'My detention has left a bitter taste in my mouth'

MENASSAT spoke exclusively with Palestinian ARD cameraman Sawah Abu Seif, one day after he was released by Hamas forces in Gaza.
abu seif
Sawah Abu Seif, a Palestinian cameraman with German ARD television, was helf by Hamas for four days. R.R.

GAZA CITY, August 4, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Getting an interview with Palestinian cameraman Sawah Abu Seif hasn't been easy.

Abu Seif has refused to speak to the media since his release by Hamas forces on July 31, a decision his family says was inspired by fear because of threats he has received.

Hamas security agents arrested Abu Seif, a cameraman working with German ARD television on July 25, hours after a car bomb killed six Palestinians, including one young girl, on a crowded Gaza City beach.

Hamas was quick to blame its rival Fatah party for the blast. Fatah denied responsibility.

Since the bombing, some fifty journalists have been arrested by both parties looking to cut off perceived partisan reporting in local press.

No charges

"My detention has left a bitter taste in my mouth," Abu Seif told MENASSAT on August 1.

"During the four days of my detention at the Mashtal prison, northwest of Gaza city, no charges were never brought up against me. But I heard from the guys who arrested me that I was suspected of working with Israeli television.

"It became clear during my interrogation that I was accredited with a German TV station. Here, the interrogation took a different approach and my interrogators started asking me about the nature of my work with German TV."

Hamas lost five members of its military wing in the July 25 beach bombing, exacerbating tensions that have existed since Hamas won early parliamentary elections in June 2006.

The Gaza Strip and West Bank have been separated into two territories since Hamas violently took over the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007 to avert what it said was an attempted coup by Fatah.

General crackdown

ARD, Abu Seif's employer, has said that the journalist was abused while in custody. But Abu Seif himself refused to answer questions about his treatment by the Hamas security forces.

He only said that his release came as a result of pressure put on the Hamas cabinet by Palestinian journalists, rights organizations and ARD.

Abu Seif has been told by Hamas intelligence to report for additional interrogation on August 20. Hamas has also refused to give back Abu Seif's mobile phone and laptop, which were confiscated during his arrest.

"It's hard being detained in the manner that it occurred," Abu Seif said, referring to the early morning raid at his house by masked Hamas agents. "But I want to thank all the journalists and organizations that have pressed this case on my behalf."

Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip said the arrest of Abu Seif and others like Imad Eid, Gaza manager of the Ma'an news agency, are indicative of a crackdown on press freedom in both Gaza and the West Bank.  Eid is still in Hamas custody for allegedly broadcasting false news of Hamas' closure of a charity in the Gaza Strip.

"Hamas and Fatah should exclude journalists from political infighting," one journalist told MENASSAT.

"I am unsure whether I will be able to work freely as a cameraman now, without risking detention [by Hamas,]" Abu Seif said. "I certainly need to take some time off to evaluate my situation."

[Editor's note: Publication of this article was delayed by technical problems caused by an attack by hackers on the Menassat website.]