The end of the year was marked by escalating violence. Palestinian president Yasser Arafat was caught in the crossfire, with pressure from radical Palestinian movements and his public opinion on the one hand, and that of the Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon on the other.
After the 11 September attacks on the US and consequent rejoicing by Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority, afraid of seeing its image tarnished, stepped up its pressure on Palestinian and foreign journalists to prevent them from covering these events. On 18 September, in a meeting in Ramallah with members of the Foreign Press Association (FPA), the Palestinian information minister, Yasser Abed Rabbo, declared that the Palestinian Authority regretted these hindrances. "I would like to take this opportunity, in the name of the Palestinian Authority, to reaffirm that it will guarantee the security of all journalists working in the territories under its control", he said. Yet pressure has not eased and the year was marked by arrests, questioning, closure of a television channel, prohibitions on covering demonstrations, etc.
Since the start of the second Intifada both the official and private-sector media have been at the service of Palestinian Authority propaganda. Television channels continuously broadcast programmes to the glory of martyrs, inciting hatred or murder. Certain foreign journalists, like their Palestinian confreres, practise self-censorship for fear of threats, intimidation or violence from the security services.
A journalist jailed
On 11 October 2001 in Gaza the Palestinian police arrested Alaa Saftaoui, editor-in-chief of the weekly Al Istiqlal, a publication close to the radical Islamic Jihad. An article in the weekly that day had judged the Palestinian Authority as "very weak" and had called for "the dismissal of the heads of the security services". Alaa Saftaoui was released on 17 October after six days in detention.
Seven journalists arrested
On 14 September 2001 Palestinian police arrested five journalists while they were covering a demonstration in the Nusseirat refugee camp in memory of the author of the 9 September suicide attack in Nahariya in Israel. A photographer and an editor with Reuters, a cameraman from Associated Press TV, a correspondent for the satellite television channel Abou Dhabi and an AFP photographer were released one and a half hours later, after police had confiscated their video tapes and films. During this commemoration the portrait of Osama bin Laden was brandished by youths. Four of the five journalists were Palestinians; the AFP photographer was a Norwegian. When the tapes were returned to the journalists a few days later they noticed that many of the scenes they had recorded had been deleted.
During an anti-American demonstration in Gaza on 8 October a cameraman from the French channel TF1 was arrested and detained for a few hours.
On 11 October police escorted an AFP journalist out of the Al Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza. He was detained for a few minutes, while other journalists were prevented from entering the camp.
Two journalists attacked
On his way to the AFP agency offices on 29 July 2001, five unidentified Palestinians beat up Sakher Abou el Oun, AFP correspondent in Gaza. The journalist sustained serious head injuries and was hospitalised in the town. The attack followed an AFP dispatch mentioning the death of eight Palestinians, including one member of the security police, during a settling of scores between two rival clans in Gaza. The journalist blamed the attack on members of the security police.
On 21 December Saif el-Din Shahin, Gaza correspondent for the Qatar-based satellite television channel Al-Jazira, was hit outside his office by three unidentified assailants. The reasons for this attack have not been determined.
Pressure and obstruction
The Ramallah offices of Al-Jazira were closed on 21 March 2001 on orders of the Palestinian authorities. According to Walid al-Omary, the head of the office, on 19 March officials had asked the manager of the channel to stop broadcasting the trailer of a documentary on the war in Lebanon, which showed a demonstrator brandishing his shoe in front of the portrait of Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat. Since the channel refused, members of the security police occupied its offices on 21 March. According to a communiqué by the Al-Jazira management, "armed agents ordered the employees to stop their work, threatening them with their arms". The channel was reopened two days later, on orders from Yasser Arafat.
In May two Newsweek journalists were abducted by a group of Palestinian militants claiming to be with Fatah, the armed branch of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation). They were released shortly afterwards.
Police and armed men prevented journalists in Nablus from covering Palestinians rejoicing on 11 September following the attacks in the US. On the same day the security services summoned a freelance cameraman working for Associated Press, and warned him not to broadcast images filmed in Nablus. The secretary of the Palestinian Authority government, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, subsequently said that the Palestinian Authority "could not guarantee the life" of the cameraman if the film was shown. The images were not broadcast.
On 18 September Palestinian police in Bethlehem announced the introduction of new regulations concerning Palestinian television and radio. These were no longer authorised to broadcast news concerning calls for general strikes, nationalist activities, demonstrations or security-related issues, without permission from the police or security services.
On 20 September the Palestinian Authority ordered the closure of a privately-owned television channel, Al Rooat, in Bethlehem. A Palestinian senior security official, Nakhlé Kaabar, told AFP that Al Rooat would remain closed until further notice. This decision was taken after the channel broadcast a communiqué by the "Brigades of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs", a group belonging to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah, which claimed responsibility for the attack that day in which a settler had been killed in the Tekoa settlement.
Palestinian police prevented journalists in Gaza from covering an anti-US demonstration on 8 October through to the end. Two Palestinians were killed during the demonstration, declared illegal by the police. The journalists were also banned from covering incidents after the funeral of one of the victims. On the same day, the Palestinian Authority banned filmed interviews with Palestinians about the US offensive in Afghanistan.
On 9 October foreigners, including journalists, were prohibited from entering Gaza. The Palestinian Authority justified this decision by explaining that it was not able to guarantee the security of foreigners.
On 12 October the Palestinian Authority banned journalists from covering an Islamic Jihad demonstration in the Al Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza.
The Palestinian security services have been denounced as predators of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders.