Palestinian journalists attacked, threatened by leading factions

New York, June 6, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalist is deeply concerned by attacks and threats against the press in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by suspected members of the two major Palestinian parties, the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), and the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Fatah movement.

On Monday, nearly 50 armed militants stormed a studio of Fatah-affiliated Palestine Television in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip. The attackers, who wore Hamas headbands according to the head of Palestine Television, Mohammed al-Dahoudi, ordered staff to leave, and beat several cameramen and technicians. They fired at the equipment and in the direction of employees, al-Dahoudi told CPJ. They destroyed broadcasting equipment, archives, computers and furniture worth more than US$1 million, making the studio unusable.

Palestine Television, along with the Palestinian News Agency (WAFA), Wafa Radio, and Voice of Palestine radio, which form the Palestinian Broadcast Cooperation, are under the control of President Mahmoud Abbas. The Hamas-led Palestinian government accuses the broadcasters of bias toward Fatah.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, masked arsonists burned three cars belonging to the Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera on May 20. The cars, including Al-Jazeera Bureau Chief Walid al Omary’s personal car, were in the parking lot of the City Center building, where the station has its main Ramallah office. According to The Associated Press, both Hamas and Fatah have accused Al-Jazeera of bias. Fatah supporters were angry that the station did not cover an anti-Hamas demonstration by Fatah in Ramallah earlier that day news reports said.

In April, several Palestinian journalists received death threats for their critical coverage of Hamas, Reuters reported. Among them, Muwafaq Matar, a reporter for the pro-Fatah al-Hurriya radio station in Gaza, received several threats via cell phone and e-mail for criticizing the Hamas government. He was threatened with having his legs cut off and his head blown off if he talked on the radio station again, he told CPJ. Several other employees at the station have also been threatened. Reuters reported that the Palestinian Journalists’ Union received complaints from seven journalists in the Gaza Strip who have been threatened by e-mail, phone or fax for their coverage.

“We are gravely concerned by these recent threats against press freedom,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on the Palestinian government to take responsibility for illegal actions carried out by militant groups and prosecute those behind these attacks.”

Growing tensions between the Hamas-led government and the Fatah movement have resulted in factionalism in the Palestinian media, making them prone to attacks because of their editorial line. Journalists, whether foreign or local, have endured consistent harassment, threats, and beatings by Palestinian security forces and the various factions in retaliation for their coverage of Palestinian politics.