The Palestinian Authority is under fire again for ordering the closure of local media outlet J-Media under the pretext that it does not have the proper documentation needed to operate in the West Bank.
The PA Ministry of Information issued a statement confirming the decision to shut down J-Media for “not obtaining the necessary license according to the law.” The statement rejected accusations that this was part of a clampdown on the press.
“The matter has nothing to do with the claim of media freedoms,” the statement said, noting that there are some media offices that are not licensed and “the same procedure was issued against them.”
It’s enough for the Palestinian media to pay a heavy price in order to expose the practices of the occupation, now we have to deal with the PA
But many journalists accuse the PA of targeting outspoken Palestinian journalist Alaa al-Rimawi, a reporter for the Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera Mubasher and director of the local J-Media network news agency.
Al-Rimawi took to social media to dispute the Ministry of Information’s assertions that the media company he runs doesn’t have a permit to operate.
“Why do you lie to people and say I don’t have a license? We [J-Media] and the Ministry of Information know that I have a license. The practice of lying and deception is not the behavior of governments, but the behavior of a gang,” he said in a video posted on social media on Wednesday. “If your problem is with Alaa Al-Rimawi, shoot and finish his order.”
The 34-year-old father of five accused the PA of trying to silence him, saying that he and his lawyer attempted and failed to meet with Minister of Information Nabil Abu Rudeineh, who is also spokesman for the PA president. He says that the order to shut down J-Media came from higher up, and that his agency’s daring coverage of daily events throughout the Palestinian territories bothered many officials within the PA while exposing the official media outlets.
Al-Rimawi has been arrested several times by Israel, the latest in April when he was jailed for two months and went on a hunger strike before he was released.
“We are used to going to the Israeli prisons, but I am preparing to go, perhaps, to the Palestinian prison,” he said, adding: “I will continue to do my job and cover the news.”
Dozens of Palestinian journalists demanded international protection last month after being assaulted by PA security forces. The violent attacks against journalists came during angry protests in several cities in the West Bank.
Palestinians took to the streets last month when an outspoken activist and critic of the PA died shortly after security forces stormed his home and violently arrested him.
Nizar Banat was a 43-year-old from Hebron known for social media videos calling out the PA for alleged corruption and nepotism.
Many of the journalists covering Banat’s death and the protests were threatened, subjected to persecution, beatings and pushing, and blocked from doing their work. Others were arrested.
Press freedom is shrinking, Palestinian journalists complain, saying they have been contending with harsh treatment at the hands of the Israeli army while covering stories in the West Bank or Gaza, risking getting shot and killed, wounded, or arrested. And now they have to deal with the challenge posed by the PA.
The PA is sensitive about its image on the international stage, which is one of reasons for its current crackdown on Palestinian journalists. The more media coverage the protests get, the more pressure the PA comes under from the international community, including the United States and the European Union. The PA’s attempts to limit the coverage is an attempt by the PA to calm the situation and eliminate the pressure.
Ramallah-based journalist and analyst Fares Sarafandi told The Media Line that the recent crackdown on journalists by the PA security forces is systemic.
“We have witnessed a crackdown on journalists under the direction of security officials and with the blessing of some Palestinian political officials, and this is the most dangerous matter,” he said.
Sarafandi says the Palestinian political system tried, in one way or another, “to cast what happened as individual actions by some members of the security services, but it turned out that the issue was a deliberate and systemic behavior.”
Last February, PA President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree ordering respect for freedom of expression ahead of legislative elections. The elections since have been postponed.
“What is happening constitutes a grave violation of the freedom of the press and a violation of the pledges made by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who signed the press freedom decree earlier in the year,” said Sarafandi.
Veteran cameraman Eyad Hamad, who spent 20 years at an international news agency before getting fired in 2020, accuses PA security officials of being behind his dismissal after they complained about him to his employer.
He told The Media Line that “journalism is not a crime,” and Palestinian journalists are paying the ultimate price for their coverage.
“It’s enough for the Palestinian media to pay a heavy price in order to expose the practices of the occupation, now we have to deal with the PA,” he said.
Hamad says the Palestinian government is making a “huge mistake” in acting against the Palestinian media.
“They committed several major infractions against the press, during this government’s reign, the most heinous violations against Palestinian media are taking place under Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh ‘s watch,” he said.
The inability of the PA and its media to confront the private media, despite the huge money spent on all media outlets, is largely behind what we are witnessing
Dr. Isam Abdeen, a law and human rights lecturer at Birzeit University and at the Arab American University, both located in the West Bank, told The Media Line that the PA’s decisions are placing it in a “hysterical state of failure.”
“The prosecution and judiciary, in Palestine and the countries of the region, have become the most serious threat facing constitutional principles and values, the rights and dignity of people, and the ambition of reform, change and transition toward the rule of law,” he said.
“They lost their constitutional legitimacy a long time ago and are still living with illusions in their imagination that they are representing the people,” said Abdeen.
Sarafandi claims that Hamas and the opposition are far more media savvy, and are pummeling the PA media outlets. According to insiders in Ramallah, the PA is frustrated at the lack of credibility its own media outlets have among Palestinians despite the tens of millions of dollars the PA spends on their budgets.
“The inability of the PA and its media to confront the private media, despite the huge money spent on all media outlets, is largely behind what we are witnessing,” explained Sarafandi.
He argues that this left a bitter taste in the mouths of many officials who now view journalists as their number one enemy.
“There is a feeling among PA officials and the leaders of the security services that the journalists are working against the existing system and therefore they feel they must be suppressed,” Sarafandi said.