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Since Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip in June 2007, journalists have suffered as a result of the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian Territories.
Palestinian reporters are also extremely vulnerable to abuse from the Israeli army. Six Gaza journalists were killed, two of them while working, and around 15 wounded during the Israeli military offensive against Gaza “Cast Lead” from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009. At least 33 Palestinian journalists were physically assaulted or wounded by Israeli soldiers on the West Bank during the course of 2009.
Since June 2007, the media has been split in two between those close to the Palestinian Authority and those linked to Hamas. In 2009 as in 2008, Hamas and Fatah carried out constant reprisals in the Palestinian Territories with the number of arrests reaching a record level of 61 cases in 2009. Journalists with links to Hamas are summoned, questioned and arrested on the West Bank by the security forces of the Palestinian Authority, while pro-Fatah journalists are regularly threatened by Hamas police. The very tense political situation made work very difficult for journalists not wishing to adopt a partisan line.
During and after the Israeli military operation “Cast Lead” from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009, the Hamas government maintained its tight grip on the media in Gaza, putting freedom of the press at risk. The security forces obstructed the work of journalists, refusing to allow them access to some areas. Some journalists came under heavy pressure not to put out any news that was openly critical of Hamas.
Although the daily al-Ayyam was again allowed to be distributed in the Gaza Strip on 12 February 2009, journalists condemning Hamas policy, remain targets for intimidation, assault, unfair arrest and abusive imprisonment. More than 20 journalists were arrested by the Hamas interior ministry security services in 2009 and questioned about their links with Fatah and the “Ramallah government”. Coverage of numerous events was also banned.
This was the case in August 2009, when the interior ministry in Gaza banned Palestinian and foreign journalists from entering the town of Rafah in the south and all hospitals on the Gaza Strip. This followed clashes between Hamas fighters and members of the armed Salafist Islamist group Jund Ansar Allah.
The privately owned news agency Ramattan News that suffered a brutal raid by Gaza security forces decided on 10 November 2009 to temporarily close all its offices in protest. The same day, members of Hamas prevented the holding of a conference by independent journalists in Gaza, an event organised by the International Federation of Journalists that was due to be broadcast by video-conference to Ramallah on the West Bank.
These coercive measures used by Hamas have forced Palestinian journalists into self-censorship and contributed to delaying the return of foreign correspondents that had deserted the Gaza Strip after the kidnapping of British journalist Alan Johnston on 12 March 2007.
On the West Bank, the security forces of the Palestinian Authority have made many unfair arrests of journalists close to Hamas. In 2009 alone, around 40 journalists, chiefly working for al-Aqsa TV, were arrested there by preventive security or the intelligence services and questioned about their work, their media’s source of income, and their relations with officials in the Hamas government.
Moreover, the Palestinian Authority, on 15 July 2009, closed al-Jazeera offices on the West Bank for “putting out false information”, following an interview with a Palestinian politician who implicated Mahmoud Abbas in the death of Yasser Arafat. This ruling was cancelled four days later. Palestinian Authority security forces on 15 June seized video equipment from an al-Jazeera crew in Hebron involving a report about a suspicious death in custody.
Arrests of journalists have become a means of score settling and nobody is safe. The absence of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas to hold presidential and legislative elections in 2010 means there is a danger of this situation continuing.
Palestine - 18 November 2013