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…

Amnesty: Journalists get hit by all sides in Israel + Palestine

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”.

Continue reading Amnesty: Journalists get hit by all sides in Israel + Palestine

Palestinian journalists head toward controversial union elections today

UPDATE: By 10 pm in Jerusalem on Saturday evening, it was clear that the 63 candidates of the “Unity” list had won the controversial elections in the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, and will form a new governing “Council”.

According to one journalist involved, there were 510 journalists who participated in the voting today in El-Bireh/Ramallah (out of some 700 who had showed up on Friday and were eligible to vote), and 360 votes had been recorded so far for the “Unity” list, while counting continued.  He said it may take another couple of days for everything to be finished.

The new Council, composed of the 63 members of the “Unity” list, will now elect from among themselves a 21-member “Executive Office” to manage day-to-day affairs. This 21-member “Executive Office” will soon vote to elect the first new head of the PJS in almost two decades.

UPDATE TWO: On Sunday, the head of the elections committee, Riyad al-Hassan, announced that  there were, in the final analyis, 446 valid ballots, and the “Unity” list won with 312 of those valid votes. The terms of office for the new officials, he said, would be three years — unless it becomes possible to hold balloting in Gaza, at which point new elections will be held.


Earlier: It was a bit of a confusing mess.

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (or Union) has not had a General Assembly, or an election, for nearly 20 years. (Precisely, it seems, the stagnation has lasted for 16 years.)

For at least 16 years, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate has been headed by one Naim Toubassi [alternate spellings in English possible, including Tubassi, Tobassi, Toubasi, Tubasi, and so on]. (Some complain that he has never been a journalist, but was only previously involved in newspaper distribution.)

No one has seen the membership rolls, which have swollen to just over 1,000 enrolled persons. (Some estimates are that only half of this number are really journalists.)

No one has seen a financial report. (Dues for membership in the PJS are 1,000 N.I.S. – Israeli shekels – per year: for purposes of comparison, this is the same cost as dues for membership in the Foreign Press Association, based in Tel Aviv, most of whose members work for major international media organizations.)

For over a year, there has been an effort by some journalists to open the windows and let in some fresh air.

Continue reading Palestinian journalists head toward controversial union elections today