Eyad Hamad is an outspoken defender of journalists’ rights
Palestinian journalists are outraged by the firing of cameraman Eyad Hamad, who worked for the Associated Press for 20 years.
The veteran cameraman, whom colleagues call “Khal,” or uncle, accuses Palestinian Authority security officials of being behind his dismissal after they complained about him to his employer.
“One of our fellow journalists was arrested and roughed up by the police; I publicly questioned the police brutality and demanded answers. That didn’t sit well with the security officials, who complained about me,” Hamad said.
He told The Media Line, speaking from his home in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, that he received a phone call from his boss informing him of the decision and the reason behind it.
The press agency, in an official email, said the cause for dismissal was an official complaint from the Palestinian police against Hamad.
The veteran cameraman said that “[PA Prime Minister] Dr. [Mohammad] Shtayyeh called me and told me he would not allow [the threat] to happen. I told him this is a threat on my life but he assured me that he will take steps to stop this behavior.”
Hamad said he was surprised when his boss, Josef Federman, AP bureau chief for Israel and the Palestinian Territories, told him he was fired.
Repeated efforts by The Media Line to reach Federman on Thursday were unsuccessful.
PA Police spokesman Col. Louay Arzeikat, in an official statement, denied that the police had filed a complaint against any journalist. “A complaint would be submitted through official channels, and if this is done, we would inform everyone without hesitation,” he said.
Hamad, 63, is an outspoken defender of Palestinian journalists and a critic on social media of PA decisions. He said this cost him his only source of income.
He also fears for his safety after receiving several death threats.
“Not only did they cut off my livelihood and source of income; today, they put my life in danger, starting from the president and on down to the youngest officer in the PA security services,” he said. “They are threatening me and inciting against me.”
Many Palestinian journalists and activists accuse the PA of coming down hard on them. They charge the PA with employing an iron fist against them in an effort to silence dissent and any criticism of PA policies.
Hamad said PA officials had “thin skin.” His criticism of the Palestinian security forces’ violent arrest of a Palestinian journalist did not sit well with them, the dean of Palestinian cameraman said.
“It is clear that there is an agenda to silence every free voice. During the coronavirus pandemic, I stood up and showed both the positive and the negative. I raised awareness of how much people are suffering. My concern was for the citizen,” he said.
Hamad is also the head of the Palestinian Photographers Committee of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate. He is disappointed that no one has reached out from the body that is supposed to protect him.
“They did not contact me; they only issued a statement on the matter and did not speak to me,” he said.
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate issued a statement in which it condemned Hamad’s “arbitrary dismissal.”
Nasser Abu Baker, the head of the Journalist Association, told The Media Line he was in close contact with all parties involved to rectify the situation and called on the AP to revoke its “unfair and unjust decision” because it went against freedom of expression.
Reem al-Omari, FM manager at Ramallah-based Watan Radio and presenter of the Shid Hilak Ya Watan talk show, told The Media Line that things were getting worse for journalists.
“The situation for the Palestinian journalist in these circumstances is not easy at all. The Palestinian journalist works in exceptional circumstances and under pressure, especially during the coronavirus pandemic,” she said.
For many years, Palestinian journalists have faced difficulties on many fronts. They are most afraid, they say, when covering the Israeli military, which they accuse of mishandling and mistreating them while they are doing their job.
“Unfortunately, the Palestinian journalist is on the front lines, facing arrests, rubber bullets and tear gas. It saddens us and hurts us that the Palestinian journalist, who lives under Israeli occupation and works to provide objective news coverage to reveal what is happening in the Palestinian territories, is exposed to these attacks and violations from everyone and does not have adequate protection,” she continued.
But on the domestic front, Omari attributes a great deal of what is happening to her colleagues at the hands of the PA to the absence of the legislative branch.
The Palestinian Legislative Council has not functioned since 2007, when relations broke down between Hamas and Fatah.
“We all know that the press is active in Palestine but the exceptional political conditions that we live under in Palestine and the absence of the Legislative Council and the concentration of power in the executive authority have made the free press a subject of attack and criticism by the authorities,” he said.
Despite promises by the PA government to uphold laws designed to protect journalists, abuses continue, Omari said.
“What we’re seeing in Palestine are double standards. We hear about freedom of opinion and expression and that for freedom, the sky is the limit, but we do not see this translated into reality on the ground,” he said.
The PA spouts great slogans regarding freedom of expression and protecting “journalists’ integrity,” but little is done about it, Omari said.
Many say that all these challenges facing Palestinian journalists will hurt the coverage of news. A Ramallah-based reporter who refused to be identified for fear of retaliation told The Media Line that their work faced serious repercussions.
“We unintentionally self-censor. We do this to protect ourselves and our profession,” the journalist said.
In a report released last month by Reporters Without Borders, the Palestinian Authority remains low on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, at 137 out of the 180 countries or territories ranked, the same as in the previous report.
Last year, a Palestinian court ordered dozens of Palestinian websites shut down, regarded by the PA as “opposition media.”
And this past April, two Palestinian journalists were suspended without pay from their jobs at WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, over Facebook comments.
Rami Samara and Jaafar Sadaqa appeared before an investigatory panel, accused of violating the state of emergency declared due to the coronavirus pandemic. They were reinstated on Thursday.
The two are known for their blistering criticism of events and policies in the Palestinian territories.
As for Hamad, he said his options were limited.
“I am 63 years old. Can you tell who will hire me today to work in journalism?” he asked.
Hamad said he would meet with his lawyer and then decide on what to do next.
“We journalists must protect the next generation; we must stand up to stop suppression by those with power.
“I have never received a warning in my entire career. I am very saddened that after 20 years [with AP], the Palestinian Authority is not treating us fairly,” he said.