The Palestinian journalists’ syndicate has decided to boycott coverage of the activities of the Palestinian Authority’s security apparatus in the West Bank to protest the security crackdown on journalists during a recent demonstration.
On Friday, a number of news photographers were harassed by the PA’s Preventative Security Force while covering a Ramallah demonstration organized by Hamas in support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
West Bank journalists periodically complain of security harassment during coverage of Hamas events viewed as potentially embarrassing to the government of Mahmoud Abbas. Freedom House, a press freedom watchdog based in Washington, ranks the Palestinian territories as “not free” — the lowest of three possible rankings — with regard to the ability of its journalists to report with no restrictions.
According to the Ma’an News Agency, the camera of one photographer was confiscated on Friday after its memory card was erased, while another photographer working for Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV station was detained and released only after agreeing to leave the area without taking any photos.
During a sit-in protest organized by the journalists’ syndicate across from the interior ministry in Ramallah Sunday, syndicate head Abdul Nasser Najjar said that documented cases of journalists’ harassment will be reported to legal authorities.
“There is a blacklist in which we will include any official who attacks journalists in the West Bank. In no way will we allow this chain of attacks against journalists to continue,” Najjar told the Palestine News Network.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who met with Najjar shortly after the sit-in, said that freedom of the press is “holy” and should not be harmed under any circumstance. Abbas added that anyone attacking a journalist would be brought to justice.
“We hope this is the last time Palestinian journalists are attacked,” Najjar told The Times of Israel in a telephone interview from Ramallah, adding that an investigation committee has been set up by the interior ministry to investigate the journalists’ claims.
Abbas also signed a petition, to be sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, calling on Israeli authorities to grant full freedom of movement to Palestinian journalists during their coverage of media events in the West Bank.
Palestinian journalists have long complained that the IDF has prevented them from entering areas where important news stories were taking place and depriving them of press accreditation.
“Ninety-five percent of Palestinian journalists are not allowed to travel across the West Bank. They are even stopped at roadblocks that regular citizens can pass,” Najjar said. If Israel continued to prevent journalists from traveling freely across the West Bank, Najjar added, the Palestinians would turn to the UN in September or December and request a condemnation of Israel.
But Israel and the PA were not the sole targets of the syndicate’s criticism. Najjar claimed that journalists in the Gaza Strip were being harassed and intimidated by Hamas authorities on a daily basis. Hamas had also shuttered the local offices of the syndicate and banned the distribution of the three official PA dailies, Al-Ayyam, Al-Quds and Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah.