Palestinian writer Omar Nazzal was arrested by the Israel Defense Forces at Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan on April 23, 2016, en route to a general meeting of the European Federation of Journalists in Sarajevo, the federation said in a statement condemning the arrest.
On May 2, 2016, Nazzal was transferred to administrative detention, his lawyer, Mahmoud Hassan, said. Under administrative detention laws, detainees may be held for up to six months without charge or trial and their detention can be renewed an unlimited number of times. In November, his detention was renewed for third time, for at least a further three months, local media reported.
CPJ asked the Israel Defense Forces about the arrests of 10 Palestinian journalists, including Nazzal, and whether the arrests were linked to their journalism.
In an emailed response on October 10, 2016, its Public Appeals Office said Nazzal and other journalists were detained due to activity in terror organizations including Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and that their detention was a preventative measure taken to neutralize a security threat that could not be addressed by criminal trial because of classified information. The statement did not specify exact legal charges against any of the journalists or in which organization the individuals were suspected of involvement.
Nazzal ran the West Bank office of news website Pelest, commissioning and editing articles, the outlet said in emailed statement to CPJ. He also wrote op-eds for Al-Hadaf, a newspaper affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Nazzal is a Palestinian Journalist Syndicate board member and official spokesperson for the body, Montasr Hamdan, a member of its general secretariat, told CPJ. He also worked for the University of Birzeit’s Media Development Center in an advisory role, Hamdan added.
Hassan, the writer’s lawyer, told CPJ during a meeting at the office of Addameer, a human rights and prison support non-governmental organization in Ramallah, that he believes Nazzal’s journalism is central to his imprisonment. “He is very prominent and his opinion carries a lot of weight…This arrest silences him,” Hassan said.
In the weeks before his arrest, Nazzal shared statements on Facebook criticizing Israel’s crackdown on Palestinian media, including the closure of Palestine Today, an Islamic Jihad-affiliated TV channel that was raided and shut down by the Israel Defense Forces in March 2016. Islamic Jihad is designated a terrorist organization by Israel and the group is banned from operating in the country. Israel accused the channel of inciting violence against civilians. Nazzal had worked as a news editor at Palestine Today, but left in January 2016 to work for Pelest, channel spokesperson Ali Murad told CPJ.
In February 2016, Nazzal wrote an op-ed for Al-Hadaf about Omar al-Nayef, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who was convicted of the 1986 murder of an Israeli student in Jerusalem. Al-Nayef, who had been living as a fugitive in Bulgaria for over 20 years, died in the Palestinian embassy in Sofia in February 2016, in what his brother described as an assassination by Mossad agents. His brother said in interviews that the killing potentially included the cooperation of the Palestinian diplomatic mission. The Palestinian Authority and Israel’s foreign ministry both denied involvement in his death. Nazzal paid tribute to the life of al-Nayef in the op-ed, but did not repeat the claims that Mossad was involved.
The attorney, Hassan, said he believed Nazzal’s article was one of the reasons for his arrest, but said that details of his case are in a secret file and he does have access to the exact accusations against his client.
A senior editor at Al-Hadaf, Jamal Meqdad, told CPJ in a written statement “It is thought that the main reason for his arrest is his journalism, especially his role in exposing the violations of the [Israeli] occupation.”
Meqdad said that although Nazzal agreed with some of the principles of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, such as secularism, he was not a member of the group.
Nazzal had been banned from travelling outside Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 2014 for unknown reasons, Hassan said, noting, “He was never questioned as part of the ban…and the reason for it was kept secret.” In April 2016 Nazzal was granted permission by the local District Coordination Office, a body run jointly by Israel and the Palestinian Authority to coordinate the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank, to leave the country and attend the European Federation of Journalists conference. The arrest at Allenby Bridge suggests coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, “both of whom were angered by the article about al-Nayef,” Hassan said.
The local District Coordination Office did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment in October 2016.
Nazzal began a two-week hunger strike on August 4, to protest his administrative detention and in support of Bilal Kayid, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who had been on hunger strike in prison for 50 days. Hassan said he convinced Nazzal to end his hunger strike after he lost weight and became ill.