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 2009

2009 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

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

86

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

36

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

22

Press freedom in the Palestinian territories deteriorated in 2008 following an escalation of factional hostilities and increased restrictions imposed by Israel. The divide between the West Bank, which was controlled by Fatah, and the Gaza Strip, which Hamas militants had taken over in 2007, deepened during the year. Journalists were often caught in the middle of the power struggle between the two groups. Moreover, Israeli policy aimed at isolating the Hamas leadership had dire effects on the freedom of local and international reporting in Gaza, especially ahead of the Israeli attack on the territory that began on December 27 and was ongoing at year’s end. 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, the law stipulates that restrictions may be imposed if press activity threatens “national unity” and “Palestinian values.” This vague terminology gives the authorities ample leeway to impede journalistic activity. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported that the Hamas government in Gaza had introduced a new system of accreditation under which all journalists are required to register with the authorities. In the West Bank, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Information regulates all television and radio station licenses.

Israeli security policies continued to restrict Palestinian media freedom in 2008. The Palestinian Center for Development & Media Freedoms (MADA) reported that the Israeli security apparatus was responsible for 147 press freedom violations. These included arrests, harassment, restriction of movement, shots fired at journalists, and raids of media outlets. On April 16, Fadel Shanaa, a Palestinian cameraman working for Reuters, was killed by a shell fired from an Israeli tank while filming a military incursion into the Gaza Strip. His soundman, Wafa Abu Mizyed, was wounded in the incident. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that Shanaa was identified as a journalist by markings on both his vehicle and his jacket. An Israeli military investigation concluded that the soldiers mistook Shanaa’s mounted camera for a possible mortar or antitank missile, and they were cleared of any crime. In a separate incident two days later, Amar Awad, a Palestinian photographer also working for Reuters, was shot with a rubber bullet by a border guard while filming a demonstration in the West Bank town of Bilein. Journalists covering demonstrations in the West Bank are often exposed to the indiscriminate use of dispersal tools, such as tear gas and rubber bullets.

Israeli security services continued to harass reporters during the year. 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. MADA recorded 51 separate incidents of journalist detentions, although there was no information regarding the circumstances of each arrest. Several arrests by Israeli security forces were recorded in June and July, including one in which reporter Mohammed Omer was detained and interrogated for several hours after crossing into the West Bank from Jordan. RSF reported that Omer was beaten while in custody. Separately, CPJ reported that Israeli authorities arrested Ibrahim Hamad, a soundman working for the Hamas-affiliated news agency Ramattan, on July 15. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) later revealed that Hamad was suspected of involvement in terrorist activity. Press coverage in Gaza was particularly limited by Israeli security forces in 2008. The Israeli Defense Ministry decided to deny press access to Gaza, for both foreign and Israeli journalists, due to its inability to guarantee the journalists’ safety. The policy was repealed by the Israeli authorities on December 5, but it was quickly reinstated at the onset of the Israeli offensive later that month, as the entire area was declared a closed military zone and remained so at year’s end.

Heightened tension between Fatah and Hamas inflicted grave damage to press freedom in both the West Bank and Gaza. Journalists were often pawns in each party’s attempt to prevent the infiltration of the other into its sphere of control. Abuses included violence, arrests, threats, and restrictions on distribution and broadcasting, and the pressure drove many journalists to self-censorship on political developments. Palestinian media generally focus on political issues vis-à-vis the Israeli occupation, often neglecting social and domestic issues. MADA reported 110 media freedom violations in 2008 by the Palestinian Authority (PA), including 60 separate incidents of journalist detention. The West Bank was plagued by arbitrary arrests of journalists. Most of those targeted were connected to the Hamas-affiliated newspapers Felesteen and Al-Resaleh and the Hamas-controlled television station Al-Aqsa, and were detained under the legal article concerning attacks on “national unity.” Repeated arrests under a “revolving door” policy were often used to intimidate Hamas-affiliated journalists. For example, Ossayd Amarneh, a cameraman for Al-Aqsa television, has been arrested multiple times and reported to RSF that he suffered “constant humiliation” while in custody. Arrests in the West Bank were not limited to Hamas media outlets, as RSF reported that two contributors to the Qatar-based satellite station Al-Jazeera were detained during a wave of arrests in June and July, and Farid Hamad, a correspondent for the PA-funded Al-Ayyam newspaper, was arrested on July 29. Three separate incidents of gunfire aimed at reporters from unidentified sources were recorded in the West Bank: an assassination attempt on the editor of Felesteen on June 19, gunfire on the home of reporter Mustafa Sabri on December 6, and shots at the headquarters of the pro-Fatah newspaper Al-Hayat al-Jadidah. In the Gaza Strip, several journalists with Fatah-affiliated and independent media outlets were detained. While the status of the detainees is not always clear, on February 13 a Gaza court sentenced two journalists with the Fatah-affiliated Al-Ayyam to six-month prison terms on charges of libel. On July 25, Hamas security forces initiated a wave of journalist arrests following a car bombing on a Gaza City beach. Most of those arrested were employed by pro-Fatah news outlets; Sawah Abu Saif, a Palestinian cameraman with the German television station ARD, was also arrested and released six days later.

There are three daily Palestinian newspapers—Al-Hayat al-Jadidah, which is completely funded by the Fatah-controlled PA; Al-Ayyam, which is partially funded by the PA; and Al-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 on July 27, though the bans on all but Al-Hayat al-Jadidah were subsequently lifted. Meanwhile, the June 2007 ban on Hamas-affiliated newspapers Felesteen and Al-Resaleh in the West Bank has not been lifted. Circulation of these papers is approximately 50,000 copies a day, but travel restrictions imposed by Israeli forces often curtail their distribution. 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 PA president Mahmoud Abbas. The PA has closed down the pro-Hamas Al-Aqsa television in the West Bank towns of Ramallah, Jenin, and Tulkarm. In Gaza, Hamas officials closed down the Voice of the People radio station, which is operated by the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The station was reopened four days later. PBC transmissions have been blocked in Gaza since the Hamas takeover in 2007.

The Israeli military has utilized coercive tactics to restrict broadcasting by stations deemed to be advocating terrorism. On July 10, the military sealed off the entrance to Afaq TV in Nablus and declared that the station would be closed for a year. At the onset of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza in late December, air raids destroyed the headquarters of Al-Aqsa, though no fatalities were reported. Internet usage increased in the West Bank and Gaza in 2008, from 10 percent to almost 14 percent of the population. However, the Alwatan Voice news website was blocked by a decree from the Palestinian general prosecutor on November 3.