Palestinian journalists facing dual restrictions
For most journalists, the challenge of doing their job usually comes from one source. However, restrictions and challenges facing Palestinian journalists are multi-levelled and much more complicated.
While most human and media rights organisations usually list governments as restricting journalists, Palestinians living in the occupied territories are restricted by both Israel and Palestine.
The major problem Palestinian journalists face with Israel is lack of recognition. Despite its claim to be the “only democracy in the Middle East”, Israel has not once recognised a single Palestinian journalist working for the Palestinian media.
Israeli military authorities do not issue authorised press cards to Palestinians and the only press cards available come from the Israeli government press office.
The coveted Israeli government press cards have been issued to Palestinians, but only when they work for recognised international media.
One can be the best Palestinian journalist working for the Ramallah-based Al Ayyam daily, or Bethlehem Radio or Palestine TV, but Israel will not recognise him/her, while a junior journalist working for Dutch TV or a Brazilian newspaper will be recognised by Israel, which will grant a press card that allows trouble-free travel.
The travel restrictions make it impossible for Palestinian journalists to travel to or from Gaza or even to or from Jerusalem.
Some journalists do get to Jerusalem, but not because of their profession, but with a permit given to Palestinian businesspeople or the general permit given for visits of holy places at certain times in the year.
Travel in and out of Palestine is also restricted to Palestinian journalists, as Omar Nazzal realised on April 23, when he attempted to go to Bosnia to participate in an international press conference.
Nazzal a journalist, media rights activist and a member of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate was picked up by the Israeli authorities and has not been released since despite condemnations of Israel by the International Federation of Journalists and other human rights organisations.
The Israelis claim that his arrest has nothing to do with his profession (which they do not recognise), but with his alleged political activities.
The Israeli accusations, however, are not backed up by evidence, nor are they sanctioned by a judge.
Instead of charging him, the Israelis detained him under the undemocratic administrative detention order for four months. The action has been condemned by the leading International Press Institute which called on Israel to either charge him or to immediately release Omar Nazzal.
Administrative detention allows the Israelis to hold any Palestinian usually up to six month (which can be extended) without charge or trial.
This practice empties Israeli allegations of their credibility; in Nazzal’s case, it indicates that in fact he was held for his journalism, rather than for other reason.
Palestinian media have also suffered from Israeli actions. In the last six months, Israel raided and physically closed down half-a-dozen Palestinian radio stations, mostly in the Hebron area, and a satellite TV station in Ramallah.
Israel, which refused to reconvene the US-Israel-Palestine committee to look into allegations of incitement, justified all its actions against the Palestinian media using the all-encompassing claim that these media outlets incite to violence.
In addition to these difficulties, Palestinians also have to deal with the local Palestinian security officials that often take it upon themselves to act as military censors, arresting journalists for what they write and publish.
Salim Sweidan was the most recent victim of this haphazard restriction by the Palestinian security.
Sweidan, owner of Nablus TV, was accused of publishing false information on the station’s website and was held in jail for over 10 days.
In Gaza, journalists are also under pressure from the de facto Hamas leader in terms of what they publish. Accusations also include torture by the Hamas led security forces.
Journalists have been arrested and restricted for their writings that did not please the militants in control of Gaza.
Hamas supporters accuse their counterparts in the West Bank of also detaining Hamas journalists in the West Bank.
The challenge of speaking truth to power is huge in any country, as the number of journalists killed around the world testifies.
In Palestine, it is double so because of the existence of dual powers that subject Palestinian journalists committed to speaking the truth to more restrictions and difficulties.
It is high time for journalists to be duly recognised and respected for the important mission they chose as a career.
Opponents or those who feel that these journalists are violating this sacred mission are free to respond in kind through their own publishing, rather than dealing with journalists as if criminals.