 directing the Israeli government to allow foreign media into Gaza, where it has so far prevented all reporters from visiting since it commenced bombing raids nine days ago.

The decision by the High Court came in response to a petition by the Israeli Foreign Press Association, which represents more than 400 members from the world’s leading international print and electronic media. The association, composed of media outfits across the political spectrum, called the ban “an unprecedented restriction of press freedom” on Israel’s part.

The Israeli High Court specifically ruled that the Israeli government should allow a press pool of at least twelve foreign journalists into the Gaza Strip. The government countered that it will allow eight reporters into Gaza every time it opens the border at the Erez crossing, but so far the crossing has remained completely closed to entry.

Calling out Israel’s intransigence, Human Rights Watch has started a campaign today calling on Israel to immediately allow journalists and human rights monitors access to Gaza. Their presence can discourage abuse by warring parties, confirm reports of illegal acts by both warring parties, and help save lives.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has submitted an urgent letter to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, appealing to the US government to vigorously pressure all parties to the current Gaza conflict to immediately cease indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks which cause civilian deaths and casualties, allow necessary humanitarian aid and workers into the region and suspend the transfer of US weapons to Israel.

Click here to join your name to the campaign. I don’t expect Condi to heed the call but if we want Barack Obama to pursue a substantially different course than his predecessor, we need to exert sufficient pressure on the government, and adding your name to this call is a good first step.