The director of Amnesty International’s program for the Middle East and North Africa, Malcolm Smart, has issued (on 12 March) a statement expressing concern about the “continuing curbs on media freedom and harassment of journalists working in Gaza and the West Bank”
The statement notes that “Amnesty International has called on the Palestinian and Israeli authorities to release all journalists who are being detained for carrying out their legitimate professional activities, amid continuing harassment of media workers in the region”.
But, Smart notes that “In particular, it is Palestinian journalists that are targeted. Not only are they subject to harassment by Israeli forces but in the West Bank, those considered sympathetic to Hamas are liable to be detained by Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces, while in Gaza, those considered sympathetic to Fatah have been targeted by members of the Hamas security agencies.”
The statement says that “Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed its concerns about freedom of expression for journalists working in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza have curtailed media freedom and taken action against media and journalists who criticized them. Israeli forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories frequently harass and use excessive force against Palestinian journalists”. This statement can be viewed in full here.
Meanwhile, fallout still continues following the recent elections in the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate. Elections had not been held for some 16 years, and journalists were concerned that the membership rolls had been padded with non-journalists who could be expected to vote for political or other considerations. Fatah Central Committee member Tawfik Tirawi, former director of intelligence in the West Bank, who is now in charge of the portfolio for labor unions and organizations, was reportedly heavily involved in the organization of the general assembly meeting, of the elections themselves — and of the post-election arrangements.
Some Palestinian journalists say that they realize it would have been impossible to hold the elections at all without Tirawi’s involvement — or “interference” — but they believe it would be better if he had stepped aside the moment a newly-elected 63-member Executive Committee was in place.
Many of the post-election critiques being published by Palestinian journalists revolve around agreement or disagreement with how this was done — and whether or not it is better to drop out totally, in protest, or to try to work from within to improve the situation so that the union will work in the interests of journalists (and not of political parties)… The controversy has been visibly bitter and chaotic, and had a debilitating effect.
Those who have elected to stay and struggle inside the union have not yet started the heavy work needed to re-drafting the organizations by-laws, or constitution, and update the membership rolls. “We discovered that there are no files, no paperwork, nothing”, said one Executive Committee member. “There has been no administration for over 15 years”.
Meanwhile, some journalists say, he has continued to work behind the scenes, and was involved in the formation of a 21-member Administrative Office along party or “political faction” lines: 5 are Fatah members from the West Bank, 4 are Fatah members from Gaza (though Gaza journalists were unable to participate in the recent vote), and so on. Though there are a few independents, there are no Hamas-affiliated journalists in the new PJS bodies. (The 21-member Administrative Office was supposed to have been elected by the 63-member Executive Council…) Tirawi’s consultations were also reportedly instrumental to the appointment of a new Chairman of the PJS, chosen from among the 63 elected officials, to replace the long-serving Naim Toubasi, who had seemed to be Chairman-for-Life. The new PJS Chairman is Abdel-Nasser Najjar, editor of the Palestinian Authority newspaper al-Ayyam — a “good guy”, one Palestinian journalists said, “but he has not yet taken some necessary decisions”.