Jerusalem Post correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh has chronicled the difficult circumstances journalists face in the Palestinian-run territories. Most recently, he reported that the Arafat-affiliated Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) warned Palestinian journalists to stop covering marches by gunmen in Gaza and clashes between rival groups. (“PA Bans Press from Arab Clashes,” July 21, 2004). The syndicate, run by Arafat loyalists, ordered the journalists to limit their coverage to those issues and events “that consolidate the internal front and national unity.” Any reporter or photographer found violating the ban was threatened with severe punishment.
Matthew Kalman, reporting in the Toronto Globe and Mail, similarly describes press intimidation by Arafat and his cohorts and the ban by the syndicate. The ban effectively prevents international news outlets from covering events in Gaza, since they depend on Palestinian photographers, reporters and editors to produce news footage and written copy for broadcasters, print media and wire services.
The last time such threats were issued was in September of 2001, when Palestinian reporters were forced to suppress images of huge street celebrations in Nablus and Bethlehem after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The bureau chiefs of internatational wire services, including Reuters and Associated Press, were warned that their cameramen would be in danger if their footage was broadcast in the West.
In May 2004, New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief James Bennet was the victim of an attempted kidnapping by Palestinians in the Rafah section of Gaza. In a May 20, 2004 article, Bennet briefly mentioned this, relating that the previous evening, he had been grabbed by two men and shoved into a car, before his cries for help were answered by nearby Palestinian policemen. PA officials, joined by their allies in the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, however, quickly sought to do damage control by denying the event had occurred. Members of the syndicate claimed that they had “looked into the case” and had found Bennet’s claims to be “baseless.” According to their “investigation,” the “gunmen had only wanted to check [Bennet’s] identity.”
These brave journalists should be commended for risking their safety to inform readers about what is happening in the Palestinians territories. Coverage of the pressures on journalists may also enable members of the public to read between the lines when they come across stories about events in the Palestinian controlled areas.