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Palestinian Authority

Palestinian Authority - Annual report 2003

The weakness of the Palestinian Authority was symbolised by the blowing up of its headquarters in the first few weeks of 2002. On the streets, seizures of equipment and physical attacks on journalists by security police or Palestinian militants hindered the work of journalists, especially from the foreign media. The Palestinian media, which was solidly nationalist, was targeted in the Israeli military operations and obstructed by Palestinian leaders’ efforts to exert pressure on it. Two pro-Islamist newspapers were censored.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was much more bloody in 2002. Since September 2000, the Palestinian uprising, Israeli repression and Palestinian suicide bombings has taken at least 2,850 lives, three-quarters of them Palestinian. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government launched a large-scale military incursion at the end of March 2002 called Operation Rampart, in which all the self-governing Palestinian towns were reoccupied, except for Jericho, and their inhabitants put under curfew for several weeks.

At the end of May, President Yasser Arafat approved a law establishing an independent justice system, long awaited by Palestinians, who complained about the undermining of procedures by family and political connections. "This measure has come too late," said Gaza human rights lawyer Raji Surani. "It won’t serve any purpose now."

Arafat yielded to US and European pressure on 9 June and announced a new and smaller cabinet with the job of fighting corruption, restoring international confidence and preparing for democratic elections. An interior minister was appointed for the first time, to head the Palestinian security services, which the US CIA director George Tenet suggested reducing in number to increase efficiency.

Newcomers were named to the key finance and justice ministries, but several other ministries, often criticised for corruption, remained in the same hands, showing the limits of the reforms. The new government was also to organise parliamentary and presidential elections, which had been due in January 2003 but were postponed indefinitely "due to the Israeli occupation."

The Palestinian media, accused by Israel of publicising appeals to anti-Israeli violence, were targeted throughout the year by the Israeli army, which blew up the headquarters of the official radio and TV station The Voice of Palestine on 19 January. The Israeli army’s Operation Rampart, which began at the end of March on the West Bank, temporarily silenced nearly all radio and TV stations and stopped the distribution of two of the three main Palestinian daily newspapers.

During the occupation of Nablus by the Israeli army, only one of the six local TV stations remained on the air. From 29 March, all five FM radios listened to by the inhabitants of Ramallah fell silent. The daily Al-Quds, based in East Jerusalem, was the only paper that appeared but roadblocks and curfews in the Palestinian Territories hampered distribution. Al-Ayyam and Al-Hayat al-Jadida, published in Ramallah, did not appear for several days. On countless occasions between April and June, but less frequently after that, the Israeli army raided, destroyed, ransacked or occupied Palestinian, Arab and foreign media offices.

The Palestinian media, badly hit by economic recession, tried to cope with the constraints of constant roadblocks and curfews. "We’re now running a newspaper, a hotel and a take-out food service," remarked Amjad Arrar, editor of the official daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida. Mattresses were put out on the floor so employees could sleep at the office. Journalists sent their copy in by e-mail and did not come to the newsroom except when they could get through the roadblocks. Circulation has dropped to 12,000 from the 15,000 before the uprising.

Another privately-owned Ramallah daily, Al-Ayyam, has seen its circulation fall by a quarter since December 2000. "We’re getting 20-30 per cent of copies returned unsold," said one of the paper’s managers, Mahdi Al-Masri. "We’re losing a lot of money. The cost of distribution has become enormous and advertising is down 85 per cent."

The Palestinian Territories have many privately-owned media and the inhabitants have unrestricted access to satellite TV stations such as Al-Jazeera, which is more popular than the national TV station, and to the Internet.

Two journalists wounded

Benny Lis, a reporter for israeli TV station Channel One, was slightly wounded in his left hand by Palestinian sniper-fire in Bethlehem on 5 March 2002 while he was with Israeli soldiers. He was not wearing a bulletproof jacket.

Gilles Jacquier, a cameraman for the French public TV station France 2, was wounded in the shoulder by apparently-Palestinian gunfire in Nablus on 9 April as he got out of his car at the entrance to the Al Ein refugee camp. He was wearing a bullet-proof jacket marked "press." He was taken away in a Red Crescent ambulance and then an Israeli one and flown back to France. His condition was not serious.

Pressure and obstruction Palestinian police seized photos taken by foreign journalists covering the trial in Jenin on 5 February 2002 of three young Palestinians accused of killing a Palestinian security official. The cameramen had taken pictures of the angry crowd outside the court after the verdict was announced and their lynching of the three defendants, whose bodies were then dragged through the streets.

The High Court demanded an explanation on 11 February for the shutdown of the weekly Al-Rissala (which is close to the Islamist movement Hamas) by Palestinian security police on 18 December 2001 without any court order. At about the same time, another pro-Islamist publication, Al Istiqlal, was shut down. On 14 May 2002, the court ordered the reopening of Al-Rissala but police refused to carry out the order. The paper appeared again on 31 October, although it had received no authorisation and was still officially suspended.

A suspected collaborator with Israel was killed in Ramallah on 1 April by a group of armed men. Journalists were first allowed to take photos, but the armed men then threatened them and said they would be held responsible if the photos were published. A Reuters cameraman and photographer had their film seized.

Palestinian police banned Musa el-Shaer, an Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer, from going into the Omar mosque in Bethlehem on 13 May while other journalists were allowed in. He was forcibly taken to a police station before being freed with apologies.

For several days in May, obstruction of working journalists increased, with intimidation, seizure of equipment and the closing off for several days of some parts of the Gaza Strip to prevent coverage of events there.

In June, film shot by Reuters after the execution in Bethlehem of a Palestinian accused of collaborating with Israel was seized by armed men.

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate banned local and foreign media on 26 August from filming or photographing children carrying arms or dressed in military uniforms, saying it was "a flagrant violation of the rights of children" and said any Palestinian journalist found doing this or taking pictures of masked men would be disciplined by the union, since such actions "serve Israel" and its "campaign against our just cause." The union also called on Palestinian groups to stop using children in military uniform in their demonstrations and said it would boycott occasions where they or masked men were present.

Two days later, the union cancelled the decision, saying it had been made by a local union leader in Gaza without authorisation. Palestinian information minister Yasser Abed Rabbo deplored the ban.

Demonstrators at the funeral on 14 October of a Palestinian militant in Bethlehem, Mohammed Abayat, attacked the head of a local human rights organisation, who took refuge in a nearby house. About 100 of the crowd then attacked journalists recording the incident. Mahfuz Abu Turk, a Reuters photographer, had to be treated for back and head injuries. The camera of another journalist was smashed.

Militants of the Islamist movement Hamas stoned journalists who had come to report on the explosion of a bomb factory in the Gaza Strip on 31 October which had killed three Hamas activists. Naguib Guban, an Associated Press (AP) cameraman, Shamis Ouda, of Reuters, and Adel Hanna, an AP photographer, were briefly hospitalised after being hit by stones. An AFP photographer in Gaza said no Palestinian or foreign journalist had been allowed to attend the next day’s funeral of the three activists. On 1 November, the Journalists’ Syndicate called on Palestinian journalists to stop covering Hamas activities until the movement apologised to the injured journalists. Hamas then apologised for "the attack on journalists by certain people." The Syndicate noted that it had not admitted the attackers were members of the movement.

north africa / middle east countries list
North Africa and the Middle East Introduction - 2003 Annual Report
Israel and the Occup. Terr.
Saudi Arabia
United Arab Emirates

see also
2003 Africa Annual Report
2003 Asia Annual Report
2003 Americas Annual Report
2003 Europe Annual Report