A media war and a war on the media

Hamas and Fatah are once again locked in a fratricidal war by proxy of the media. Fadi Abu Sada, director of the Palestine News Network (PNN) in Bethlehem looks at the latest bout of fighting in Palestine's media war.
Since Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, and one year after Hamas' victory over the Fatah party in early parliamentary elections, the battle for the hearts and minds of Palestinians has been waged in the media.

For over two years now, there has been a well-documented media war between the two rival political factions. A new media battle was ignited on the night of July 25 after a car bomb explosion on a crowded Gaza City beach killed six Palestinians and wounded more than twenty.

On July 26, the front pages of several newspapers and websites affiliated with the two movements pulled no punches in ascribing blame for what happened.

Given that five of the dead were known to be from Hamas' military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, the first salvos came from Hamas, which soundly accused Fatah of being the masterminds behind the bombing.

Fatah of course denied any involvement in the bombing and instead fired back that it was an internal feud with Hamas. The official Fatah-backed Palestinian news agency, WAFA described Hamas fighters as "militants" and the 2007 Gaza takeover by Hamas as a "coup d'etat."

All of the Palestinian TV networks used the bombing as a means of asserting their party's position without any sense of professionalism. The language used could do nothing more than exacerbate the already tense situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Then the war turned physical on July 26 when armed members of Hamas invaded WAFA's Gaza offices – effectively shutting down the agency's operations in the Gaza Strip. Hamas also arrested Amro Farra, a correspondent with WAFA, and Fouad Jarrada from the pro-Fatah government TV station.

A day earlier, masked gunmen who identified themselves as "internal security forces" of the Hamas cabinet, had already detained Sawah Abu Seif, a cameraman working for German television, on suspicion of Fatah acivities.

Similar raids also took place at the Gaza media center which is the headquarters for several international media outlets like Abu Dhabi TV, Fox news and Sky news.

On July 24, the IFJ had demanded the release of Waddah Eid, Aljazeera's reporter in Nablus. In a move preceding the Hamas arrests, the Palestinian Authority's security forces in Qalqilya arrested Eid for a non-work-related offense, according to Al Jazeera.

Hamas banned the distribution of the three main Fatah-affiliated newspapers on Monday. Al-Quds, Al-Ayam, and Al-Hayat Al-Jedida were accused by Hamas' deposed government in Gaza of biased reporting, which was certainly an accurate description of their coverage.

Clearly there has been no quarter given to the press in either the West Bank or Gaza. But the recent events are another stark indicator that the latest media war for both Hamas and Fatah has been about crossing all red lines associated with general liberties, particularly with regards to freedom of thought and expression. 

Under these circumstances, Palestinians lose hope for their media institutions. Instead of rising to the professional levels demanded by their jobs and playing a proactive role in broadcasting the larger voice of the Palestinian people, these things are plunged into silence.

This is yet another concerning issue in a litany of issues involving the situation in the Palestinian Territories, and it confirms that the road to free expression and thought is still very long – maybe even longer than the road to liberation from the Israeli Occupation.  

(Fadi Abu Sada is the director of the Palestine News Network in Bethlehem.)