Journalists get mad

A group of Palestinian journalists in Bethlehem are mad as hell — and they aren’t going to take it any more (?)

Ma’an News Agency reported today that as a result of what happened at a demonstration at the main Bethlehem checkpoint yesterday (see our earlier report here, protesters and journalists were hit from both sides), “reporters will officially hand over a letter to the PA demanding that those security officers suspected of assaulting journalists be reprimanded. If the PA fails to respond to the letter, journalists say they will boycott all Palestinian official visits in Bethlehem during Easter, particularly that of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Abdul Nasser An-Najjar, head of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, told Ma’an that he and the body’s secretary-general fully support the protest. On Monday, PA and Israeli forces cracked down on protesters at a Bethlehem rally who were voicing dissent against the continued detention of the Palm Sunday detainees [a group of 10 Palestinians who were arrested on Sunday while trying to go to Jerusalem for Palm Sunday religious observances, but without a permit]… Journalists said PA forces not only prevented them from covering the rally, but assaulted members of the press. Heated arguments ensued between journalists covering the incident and PA forces, resulting in a sit-in near Rachel’s Tomb by journalists”. This story can be read in full here.

The main Gilo checkpoint into and out of Bethlehem was reportedly closed today until further notice.

The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee issued a communiqué today by email giving this report:
“Fifteen demonstrators were arrested by Israeli forces during a peaceful demonstration near Rachel’s Tomb last Sunday, protesting Israeli violations of Palestinian freedom of religion and lack of access to Jerusalem. The demonstrators marked Palm Sunday and demanded to exercise the centuries old Christian tradition of pilgrimage to Jerusalem on that day … After soldiers tried to stop the procession at a checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem near Rachel’s Tomb, demonstrators overwhelmed the few soldiers positioned there with their numbers, and peacefully continued to march towards Jerusalem. [Another account said that a group of demonstrators surprised the Israeli Border Police who were massed on the Jerusalem side by turning to the side and passing through a huge sliding metal gate that was opened to allow the passage of Israeli military vehicles, but no mention of that in this communiqué…] They were, however, stopped by a large contingent of Israeli Police officers a few hundred meters into Jerusalem. When the crowed could not advance farther, a number of Palestinian dignitaries held speeches, after which the protesters began retreating back towards Bethlehem. It was at that point, that the police began its unprovoked assault at the demonstrators, making fifteen arrests, including those of Abbas Zaki of the PLO Executive Committee, four members of local popular committees and an AP photographer. Abbas Zaki is one of the most prominent Palestinian leaders to have been arrested in grassroots demonstrations in recent years … All demonstrators were arrested under the exact same circumstances, and on the same suspicions. The four Israelis and one international detained during the incident, were released that same evening. The Palestinians, however, were subjected to much harsher treatment. The police extended the arrest of all ten of them by 96 hours, which are likely to be extended by another 96 hours even before they will be brought before a judge. While Israelis and internationals are, as a matter of policy, subject to Israeli law, which only allows for a 24 hours detention by the police, Palestinians are subject to Israeli Military Law, which allows for their detention for a period of eight days before being brought in front of a judge … The Army had also used concussion grenades to disperse a demonstration in support of the ten arrestees in Bethlehem today. One demonstrator was lightly injured after a grenade hit his back”.

Meanwhile, other Palestinian journalists are mad as hell because some of their colleagues accepted an invitation by The Israel Project media advocacy organization to spend a day in Tel Aviv, cafe-hopping, being invited to lunch, shopping in malls, and meeting with an Arabic-language-speaking IDF spokesman… This is reported by Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post One of the Palestinian invitees was teased about it, but in a supportive way, by one of his close friends on Facebook last week…

What else happened here today?

(1). The Israeli Air Force attacked the Yasser Arafat International Airport in the Gaza Strip, very near the Kerem Shalom crossing at the tri-point where the boundaries of Gaza, Israel, and the Egyptian Sinai meet.  The only Palestinian airport has been out of commission since its runways were dug up and other damage caused following the capture of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid near the same point.  (The airport was completely destroyed by the Israeli Air Force once earlier, at the beginning of the Second Palestinian Intifada.)  Why would the IAF attack an already damaged-beyond-use airport?

