Freedom of the Press
Israeli-Occupied Territories and Palestinian Authority
Israeli-Occupied Territories and Palestinian Authority
Press freedom in the Palestinian territories is restricted by ongoing violence, as well as abuses by three governing authorities: the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, controlled by the Fatah faction; the Gaza Strip government led by the Islamist group Hamas; and the Israeli military, which occupies parts of the West Bank and is at war with Hamas in Gaza. Journalists faced harassment, detentions, assaults, and restrictions on their freedom to report throughout 2010.
The Palestinian basic law and the 1995 Press and Publication Law provide for freedom of the press and freedom to establish media outlets, and state that there should be no censorship. However, restrictions are allowed if press activity threatens “national unity” and “Palestinian values.” This vague terminology gives authorities ample leeway to impede journalistic activity. In the West Bank, the PA Ministry of Information regulates all television and radio station licenses. Following its 2007 takeover of Gaza, the Hamas government introduced a new system of accreditation under which all journalists are required to register with the authorities.
Tensions between Fatah and Hamas continue to limit press freedom in both the West Bank and Gaza. Abuses include violence, arrests, threats, and restrictions on distribution and broadcasting, and the cumulative pressure has driven many journalists to practice self-censorship. In the West Bank, PA security forces often harass journalists linked to the Hamas-affiliated newspapers Felesteen and Al-Resaleh, as well as Hamas’s Al-Aqsa television station, which the PA banned in 2007. In February 2010, a Nablus military court sentenced Al-Aqsa correspondent Tariq Abu Zaid to 18 months in prison for “undermining the status of the PA” by reporting for Al-Aqsa; the court overrode a January ruling by the Palestinian High Court that Abu Zaid should be released. However, PA president Mahmoud Abbas ultimately ordered his release in November. In July, a Hebron court sentenced Shihab news agency reporter Amer Abu Arfa to three months in prison and a fine for “resisting the authorities” via his allegedly pro-Hamas reporting. In the Gaza Strip, journalists with Fatah-affiliated and independent media outlets were detained and assaulted, and Hamas authorities restricted journalists’ freedom of movement. In July 2010, both Palestine News and Information Agency (WAFA) journalist Hussam Almughani and Siyasat magazine editor Atef Abu Seif were summoned by Hamas’s Internal Security Service, detained, and allegedly beaten for their perceived anti-Hamas reporting. In October, the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, a Fatah-affiliated journalists’ group, was closed by Hamas security officials.
Israeli security policies and military activities also continued to restrict Palestinian media freedom in 2010. Israeli journalists have been prohibited from entering the Gaza Strip since 2006 under a military decree that cites journalists’ personal safety. This ban was extended to all foreign journalists from November 2008 to late January 2009, when a ceasefire ended an Israeli incursion into Gaza. However, Israeli journalists are still barred from entering. In June 2010, Israeli commandos arrested and detained 18 international journalists during a raid on a Gaza-bound activist flotilla that was attempting to bring goods into the territory to protest an Israeli naval blockade; nine people were killed and dozens injured during the operation. Many of the journalists were detained in Israeli jails and released after a few days, in some cases without their possessions or travel documents. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least six journalists had their equipment either confiscated or destroyed by IDF soldiers. In addition, detained photographer Issam Zaatar, of the Qatar-based satellite television station Al-Jazeera, reported that Israeli soldiers destroyed his camera and broke his arm on one of the ships and later subjected him to a lengthy interrogation. An ensuing debate over the initiation of violence during the raid played out in Israeli print and internet-based as well as international media outlets, with CPJ decrying “Israel’s editing and distribution of footage confiscated from foreign journalists.”
Israeli security services continued to harass and detain reporters during the year, and were repeatedly accused by local and international press freedom organizations of targeting journalists for assault and arbitrary detention. Soldiers fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades at journalists covering events throughout the West Bank, particularly those from Palestinian news organizations and from Al-Jazeera. Soldiers also confiscated journalists’ equipment on a number of occasions in 2010. Freedom of movement is restricted by the Israeli checkpoint system, which requires military permission for passage into Israeli territory and often hinders travel within the West Bank. In addition, the IDF has increasingly restricted coverage of the regular protests near the Israeli security barrier in the West Bank by declaring such areas “closed military zones.” According to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), there were 218 “violations of media freedoms” in the territories in 2010 (up 26 percent from 2009), 139 of which were committed by the Israeli security forces and settlers, and 79 of which were committed by the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank and Gaza or by Palestinian militant groups.
There are three daily West Bank Palestinian newspapers—Al-Hayat al-Jadidah, which is completely funded by the Fatah-controlled PA;Al-Ayyam, which is partially funded by the PA;andAl-Quds, a privately owned paper based in Jerusalem that is subject to Israeli military censorship. Distribution of these papers in Gaza was banned by the Hamas government in July 2008, and although the bans on all but Al-Hayat al-Jadidah were subsequently lifted, Israel began blocking their distribution in Gaza that year as part of its broader sanctions on Hamas. In July 2010, Israel lifted its ban on shipments of the papers, but according to CPJ, Gaza authorities again prevented their distribution, allegedly demanding that the editors agree not to criticize Hamas. Meanwhile, a June 2007 ban on the Hamas-affiliated newspapers Felesteen and Al-Resaleh in the West Bank remains in place.
There are approximately 45 privately owned television stations, and the PA funds the official Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), which is under the direct control of Abbas. The PA has closed down Al-Aqsa television offices in the West Bank towns of Ramallah, Jenin, and Tulkarm. PBC transmissions have been blocked in Gaza since the Hamas takeover in 2007, while the Voice of the People radio station, operated by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is generally allowed to operate but occasionally blocked. The Israeli military has utilized coercive tactics to restrict broadcasting by stations deemed to be advocating terrorism. In 2009, Israeli soldiers confiscated the broadcasting equipment of Radio Bethlehem 2000, based in Beit Jala. Foreign broadcasts are generally available. About 37 percent of the population in the Palestinian territories used the internet in 2010, and its use is not subject to restriction.