Freelance British Journalist Paul Martin — apparently a documentary filmmaker — was detained yesterday at a courthouse in Gaza City by Hamas authorities on “suspicion of breaking local/’Palestinian’ laws”, and Gaza’s Attorney General has now ordered him held for 15 days. Martin is reportedly now in Gaza City’s central prison. As the AP reports, this is “an unprecedented step against a foreign reporter since the Islamic militants seized control of Gaza in 2007”.
The AP report noted that “Hamas has prided itself in ending the lawlessness of vigilante gunmen, and has largely stayed clear of foreign journalists since seizing the territory in 2007. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Mr. Martin’s arrest signaled a change in policy. The Interior Ministry statement said foreigners are welcome in Gaza, but that ‘anyone who tries to violate the security of Gaza will be held accountable’.”
Ma’an News Agency reported this morning that the spokesman of what they editorially refer to as the “de facto Ministry of Interior” in Gaza, Ihab Al-Ghussein, “told Ma’an that an arrest warrant for Martin was issued following the confession of a defendant charged with collaborating with Israel. The defendant ‘has confessed against the British journalist and said he [Martin] violated Palestinian law and the security in Gaza’, Al-Ghussein said”.
However, as Ma’an noted, Martin was detained as he arrived to testify at the trial of the man whose accusations were then used as the basis for Martin’s arrest. Ma’an described the man as “a Palestinian fighter accused of collaborating with Israel, a journalist present at the courthouse in Gaza City told Ma’an”.
Ma’an reported that ” ‘This person [the Palestinian] was accused by the government of being a collaborator with the Israeli side. Our colleague [Martin] came as a witness to testify in favor of this guy’, the journalist said. Martin arrived in Gaza with evidence proving the accused man had fought against the Israeli military, the journalist added. ‘Suddenly, the court announced that the reporter said something that is against the law, and it jailed him for 15 days for investigation’, according to the journalist, who said Martin had interviewed the accused man during Israel’s assault on Gaza [n.b. – the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead], which began in late December 2008″.
Ma’an reported additionally that “Palestinian security sources told the German news agency DPA that Martin was accused of giving information to ‘hostile parties’. The British national was being held in Gaza’s central prison, although it was not clear if he had yet been charged with any crime, DPA reported”. This Ma’an report can be read in full here.
Then, there was a brief report from a Palestinian media source this morning saying that Martin has been accused of trying to locate IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit who has been held somewhere in Gaza since his capture in a cross-border raid in late June 2006, for which Israel has made numerous retailatory attacks, including destruction of the Gaza Power Plant a few days after Shalit’s capture. After Israel’s unprecedented three-week military operation against Gaza from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009, which was ended by two unilateral cease-fires (Israel’s and Hamas’), the Israeli Government has declared on several occasions that it will not lift the controlled closure of all border crossings into the Gaza Strip until Shalit is safely returned home.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has not been allowed to visit Shalit during his almost four-year captivity so far, but there were a one or two letters transferred in recent years between Shalit and his parents, and a more recent videotape showing Shalit alive and relatively at ease with his captors, exchanged through intermediaries who include former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
It was noted in a comment on Facebook last night that Martin has, in the past, reported for the BBC and for The Times of London [see these two reports dated November 2007 here and here]. The BBC has just reported that Martin has written for the two British news organizations. Additional news reports indicate that Martin also contributed to the Daily Mail.
A representative of the British Consulate has visited Martin in jail, and the British Consulate in Jerusalem has expressed concern about the situation.
The Foreign Press Association in Israel has just released a statement calling for Martin’s release: “The Foreign Press Association is deeply concerned with the arrest of British filmmaker and journalist Paul Martin, in Gaza by Hamas authorities. We expect the Hamas as we do all parties, to respect the rights of every journalist on assignment to work without fear of being arrested. The Foreign Press Association hereby requests the Palestinian Authorities in Gaza to immediately release Paul Martin”.
