Palestinian journalists receive death threats
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Palestinian journalists covering the ongoing crisis in the Palestinian Authority complained over the weekend that they had received death threats from the various feuding parties.
As a result, many of them said they have stopped covering the internecine fighting. Others said they were continuing to report on the power struggle, but without having their names mentioned for fear of reprisal.
"Many Palestinians working with the foreign media in the Gaza Strip are being threatened," a journalist in Gaza City told The Jerusalem Post. He said the threats were coming from all the parties involved in the internal strife.
"The Palestinian Authority is putting a lot of pressure on the journalists to refrain from covering the anti-corruption protests," he added. "The Fatah gunmen and the security forces are also making threats."
Last Thursday, many Palestinian journalists received phone calls warning them to stay away from a rally organized in Gaza City against PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's decision to appoint his cousin, Musa Arafat, as overall commander of security forces.
The journalists said they believe that Musa Arafat loyalists were behind the threats. "We were told that any journalist who goes to the rally will meet the same fate as Nabil Amr," said another journalist who works on a regular basis with an international news organization. Amr, a Palestinian legislator, was shot and severely wounded in Ramallah last week shortly after he called for reforms in the PA during a television interview.
The Gaza City rally was either downplayed or completely ignored by the Palestinian media. Al-Quds, the largest daily newspaper, instead carried a story in which it said Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip continued to express their support for Yasser Arafat by staging marches and issuing statements.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it was alarmed by the new threats against Palestinian journalists, "the most recent in a months-long series of actions by Palestinian militants and forces intended to stifle independent reporting." The campaign against journalists reached its peak three months ago with the assassination of Khalil Zaban, the editor of the monthly Nashrah magazine in Gaza City.
Journalists working for the Qatar-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera and the Dubai-based satellite channel Al-Arabiyya told CPJ they received telephone threats last week from men identifying themselves as PA security personnel or Fatah activists. The threats were directly linked to the stations' coverage of the fighting in the Gaza Strip.
Saif al-Din Shahin, a correspondent for Al-Arabiyya, said a person claiming to represent the PA security forces threatened to burn down the station's bureau if the station was not careful about what it reported. Earlier this year, masked gunmen assaulted Shahin outside his Gaza City office after he reported that Palestinians were unhappy with the use of weapons during rallies held by Fatah militiamen.
A correspondent from Al-Jazeera said a caller identifying himself as a representative of a Fatah group told the journalist the station would "bear responsibility" for what it had reported.
The Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate in the Gaza Strip last week warned its members against reporting on the intra-Palestinian fighting.
The syndicate, which is controlled by Arafat loyalists, said the pictures of gunmen marching in the streets to protest against the appointment of Musa Arafat were harmful to the Palestinian cause. It called on the journalists to focus instead on demonstrations that "consolidate national unity." Several Palestinian journalists condemned the ban, describing the syndicate as a "department in Yasser Arafat's office."