Saturday, May 31, 2014

Middle East: In wake of Palestinian unity deal, Israeli soldiers raid Ramallah-based publishing house


Hiba Zayadin 30 May 2014
Based on IFEX member reports from I'lam Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel , Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA , International Federation of Journalists 

On 28 May 2014, Israeli soldiers forced their way into the Ramallah headquarters of Al Ayyam, a press, publishing and distribution company, ordering its management to halt the printing and distribution of newspapers that “incite hatred against Israel” – namely, the 'Palestine,' 'Al Risala' and 'Al Istiklal' newspapers, all of which have their main offices in Gaza.

Israel is not a stranger to press freedom violations, but what makes this particular incident stand out is that it took place only three weeks after a decision to re-allow the three Gaza-based newspapers into the West Bank, after they were banned by the Fatah-dominated government in 2007, when Hamas wrested control of Gaza.

For the past seven years, Hamas and Fatah have pursued a bitter rivalry, interrupted by several failed attempts at reconciliation. Palestinians' right to access information was directly affected, as newspapers produced in Gaza were banned from distribution in the West Bank, and vice versa.

On 30 April 2014, the two factions announced that they had finally reached a reconciliation agreement, and as part of a series of small gestures, Gazan residents were allowed to hold the independent Al-Quds newspaper in their hands once again [Al-Quds is the biggest-selling Palestinian daily in the West Bank]. West Bankers, in turn, were afforded the same privilege in regards to Gaza-based newspapers.

Although Palestinians hailed the unity deal as a positive and long-overdue move, Israel denounced it and cancelled planned peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.

On the Israeli raid of the Al Ayyam publishing company, I'lam Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel said:

“We have seen violations of journalists' rights before, but this time they are trying to obstruct a political path through assaulting the media and infringing on people's right to free expression and access to information. It is clear that this move was a desperate attempt by Israel to interfere with and sabotage the reconciliation deal.”

According to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), Al Ayyam's management refused the order from the the Israeli soldiers, saying that the publishing company receives its instructions from the concerned Palestinian ministries and acts in accordance with Palestinian law.

Jim Boumelha, president of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), added his voice to those condemning the attack, stating, “Such repressive actions directly violate media freedom in Palestine and undermine the right of citizens to access open and balanced information. We call on the Israeli government to keep its forces in check and to ensure all attacks against Palestinian media are stopped.”

Al Ayyam has defied Israeli orders to halt the printing of the three newspapers in question and has continued their distribution in the West Bank undeterred.