Tuesday, January 23, 2007

NEWS/ANALYSIS: Palestinian journalists under attack in Gaza, By Mohamed Mar'i

Who Attacks Journalists in Palestine
By Mohammed Mar'i
(Arab American Media Services. Permission granted to republish.)

(Ramallah, Occupied Palestine)-- The Palestinian journalists in Gaza held a one-day strike in protest of the blasting attack on the Al Arabiya TV offices in Gaza, which occurred late Monday evening causing severe property damage but no injuries.

The assault came a day after the failure of the Damascus meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas politburo Khalid Mashaal in forming a unity government and days after Al Arabiya aired a report in which it was claimed that Palestinian Prime Minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh cursed God saying "Even if God sets conditions for us, we will reject this."

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, Fatah official Maher Mikdad blamed Hamas. "This is the project of fear and terrorizing that is taking place," he said. "Hamas is the hero of that scene par excellence". Palestinian government spokesman Ghazi Hamad of Hamas denounced the bombing. "Despite the disagreement between us and Al Arabiya, we reject this method and we consider it unacceptable. I have urged the Interior Minister to find out who is responsible," he said. Reham Abdel Karim, the Al Arabiya office manager, refused to blame anyone. She said there have been many threats against staffers, and the government was informed of them. "We received a clear threat they would explode the office and kill some employees," she said, but would not name those responsible.

In the continued Palestinian internal crisis, Hamas and Fatah leaders hurl accusations that the reports of Arab news channels Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya usually biased. Hamas supporters refer to Al Arabiya channel as 'al-Ibriya', meaning 'the Hebrew', accusing the news channel of promoting American and Israeli interests in the Middle East. The Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan accused Al Jazeera news channel of being biased for Hamas, charging it as a mouthpiece for the Islamic group and the Islamic Brotherhood. Last year Fatah gunmen set fire to a number of vehicles belonging to Al-Jazeera in Ramallah to protest the station's failure to cover a Fatah rally.

Taking into consideration the increasing number of attacks on journalists and media outlets whether local or external, Palestinian or Arab it seems that the issue more than bias and the lack of objectivity. The Palestinian independent news agency Maan was threatened by Fatah official Jamal Nazzal accusing it of being biased in favor of Hamas. Many days ago unidentified gunmen set fire to two vehicles belonging to the Palestinian Media and Communication Company in Ramallah. One of them belongs to the Palestinian journalist Maher Shalabi. Several Journalists have been kidnapped in Gaza Strip last year: two FOX News journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig, the AP photographer Emilio Morenatti, and AFP photographer Jaime Razuri. Moreover, several Palestinian journalists have received repeated death threats, the matter that led some of them to stop writing under their real names and others to take measures to ensure their safety.

The observer of attacks on journalists and media premises in the West Bank and Gaza Stip can conclude that the timing of such attacks usually follows the failure of calming between the rivals Fatah and Hamas. The two sides want to oblige journalists to adopt their point of view. With the absence of law that guards the freedom of expression in Palestinian Authority and the "failure" of PA security forces to arrest any of the assailants, the attacks will continue and the assailant will be "unknown" as usual.

(Mohammed Mar'i is a freelance Palestinian journalist based in Ramallah, Occupied Palestine. He can be reached at mmaree63@gmail.com.)