Palestinian journalists targeted by all sides

:: The internal Palestinian conflict and the larger Arab-Israeli conflict are taking their toll on journalism in Palestine.

Palestinian journalists and the public’s right to know seem to be the biggest victims in a campaign that has included arrests by both West Bank and Gaza security agencies, the blocking of websites, and the issuance of a presidential decree that criminalizes posts on social media and online content. Israeli troops have also raided Palestinian media outlets and confiscated equipment.

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) on Wednesday condemned the arrest by Palestinian security services in the West Bank of five journalists: Ahmad Mohammed Halayka, Tareq Abu Zeyd, Quttaiba Saleh Qasem, Mamdouh Mahmoud Hamamreh and Amer Abdul Hakim Abu Arafeh.

Muntaser Hamdan, a member of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), said what is happening to journalists is a premeditated campaign by both Hamas and Fatah.

“This unprecedented campaign is having a negative effect on all professional journalists and media outlets,” he told Arab News.

The only way to face up to “police-like repression” is unity among journalists and their close adherence to professional standards, Hamdan added.

The PJS on Thursday called on its members not to publish any news connected to Palestinian security apparatuses or the attorney general’s office.

The syndicate, which is closely aligned to the ruling Fatah party, said the attorney general’s office broke a promise not to use a controversial cybersecurity law for issues connected to freedom of expression.

Palestinian courts in Ramallah, Hebron and Bethlehem used the recently signed law to justify extending the journalists’ detention.

Ammar Dweik, head of the government-appointed Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, called the law “one of the worst” since the Palestinian Authority (PA) was established in 1994.

The vaguely-worded law makes it a crime for any Palestinian to publish content that harms “national unity” or the “social fabric.” It is “a big setback for freedoms in the West Bank,” said Dweik.

Families of the five journalists, who work for media outlets close to Hamas, have announced a protest march on Saturday from Ramallah’s Manara Square to the presidential headquarters.

Hamas security forces in Gaza have also arrested journalists, including Fouad Jaradeh, a reporter with the official Palestine TV.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Hamas to release him.

“Fouad Jaradeh’s arrest illustrates the pressure that Palestinian journalists face from all sides,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program coordinator Sherif Mansour said.

“Hamas authorities should release Fouad Jaradeh immediately and should not deny Palestinians in the West Bank the right to receive news from Gaza.”

In July, the PA blocked 30 websites, including many owned or reflecting the views of Hamas and renegade Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan.

Journalists working for Arab and international media are also harassed by Israel’s army. The Jerusalem Post reported that troops on July 28 raided media offices in Ramallah, confiscating equipment and documents.

The Israeli newspaper quoted an army spokesman as saying the offices are “suspected of manufacturing and distributing material which incites terrorism.”

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA said Israeli troops raided the offices of Palmedia, a member of the Palestinian telecommunications group that provides broadcast services to media outlets such as Russia Today (RT), Al-Mayadeen, Al-Manar and Al-Quds News. According to the Palestinian Maan News Agency, nothing was confiscated from RT’s offices.

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