The Israel Defense Forces arrested Palestinian journalist Mustafa al-Khawaja, a reporter for the West Bank-based J-Media Network and the Hamas-affiliated channel Al-Aqsa TV, on October 16. He was later placed in administrative detention for six months. The day of his arrest, Israel banned J-Media on security grounds; Al-Aqsa TV has been banned for several years.
Around 20 soldiers broke through the gate of al-Khawaja’s home in Ni’lin, west of Ramallah, at around 3 a.m., according to Palestinian press freedom group MADA, citing an interview with al-Khawaja’s brother, Hamada al-Khawaja, and news reports. Soldiers asked for al-Khawaja’s identification, handcuffed him, seized his mobile phone, and drove him to an unknown destination.
According to a Facebook post by the official Commission of Detainees Affairs, al-Khawaja was transferred to the Ofer Prison, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on October 17. He was placed under administrative detention for six months on October 26, news reports said. Under administrative detention procedures, authorities may hold detainees for six months without charge if they suspect the detainee of planning to commit a future offense, and then extend the detention an unlimited number of times, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. Judges may accept evidence against the detainee without disclosing it on security grounds.
Al-Khawaja has been given access to a lawyer, but his lawyer told CPJ on November 20 that visits to prisoners aren’t allowed. Al-Khawaja’s lawyer believes he is now held in Megiddo Prison, in northern Israel, but was not able to confirm.
On the day of his arrest, the IDF ordered J-Media agency to shut down, according to the Palestinian press freedom group MADA and the London-based news website The New Arab. In a statement, the IDF described the media outlet as “an illegal organization” and said its closure was necessary for “the sake of the security of the State of Israel and for the safety of the public and public order,” those sources said, adding that J-Media complied and ceased operations.
Al-Khawaja’s family believes he was arrested because of his social media commentary on the Israel-Gaza war; CPJ was unable to find any recent social media posting by the journalist.
Al-Khawaja is one of at least 17 Palestinian journalists in Israeli custody – including four who worked for J-Media — as of December 1, 2023, the date of CPJ’s annual prison census. Palestinian officials say Israeli forces have conducted mass arrests in the occupied West Bank since October 7, when Hamas attacked Israel, prompting Israel to declare war on the militant group. Dozens of members of the press have died, the vast majority Palestinian journalists and media workers killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza. There have also been numerous reports of assault, threats, cyberattacks, and censorship.
In 2019, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Al-Aqsa TV a terrorist organization after banning it in the West Bank in 2017. In 2017, al-Khawaja and another Al-Aqsa TV correspondent were ordered by an Israeli court to stop their work with the outlet, according to news website Al-Watan.
CPJ emailed the Israel Security Agency, also known as the Shin Bet, in late 2023 for comment on the cases of imprisoned Palestinian journalists but received no response.