Israel’s Foreign Press Association has condemned the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers for “thuggish behavior,” after the terror group detained a photographer for several hours and banned her from returning to the coastal enclave.
“On Thursday, FPA member Heidi Levine, a photographer for SIPA Press, was detained by Hamas security men for more than three hours before she was allowed to leave Gaza,” the umbrella group representing foreign journalists working in Israel and the Palestinian territories said in a statement Thursday night. As she exited, Hamas security told Levine she was banned from the territory, claiming her work “reflects badly on Gaza.” It provided no examples of the work that allegedly upset it.
“The FPA strongly condemns the thuggish behavior of the Hamas security and the implication that Hamas should judge what is or isn’t acceptable coverage of Gaza,” the group said.
“Unfortunately, this incident is not isolated. A number of FPA members have reported being forced to undergo uncomfortable questioning by Hamas security forces while entering or exiting Gaza in recent months. We call on Hamas to end these practices immediately and urge the group to give journalists unfettered access in and out of Gaza.”
The FPA has tussled with Hamas in recent months, in March castigating the terror group for increasing registration fees for armored cars used by journalists covering Gaza.
Formed in 1957 by a group of journalists, the FPA is a nonprofit organization that aims to assist foreign reporters in covering news from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Gaza. It says that its mandate is “to clarify bureaucratic problems and to protect our interests.”
During the 2014 Israel-Hamas war, the FPA condemned Hamas for attempts to intimidate journalists and interfere with their coverage of the fighting in Gaza.
“The FPA protests in the strongest terms the blatant, incessant, forceful and unorthodox methods employed by the Hamas authorities and their representatives against visiting international journalists in Gaza over the past month,” the August 2014 statement said. “The international media are not advocacy organizations and cannot be prevented from reporting by means of threats or pressure, thereby denying their readers and viewers an objective picture from the ground.”
As well as targeting journalists in Gaza, the FPA said it was aware that Hamas had also been taking steps to vet those media personnel it doesn’t approve of and to prevent them from reporting in Gaza. “Such a procedure is vehemently opposed by the FPA,” the statement said.
The FPA asserted that “in several cases, foreign reporters working in Gaza have been harassed, threatened or questioned over stories or information they have reported through their news media or by means of social media.”
A numbers of reporters working in Gaza reported on Hamas’s use of civilian infrastructure for military means, but said they were only able to do so once out of the Strip, for fear of Hamas reprisals.
A week after the FPA complaint, a Hamas spokeswoman boasted on Lebanese TV that the terror group contacted those whose work was “immoral” and made them change “one way or another,” and also booted out journalists who sought to “film places where missiles were launched.”