Israeli-Occupied Territories and Palestinian Authority * | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Israeli-Occupied Territories and Palestinian Authority *

Israeli-Occupied Territories and Palestinian Authority *

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

84

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

34

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

22

While events in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are covered extensively by the international media, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) severely restrict press freedom and often impede the ability of the media to report safely and accurately. The environment for reporting from the West Bank and Gaza Strip deteriorated in 2007 as journalists came under attack from both militant factions and the leadership of the Islamist party Hamas, which took over authority of the Gaza Strip in June. An atmosphere of impunity persisted for crimes against the media, with very few prosecutions of perpetrators by either Israel or the PA. Nevertheless, while journalists’ ability to report fully on events was severely hampered by threats of violence, the Palestinian press continued to be relatively vigorous and candid in its coverage of political affairs compared with the situation in other countries in the region. The Palestinian Basic Law and the 1995 Press Law provide for freedom of the press and an independent media. However, the Press Law also stipulates that journalists may be punished and newspapers closed for publishing material deemed harmful to national unity or likely to incite crime, hatred, division, or sectarian dissension. In August, Hamas leaders announced that they intended to apply the 1995 Press Law and imprison journalists for violating such provisions, but there were no reports of its enforcement.

Israel’s army and security services continued to commit a range of abuses against the press in 2007. Journalists were subject to gunfire, physical abuse, arrest, and substantial limits on their freedom of movement. Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) reported that during the year, 16 journalists were wounded by fire from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), including live ammunition, rubber bullets, shrapnel, and tear-gas grenades. Among those injured was Imad Ghanem, a cameraman for the Hamas-affiliated satellite channel Al-Aqsa, whose legs had to be amputated after Israeli tanks opened fire on him in July. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that during an incursion into Nablus in February, IDF soldiers fired stun grenades and tear gas at 12 journalists and photographers to prevent them from covering a search and seizure operation. During the same military incursion, soldiers detained Nabegh Break, owner and managing director of the local Sanabel television station, raiding both his home and the station’s office. In the West Bank, IDF forces reportedly carried out similar raids on six Palestinian pro-Hamas media outlets in May and three in December, in many cases seizing equipment and thereby forcing the stations to suspend broadcasting. Journalists reporting from the Israeli-occupied territories are required to carry Israeli-issued press cards, which are difficult to obtain, particularly for Palestinian and Arab journalists. According to the U.S. State Department, on several occasions, IDF soldiers beat, detained, or confiscated press cards from journalists covering protests against construction of the separation barrier in the West Bank village of Bil’in.

Israel denies that it deliberately targets journalists and maintains that reporters covering the conflict bear responsibility for placing themselves in danger. However, international newswires also quoted an Israeli military source as saying that Israel does not recognize as journalists cameramen working for Hamas-affiliated channels because their films are used for intelligence purposes and they are sometimes armed. A new analysis of an audio recording of the 2003 death of British journalist James Miller in Gaza reportedly indicated that the shots that killed Miller were fired from an Israeli military vehicle. In April 2006, a British coroner’s court declared that the shooting constituted an unlawful killing on the part of the IDF. The British attorney general wrote to the Israeli authorities in June 2007 requesting that they begin legal proceedings within six weeks against the officer suspected of firing the shots; however, no proceedings had been launched by year’s end.

Since the legislative victory of Hamas in January 2006, Palestinian media outlets have become targets of factional violence between Hamas and Fatah. The danger to journalists and the polarization of the Palestinian media were exacerbated during violence that erupted over the summer in the Gaza Strip, which ended in a Hamas takeover of the area. On May 13, Suleiman Abdul-Rahim al-Ashi, economics editor of the Hamas-affiliated newspaper Filastin, and Mohammad Matar Abdo, the paper’s distribution manager, were shot and killed by gunmen associated with Fatah. A few days later, Mohammad Awad al-Joujou, a reporter for the Hamas-affiliated website Palestine Live, was killed by unidentified gunmen while en route to cover clashes between Hamas and Fatah supporters. A building housing foreign bureaus of stations such as Al-Jazeera and the British Broadcasting Corporation was also caught in the crossfire between the two sides on May 16. In an incident unrelated to factional fighting, in June 2007, female employees of the state-run Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation received death threats for appearing on camera in Western dress or without headscarves; the threat was issued by an extremist group called the Swords of Truth, which had previously claimed responsibility for a string of internet café bombings.

Press freedom in Gaza has deteriorated under Hamas rule. From June to November, RSF counted at least 9 assaults and 21 arrests of journalists by the Hamas Executive Forces, in what the Foreign Press Association called “a coordinated policy.” By mid-June, Hamas fighters had forced all Fatah-affiliated television and radio outlets in Gaza to stop broadcasting; at least three state-owned and six privately-owned media outlets were shut down. In June, Hamas-linked militants conducted an armed raid on the offices of the Gaza branch of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS); and in September, a Hamas government representative announced the dissolution of the PJS, while the new Government Committee for the Media was established. In November, the Ministry of the Interior in Gaza declared that journalists would not be allowed to continue working without obtaining a Hamas-issued press card. Obtaining a card would reportedly require submitting to editorial restrictions such as a vague ban on articles that “cause harm to national unity”; however, most media organizations operating in the area had refused to comply by year’s end.

Continuing a disturbing trend from previous years, several foreign journalists were kidnapped by militants in Gaza in 2007. The most prominent victim was the BBC’s Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped in March and held for an unprecedented 114 days. The first Palestinian journalist was seized in May, when Hamas supporters held Abu Dhabi TV’s Abdelsalam Mussa Abu-Askar for several hours. Danger to journalists reporting from Gaza increased in June owing to the actions of four armed Palestinians who used a jeep with the “TV” insignia of a press vehicle to attack an Israeli military position.

The Palestinian media have also faced factional violence in the West Bank. The state-owned WAFA TV had its offices in Nablus stormed by gunmen on January 4, reportedly because their coverage focused on Fatah more than on other factions. In September, Fatah-controlled security forces raided Hebron University to disperse a press conference organized by the pro-Hamas student council, beating students and several journalists in the process. Six pro-Hamas journalists were arrested during the year, and eight reporters were attacked by PA security forces within one week in November. These included a correspondent for Al-Jazeera television whose arm was broken when police beat him as he was covering a demonstration in Ramallah against the Annapolis peace conference.

There are 3 Palestinian dailies in addition to several weekly and monthly periodicals, and the territories host roughly 30 independently owned television stations and 25 radio stations, though several were shut down during the year. The television station and radio station run by the PA function as government mouthpieces, with control exercised primarily by Fatah. Since 2005, Hamas has run its own Al-Aqsa television network, with programming known for its pro-Islamist slant and overt promotion of violence. Cautious self-censorship adopted by most independent media outlets, particularly on the issue of internal Palestinian politics, increased in 2007 out of fear of attacks by one faction or another. Israeli checkpoints often prevent newspaper distribution in the territories. After the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the Fatah-led West Bank authorities prevented the printing and distribution of the pro-Hamas Filastin and Al-Risala newspapers in the West Bank for most of the second half of the year. Access to satellite television and the internet remains unrestricted by the government; however, while satellite television is gaining popularity, use of the internet was limited to just over 10 percent of the population in 2007.