Montasser Nassar

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Nassar, a presenter at Al-Sanabel Radio station, was arrested by the Israel Defense Forces from his home in the West Bank town of Dura during the night of August 31, 2016, his lawyer Mahmoud Hassan told CPJ. The station’s owner, three other journalists, and a media worker at the local radio station, which employed eight people, were arrested the same day and Israel Defense Forces raided the channel’s headquarters, seizing broadcasting equipment and using a court order to shut down the outlet for at least three months, Palestinian media reported.

An Israeli military court on November 22, 2017, sentenced Nassar to 22 months in jail for incitement of violence, and fined him 5,000 new Israeli shekels (US$1,435), according to news reports.

CPJ has reviewed a translated summary the Israeli Military Prosecution’s indictment against Nassar, in which he is charged with “incitement, support of a hostile organization… performing a service for a hostile organization … [and] the publication of reports of military value,” in which he is accused of encouraging violence against Israeli soldiers and civilians through Al-Sanabel broadcasts, revealing information about the location of Israel Defense Forces personnel in Dura through broadcasts, and supporting and aiding Hamas.

The arrests came during an especially tense period, amid a wave of Palestinians stabbing Israeli soldiers and civilians, and Israeli security forces shooting assailants, alleged assailants, and protesters. Israeli officials have accused Palestinian news outlets, as well as individuals on Facebook, of encouraging Palestinian attacks and inciting violence with their broadcasts. Several Palestinian channels have been closed down in the past year and dozens of individuals –including journalists– have been arrested for incitement, either through the media or on Facebook, according to media reports.

Reporting by Nassar is cited in two of the seven examples of alleged incitement at the station, on July 4 and July 27, 2016, in broadcasts which have been reviewed by CPJ. No examples of Nassar using language that directly incites imminent violence are provided in the indictment.

In the indictment, Nassar is also accused of having “performed a service for Hamas” through his personal Facebook page and his second job, working as a presenter for RamSat, a TV production company that sells content to Al-Aqsa TV. The Hamas-run channel is banned from operating in Israel and the West Bank. It broadcasts from the Gaza Strip. CPJ attempted to reach RamSat for comment via phone on several occasions, but the calls went unanswered.

In the July 4 radio broadcast, Nassar is one of two correspondents covering nighttime Israel Defense Forces raids in Dura. Speaking to presenter Nidal Amro in the morning after the raids, Nassar recounted the developments of the night, including positions of soldiers. The July 27 broadcast follows the killing of Mohammed al-Fakih in a gunfight with Israel Defense Forces. Al-Fakih, a Dura resident, killed a rabbi and injured three others in a drive-by shooting three weeks earlier. Nassar was in the studio broadcasting live in the hours after al-Fakih’s death. Nassar regularly referred to al-Fakih as a “martyr” and a “hero,” and he called on the public to attend a memorial rally for al-Faqih.

In the July 4 broadcast reviewed by CPJ, Nassar featured for only a few minutes at the end of the broadcast. The language he used to report on the raids was not violent, and his tone was calm.

Breaks in live broadcasts were filled with music and speeches that the indictment describes as “incendiary.” Some of the song lyrics and speeches quoted in the indictment include:

“Martyr Muhammad al-Faqih, may God have mercy on your pure soul. All residents of the West Bank, all residents of Hebron laud you and your falling as a martyr after an armed struggle of more than seven hours in the village of Sureef. God’s mercy on your soul, and may you be admitted, with the help of God, into eternal paradise, oh hero…”

“We are your heroes oh Dura. We are the heroes of stones. We fear not the plane, nor the tank. Oh Dura, the enterprise of men. Oh Dura, heroes of swift response… I know not fear, a stone clenched in my hand, and an AK-47 too.”

A journalist from Al-Sanabel denied that the station was inciting violence through its content. In an interview in Dura, the journalist, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of arrest, said all the songs were on pre-selected playlist, and were aired to allow the hosts a break during long reporting shifts, rather than coordinated to follow particular news stories or encourage violence. “The songs we chose to play are patriotic. They are mostly from the Second Intifada and everybody knows them,” the journalist said. “Palestinians have been playing the same songs for years, so why are they suddenly now incitement?”

The journalist said none of the songs and speeches cited in the indictment had been written or produced by the radio station.

Hassan, Al-Sanabel’s attorney, said Israel did not have a clear, public definition of incitement through the media, and this posed a challenge for journalists who do not know what content is within the law and what is illegal. He added that he had seen a “big rise” in incitement cases in 2016.

In a statement emailed to CPJ on October 10, 2016, the Israel Defense Forces’ Public Appeals Office said, “The IDF sees freedom of speech and freedom of press as fundamental rights… but we draw a clear line between expressing an opinion (including criticizing the government) and abuse of rights in order to encourage acts of terrorism … and inciting the harm of civilians.”

As well as his work at the radio station, Nassar presented several programs on Al-Aqsa, including one that commemorated al-Fakih. On July 13, 2016, he posted photos on Facebook from an interview he carried out with the al-Fakih family about Mohammed al-Fakih, who was in hiding at the time. On July 26, he posted a link to a program he presented for Al-Aqsa about life in Aida refugee camp. Several of the examples in the indictment of Nassar sharing Hamas material on Facebook and streaming programs from Al-Aqsa were not available when CPJ tried to view them in October 2016.

As of late 2017, the Israel Defense Forces had not responded to CPJ’s emailed request for new information on the journalist’s status.