[An illustrative story: when I arrived in Gaza in mid-June 2007, as soon as the Israeli military authorities re-opened the Erez terminal used for human crossing in and out of Gaza, just after the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Authority Preventive Security forces in the Gaza Strip, I walked with my colleagues through the battered concrete corridors in the no-man’s land between Erez and the point where Israelis allow Gazans to approach Erez, which were still filled with miserable Palestinians desperate to get out, together with those who had just missed appointments for vital cancer treatment in Israeli medical institutions. There was a stench of urine, people appeared desperate, and some more energetic and enterprising young men were tearing apart the physical infrastructure of the canopy and the adjacent toilets and other rooms, piece by piece and pipe by pipe. When we finally got through that area of hell-on-earth, we arrived at an area where a few Gazan taxis were waiting. The parking area was more empty than normal. Suddenly, a white vehicle bristling with young men carreened into the parking area and approached us. Some of the men in the car were wearing all-black chinos. Others looked like Afghans or Pakistanis, with multiple layers of vests over long shirts over robes. The driver, all in crisp black, recognized us as journalists and offered to show us fighters shooting off a rocket or two. We politely declined. Then the driver asked if we wanted to speak to Alan Johnston, the BBC correspondent who was by that time already in captivity by some groups not entirely controlled by Hamas. The driver took out his mobile phone and thrust it in our direction: “I just spoke to him half an hour ago”, he said. We thanked him, but declined again. There was a moment of tension. Then, I asked where they got the nice white vehicle. The driver and some of the passengers laughed. “From Abu Mazen!” (Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the driver shouted in glee. Then they all drove off and left us safely alone to proceed with our Palestinian “fixers”, who had arrived by that time, to take us into downtown Gaza City…]
The Israel Project, an organization based in Washington and Jerusalem which works to influence media coverage of this region, has helpfully put together a little press release of journalists kidnapped in the Gaza Strip. Paul Martin, of course, has not been kidnapped, but rather arrested — and by Hamas. The list compiled by The Israeli Project all dates from the period before Hamas was in charge in the Gaza Strip. Still, it’s interesting, and here it is:
Journalists Kidnapped by Palestinian Militants in Gaza since Sept. 2004:
* March 12, 2007 – BBC correspondent Alan Johnston is kidnapped by a Gaza-based clan calling itself the Army of Islam. This group is thought to have ties to al-Qaeda. Johnston’s captors released a video on the Internet demanding that Britain release several Muslim prisoners including Islamist al-Qaeda cleric Abu Qatada.
* Jan. 7, 2007 – Jaime Razuri from Agence France-Presse is kidnapped and released almost a week later. The kidnappers were not identified.
* Oct. 23, 2006 – Emilio Morenatti, an Associated Press photographer, is kidnapped by unidentified Palestinian gunmen and released on the same day.
* Aug. 27, 2006 – Fox News correspondent Steve Centanni and New Zealand-born cameraman Olaf Wiig are held for two weeks by a previously unknown group identified as the Holy Jihad Brigades. They were released unharmed after being forced to convert to Islam.
* March 15, 2006 – Caroline Laurent, reporter for the French-language weekly ELLE; Alfred Yaghobzadeh, photographer for France’s Sipa Press; and Yong Tae-Young, a correspondent for South Korea’s KBS are kidnapped from the Al-Dira Hotel in Gaza. Palestinian Security Services claim the kidnappers are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The journalists were released within 22 hours.
* Oct. 12, 2005 – Dion Nissenbaum and Adam Pletts of Knight Ridder News Service (now McClatchy Newspapers) are abducted by renegade members of the Fatah party. The journalists were freed later that day.
* Sept. 10, 2005 – Journalist Lorenzo Cremonesi of Corriere della Serra ( Italy ) is abducted in the town of Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip. He was released the same day.
* Aug.15, 2005 – Journalist Mohammad Ouathi, a French citizen of Algerian origin is kidnapped and released a week later. No group claimed responsibility.
* Jan. 8, 2005 – Ramon Lobo and Carmen Secanella, reporters for Spain’s El Pais, are kidnapped briefly by Palestinian militants in Gaza’s Khan Younes refugee camp.
* Sept. 27, 2004 – Riad Ali, producer for CNN is abducted at gunpoint and released the following day. Ali claims that the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades was behind his kidnapping but the militia has denied the allegations.
The above list, of journalists kidnapped in Gaza from September 2004 until March 2007, was prepared by The Israel Project.