Daoud Kuttab has long challenged the censorship practices of both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. Kuttab’s outspoken criticism of the Palestinian Authority’s despotic treatment of journalists and his creative techniques to educate, empower and mobilize independent Palestinian media are driving forces behind efforts to foster independent journalism in the Middle East.
IN CONFLICT WITH ISRAELI AUTHORITIES
In the 1980s, Kuttab worked as a reporter and later managing editor of the now defunct English-language weekly Al-Fajr, as a reporter and columnist for the Arabic-language East Jerusalem daily Al-Quds, and as a contributor to other papers, among them the Jerusalem Post. During that time, he was arrested, searched, and fingerprinted on several occasions for activities that included participating in public demonstrations against Israeli press censorship and writing about an armed attack by Jewish extremists at the Palestinian University in Hebron.
After leaving Al-Fajr, Kuttab went to work for the daily Al-Quds, where he broke many stories on the peace process and was the first Palestinian to conduct exclusive interviews with Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.
KUTTAB CHALLENGES ARAFAT’S CRACKDOWN ON CRITICAL REPORTING AND LEGITIMATE POLITICAL DISSENT
Since implementation of the Oslo Accords, Kuttab has been a vocal critic of the anti-democratic impulses of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Authority president. Arafat’s government has dealt despotically with critical reporting and legitimate political dissent, jailing dozens of journalists.
In August 1994, Arafat ordered Al-Quds to stop publishing Kuttab’s columns after Kuttab led independent journalists in a protest against the banning of Al-Nahar, Jerusalem’s only other Arabic-language daily at the time. Al-Quds capitulated and fired Kuttab. But Kuttab has refused to be silenced. He has written op-eds that have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, Daily Telegraph, and Daily Yomuri. And, as president of the Palestinian Audio-Visual Union, Kuttab has been active in protesting censorship and access violations by the Israelis and the PNA. He is also working with some newly licensed local TV stations, providing journalism training and encouraging television journalists to use whatever latitude they have to report local news independently.
INTERNET SITE CREATED BY KUTTAB HELPS FOSTER FREE PRESS
In April 1996, as co-director of Internews Middle East–a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that aims to facilitate the free flow of information by supporting independent journalists and media–Kuttab started the censorship-free Arabic Media Internet Network, a World Wide Web site known as AMIN
AMIN’s stated mission is “to increase the availability of information to Middle East journalists about their own and neighboring countries, enhancing the flow of information and strengthening the media practitioners’ access to it, which will in turn actively promote freedom of the media in the region.”
The site features a magazine to which Palestinian journalists contribute stories that newspapers and other publications will not carry for fear of official retaliation. Kuttab expects this site to enable other Arabic newspapers in the Middle East to go on-line. In June, Kuttab used the site to mobilize support for Dr. Eyad Sarraj, a human rights activist arrested by the Palestinian Authority for his criticism of Arafat’s authoritarian rule. Kuttab posted an open letter from Sarraj to Arafat that no newspaper had been willing to publish.
Kuttab’s creative and untiring support of press freedom and free expression has played a crucial role in the development of a nascent, independent Palestinian media and has contributed to an expansion of these freedoms elsewhere in the Middle East.