(2).  A Palestinian Authority Security officer reportedly stabbed an Israeli soldier through the open window of the jeep the Israeli was riding in at the Tappuah junction checkpoint south of Nablus.  The Israeli soldier is also reportedly a settler who lived in the area.  He was stabbed in the heart, and his jeep overturned as he tried to veer away from the attack.  He was evacuated for medical treatment in an Israeli hospital, but has since died.  Was the PA security officer off-duty?  Was the Israeli soldier off-duty?  Did they know each other?  UPDATE: The latest report indicates that they have the same family name.  UPDATE TWO: It has just been reported (just before 20h00 Jerusalem time) that Israeli military bulldozers have already demolished the attackers home… UPDATE THREE: Reuters has reported that Israeli military spokesman Major Peter Lerner said that the two men had “no prior connection”, despite the similiarities in their family names.  UPDATE FOUR (following day): the Jerusalem Media Communications Center (JMCC) which reported yesterday that the house of the attacker had been demolished by IDF military bulldozers has now issued a correction, advising that there has not been a house demolition, but noted that six family members of the attacker have been arrested. UPDATE FIVE (this is the news business): Ma’an reported Thursday that only two family members were detained (though a total of 26 people — including 21 from the Jalazone Refugee Camp outside of Ramallah — n17 of them were under the age of 18 — were arrested in the West Bank in the middle of the night). But, YNet’s Ali Waked reported that “According to the Palestinians, during the raid on Mohammad Khatib’s home in the West Bank Palestinian village Yabed, which took place during the early hours of Thursday morning, six of his relatives were arrested, and computers were confiscated. It was further reported that the IDF soldiers ordered the Khatib family to evacuate the home ahead of its demolition”. Ali Waked’s story can be read in full here.

(3.) Since publishing his stories about revelations from a disgruntled Palestinian Authority (PA) intelligence agent (Fahmi Shabaneh, who headed the Anti-Corruption Department in the PA’s General Intelligence Service, or GIS,who is also a lawyer, and who lives in East Jerusalem), the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh has keep up the pressure, until the stories got proper attention.  Today, nobody here was interested in anything else.  Last night, Israel’s Channel 10 TV apparently showed pictures from the sex tapes that the disgruntled PA intelligence agent had kept.  Everybody here knows who is the senior PA aide shown on those sex tapes.  According to the stories published by Abu Toameh, the disgruntled PA intelligence agent said he had been given instructions to carry out that raid by Tawfik Tirawi, the former head of the GIS, who was fired last year by the Palestinian President, but who was elected a few months later to the Fatah Central Committee at the long-awaited Fatah Sixth General Conference in Bethlehem last August. Tirawi, however, has denied giving any such orders to Shabaneh.  The Presidential aide shown on the sex tapes, who (like the disgruntled PA intelligence agent) is also a resident of Jerusalem, is still in office.  Today, the JPost reported that the disgruntled PA intelligence agent gave PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) two weeks to fire all those involved in the “corruption” cases he knows about, or he will go public with much worse material.  This evening, the JPost is reporting that the PA has issued an arrest warrant for the disgruntled PA intelligence agent — but the warrant cannot be served, because the agent is living in Jerusalem, under Israeli control.   It was the disgruntled PA intelligence agent’s anger that apparently convinced him to go public, after his uncovering of the “corruption” went unremarked in Ramallah — and his subsequent arrest by Israeli authorities (for spying on Israel, blackmailing the Presidential aide shown on the sex tapes, and other charges which have mostly all been dropped .  He is still confined to house arrest, banned from travelling to the “West Bank”,  and accused of membership in a PA military/security organization that he says employs about 1200 East Jerusalemites.  On 31 January, the JPost ran a second story from the disgruntled PA intelligence agent who said that he knew he was about to be killed for his revelations, and he had already bought his own grave, and his own headstone — which he has already inscribed with his name, and only the date of his death is left to be filled in. The PA has issued an arrest warrant for the disgruntled PA intelligence aide — who lives in (East) Jerusalem, so the arrest warrant is not executable…

(4).  Clashes continued for a third day at the miserable checkpoint at the entrance to the Shuafat Refugee Camp, where Israeli Border Police had massed vehicles apparently in an attempt to dissuade clashes…