Israel has arrested 19 Palestinian journalists since the latest wave of violence began in October, and 10 are still behind bars.
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The Palestinian Authority accuses Israel of persecuting journalists in order to intimidate them. It noted that six of those detained are being held in administrative detention, without charges, and said it’s not even clear what they are suspected of.
But the Shin Bet security service said all the detained journalists were arrested not for their journalistic activity, but for involvement in terrorist activity or terrorist organizations.
Over the past few days, the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate has asked journalists’ associations worldwide to pressure Israel to release the detainees.
“Israel has adopted the approach that everything that’s happening is due to incitement, not to the occupation and its injustices,” said Dr. Mohammed Khalifa, head of the PA’s Information Ministry. “Therefore an attempt has been made to turn all Palestinian journalists into inciters and harm those who bring the Palestinian story to local or world attention. ... This is another way for the occupation to intimidate the Palestinians.”
One of those detained is Omar Nazzal, a member of the board of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, who was arrested on April 23 at the Allenby Bridge crossing between Israel and Jordan.
From Jordan, he had intended to fly to Sarajevo to attend the General Meeting of the European Federation of Journalists. On Monday, he was put into administrative detention for three and a half months due to his “involvement in a terrorist organization,” according to the Shin Bet.
The Shin Bet said Nazzal was recently named head of the Hamas-affiliated television station Falastin Al-Yawm and is also involved in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. But Nazzal’s acquaintances denied this. They said he left Falastin Al-Yawm long ago and now freelances for several different West Bank media outfits.
Nazzal’s attorney, Mahmoud Hassan of the Addameer prisoners’ support organization, implied that Nazzal may have been arrested because of recent articles in which he claimed that Israel had assassinated Omar Nayef Zayed, a PFLP member who died in Bulgaria in February.
Jerusalem journalist Sameh Dweik was arrested on April 6. Two weeks ago, she was indicted for inciting to violence on her Facebook page. The indictment said she systematically called for violence against Israelis while praising those who committed terror attacks. She denies the charges.
The fact that Israel was detaining Palestinian journalists first gained widespread attention with the arrest of Mohammed al-Qiq last November. Qiq, who works for a Saudi television station, launched a hunger strike that lasted three months until Israel promised to release him in June.
But last month’s arrests of Nazzal and Dweik brought the issue to the fore again. Last Friday, Palestinian journalists from Jerusalem protested their detention outside the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross mission in East Jerusalem.
“Freedom of expression and expressing an opinion have become grounds for arrest for Israel,” charged Diyala Jawikan, one of the protesters. “The Palestinian journalist is in any case very limited in his freedom of work and movement, and now they’re limiting him even more.”
Both the European and the international journalists’ federations have issued statements demanding Nazzal’s release.
“It was shocking to hear that a participant to a congress for journalists from all over Europe has been arrested by the Israeli authorities on his way to attend and banged in Etzion prison without any reason being given,” said Jim Boumelha, president of the International Federation of Journalists, in one such statement. “The 100 delegates representing over 320,000 journalists in 51 unions from all over Europe will be demanding that their colleague is released forthwith.”
Aside from Nazzal and Qiq, four other journalists are in administrative detention: Sami al-Sa’i of Tulkarm, who works for the local station Al-Fajr, was arrested almost two months ago. Musab Kafisheh of Hebron, a freelancer and journalism student, was arrested on March 29. Mohammed Hassan Kaddoumi of Ramallah, another freelancer, was arrested on January 14. Ali Alawiwi of Hebron, an announcer on the Arabah radio station, was put into six months of administrative detention last November.
The Shin Bet said Sa’i was arrested for running a Facebook page that praises terrorists and urges Palestinians to carry out attacks. It said Kafisheh was detained because he is active in Hamas, a terrorist organization, while Alawiwi is also suspected of being active in Hamas. Kaddoumi is suspected of involvement in Hakatala Islamiya, a Hamas-affiliated organization at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis.
Mujahid Saadi, another reporter for Falastin Al-Yawm, which Israel has since shut down, was indicted for belonging to Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization. His trial is underway. Samer Abu Aisha of Jerusalem, a freelancer, was arrested in January on suspicion of inciting via Facebook, involvement in the PFLP and visiting an enemy country – in this case, Lebanon.
Hazem Nasser of Nablus, a journalism student employed by the A-Najah University in Hebron, was arrested on April 11; a friend said it’s not yet clear what he is suspected of. But the Shin Bet said he was arrested on suspicion of planning and transferring funds for terror attacks and being in contact with Hamas operatives.
The Shin Bet said the suspicions detailed in the above list, some of which have resulted in indictments, prove its contention that the journalists were arrested for suspected terrorist activity, “and their arrest has nothing to do with their being journalists.”
Musa Alshaer, who also sits on the board of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate and knows many of the detained journalists, charged that Israel had attacked and raided many media outlets since last October in an effort to intimidate journalists, and is now taking action against individual journalists as the next step in this intimidation campaign.
He said most of the detainees are freelancers or employees of Palestinian media outlets; employees of foreign media outlets have generally been left alone. That is why his organization decided to appeal to international organizations for help.
“I very much hope international pressure will succeed in stopping this persecution and bring about their release,” he said.
The PA has vocally criticized these arrests. Nevertheless, Palestinian journalists and lawyers told Haaretz it’s no accident that most of the detainees are identified with Hamas or Islamic Jihad rather than Fatah, the PA’s ruling party, and that many have publicly criticized the PA.
A Palestinian journalist identified with Hamas told Haaretz that Palestinian journalists “are generally very involved in what’s going on around them, and therefore it’s no accident that for many, given the situation in which they work, the line between journalistic work and nationalist activity has been blurred.” He charged that Israeli journalists, too, become “patriots” and incite against Palestinians during times of tension, but “nobody holds them to account.”
Khalifa similarly charged that Israeli media outlets often incite against Palestinians, but “nobody dreams of arresting an Israeli journalist or preventing his coverage or his freedom of movement.”
The Palestinian Prisoners Society, noting that Tuesday is World Press Freedom Day, charged that even though this day is marked in Israel as well, Israel continues to persecute Palestinian journalists. It called on international bodies to intervene to protect them.