CPJ condemns attacks on Palestinian media outlets

New York, February 5, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) deplores recent violent attacks on private Palestinian media outlets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by armed gunmen.

At around 4:00 a.m. on Monday, February 2, three masked Palestinian men carrying automatic rifles stormed the offices of the Ramallah-based Al-Quds Educational Television, according to staff. Assistant Manager Haroun Abu Arrah, one of two station employees present at the time, told CPJ that one of the men demanded a “tape,” and when Abu Arrah asked for clarification the assailants began beating the two staffers with rifle butts and fists.

Abu Arrah said that after the beating, two of the assailants went into another room and fired several rounds at some of the station’s equipment, destroying computer screens and video equipment. During the shooting, Abu Arrah and his colleague fled the building.

Abu Arrah and station Director Ayman Bardawil said Palestinian police are investigating the incident, but that no arrests have been made. Neither men are aware of a motive for the assault and noted that the station had not aired anything controversial in recent days, nor had it received any threats.

Other attacks reported
On Tuesday, February 3, employees of the recently established Gaza City weekly newspaper Al-Daar discovered when they returned to work from the Eid al-Adha holiday that day that most of the computer equipment in the office had been destroyed by unknown assailants. Hassan al-Kashif, the magazine’s editor in chief, told CPJ he believes that the vandalism came in retaliation for the magazine’s editorial stance against official Palestinian corruption.

Palestinian sources told CPJ that Al-Daar—which is close to former Palestinian preventive security chief Mohamed Dahlan, who is a leader in Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization—may have been attacked because of internal political conflicts within Fatah.

On January 8, 2004, five armed men beat Saifeddin Shahin, Gaza correspondent for the Dubai-based satellite news channel Al-Arabiyya, after the car he was in stopped at a major Gaza City intersection. Shahin said that while he was being beaten, the attackers claimed that they were from Fatah and told him not to talk about the group again in his reports. Fatah denied responsibility for the incident, according to Shahin. The journalist said he does not know what triggered the attack but said that recently he had done a piece on a Fatah celebration marking the anniversary of the group’s founding. A colleague of Shahin’s thought that the fact that Al-Arabiyya portrayed the celebration as disorganized may have sparked the incident. Shahin thinks that the station’s reporting on internal struggles within Fatah may be the source of the attack.

Al-Arabiyya was also targeted last fall. On September 13, 2003, five masked and armed men entered the building where Al-Arabiyya is housed and destroyed office equipment, including computer screens and furniture. The assailants said they were from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militant group loosely linked to Fatah. The Associated Press reported that a spokesman for Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade denied responsibility for the raid. The men never gave a reason for the attack, but Al-Arabiyya staff said recent reports on internal struggles within the Palestinian Authority, including control over security services and the role of the Palestinian prime minister, may have angered some.