Fatah-Hamas media war is back on

The July 26 beach bombing in Gaza City has effectively ended a fragile media pact between Fatah and Hamas. MENASSAT looks at this week's crackdown by Hamas on Palestinian journalists affiliated with West Bank media.
media war palestine

GAZA, July 31, 2008 (MENASSAT) – "In the end, it is the journalists who are the victims of this latest clash between Fatah and Hamas," Imad Eid, head of the Gaza office of the Ma'an News Agency, said yesterday.

Eid was arrested in the middle of the night on July 30 because of a complaint that accused him of falsely publishing a story about the closure of a charity in Gaza.

"My agency should have been summoned,  not me personally. This is not a civil case," Eid said.

Eid was only one of many Palestinian journalists who were caught up in an unprecedented internal round-up of journalists by Hamas, following an explosion on a crowded Gaza City beach on July 25, which killed six people and wounded twenty others. Five of the dead belonged to Hamas’ military wing, the Al-Aqsa Brigades.


"The current situation is very difficult for journalists who have no choice but to carry on with their job to uncover what is really happening", Eid told MENASSAT.

Among the journalists arrested by Hamas this week was the Head of the Syndicate of Palestinian Journalists in Gaza, Abu Khussa.

Since his release, Abu Khussa says he has working working to stop the harassment of journalists in both the West Bank and Gaza by dealing directly with the security forces allied with both Hamas and Fatah.

"Three journalists were arrested by [Fatah] security forces in the West Bank, and we are still doing our best to release them. We still can't effectively contact the de facto government in Gaza," Khussa said.

Hamas, Khussa said, has "overreacted" and "has crossed the boundaries of press freedom" in the past week.

The internal conflict between Fatah and Hamas began in earnest after Hamas' 2006 parliamentary election victory over Fatah. It exploded in full force during the summer of 2007 when Hamas, in what it said was a preemptive move against a coup by Fatah, took control of the entire Gaza Strip.

Ever since, Hamas has been the de facto government in Gaza, while Fatah and the western-backed government of President Mahmoud Abbas control only the West Bank, with both groups claiming to be the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people.

The stand-off quickly led to a media war in which journalists working for Gaza-based media were arrested in the West Bank with the reverse occurring in Gaza. According to Reporters without Borders, more than 50 journalists have been arrested in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank since Hamas' Gaza takeover.

Pax media no more

Since the last flare-up of tensions between Hamas and Fatah in March, there had been a more reconciliatory tone between the rival factions.

In a speech broadcast on June 4, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called for dialogue with Ismael Haniyeh, the ousted prime minister and leader of Hamas. The next day, Haniyeh called for an end to the media smear campaigns. The pro-Hamas media immediately stopped referring to the Palestinian Authority’s security forces as "Abbas' gangs" while the pro-Fatah media stopped referring to the Executive Force in the Gaza Strip as the "Hamas militia."

But after the July 25 car bomb, any talk of a media peace was quickly forgotten.

Hamas immediately turned to the pro-Hamas TV station, Al-Aqsa, implying that Fatah planted the bomb. Fatah responded in kind on July 26 through the official Palestine TV, suggesting that the bomb was probably the result of inter-factional fighting within Hamas.

On the night of July 25, Hamas shut down the Gaza office of the Fatah-backed official Palestinian news agency, WAFA.

That same day masked security agents arrested Sawah Abu Seif, a cameraman with the German broadcaster ARD TV, who was released today.

Over the last week, Hamas security forces also arrested Amro Farra, a correspondent with WAFA, and Fouad Jarrada from the pro-Fatah government TV station. Hamas also raided the Gaza media center which is the headquarters for several international media outlets like Abu Dhabi TV, Fox news and Sky news.

The three main Palestinian newspapers, Al-Hayyat Al-Jadida, Al-Ayyam and Al-Quds, all of which are aligned to some degree with the Palestinian Authority, are not being distributed in the Gaza Strip.
Two journalists, Mu’stafa ‘Sabri and’Alaa A-Titi, have been arrested in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has banned the distribution of two Hamas newspapers, Al-Risala and Filistin, since 2007.

Hamas: 'We encourage press freedom'

"What is happening in the West Bank and Gaza is huge", the head of the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, Issam Younes, told MENASSAT.

"We have action and reaction. Both sides are acting without any legal basis, and the abuses are affecting everyone, including journalists."

A Hamas official in Gaza, Khalil Abu Layla, told MENASSAT, "We encourage ultimate freedom of press. If there was abuse it happened with individual cases perpetrated by police officers and it is not a policy of the government in Gaza."

Abu Layla suggested that perhaps the journalists were arrested as part of the investigation for the July 25 Gaza City beach bombing.

"Perhaps they published false information," Abu Layla said.

Fatah leader in Gaza, Hazem Abu Shanab said, "It is crucial for both sides to release all media workers and not make them part of any political clashes. We must make use of their voices in this situation."

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces went on high alert yesterday. The alert was issued after the PA told the Jerusalem Post that Hamas distributed leaflets threatening top Palestinian leaders for "collaborating with Israel."

According the PA, the leaflets specifically referred to President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, PLO executive committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo, top Fatah officials Azzam al-Ahmed and Ahmed Abdel Rahman, and senior Abbas advisor Tayeb Abdel Rahim.