Journalist humiliated in Gaza for being pro-Fatah

A correspondent for Al-Quds Radio was assaulted, humiliated and repeatedly asked details about "Fatah's collaborator radio station," after being kidnapped by the internal security of the Hamas government in Gaza.
alaa gaza
Alaa Salama. R.R.

BEIRUT, December 15, 2008 (MENASSAT) — "I never thought it could be a kidnapping, and I never expected what was about to happen with these police officers," Al-Quds journalist Alaa Salama said in an interview with MENASSAT.

According to Salama, he had just finished covering a sit-in demonstration at the Rafah border crossing at 1pm on Saturday December 12 for Al-Quds Radio, when a police officer stopped him on the main street and told him to walk towards a sandy alley.

There he was met by four other officers dressed in the special uniforms of the Hamas Ministry of Interior. The sit-in Salama was reporting on was part of an ongoing attempt by Palestinian pilgrims to attend Hajj—they were being prevented for the first time in Gaza to go to Saudi Arabia because of an internal political rift between Hamas and Fatah.

"I treated the news very professionally and with neutrality. I did not try to provoke any additional tension. Everyone who heard my coverage that day can be a witness," Salama said.

A few meters from the four policemen, Salama said that his cell phone rang and it turned out that one of the men in his presence was on the phone with him. "Are you Alaa Salama?" the policeman asked, and it was enough to get him arrested.

When the journalist asked why he was being arrested, the officer answered, "Security reasons." Salama then tried to call the manager of Al-Quds station, Salah al-Masri, but his phone was confiscated before he could say hello.

Forced to break the fast

The men then blindfolded Salama, put him in a jeep and took him to a location that he assumes was a house near the Rafah crossing. He was then interrogated with a series of questions. He said, "After each question I would answer,  and during the whole interview I was repeatedly kicked. If I would take some time to answer I was punched or shaken so hard that I became dizzy and had a headache."

Some of the questions aimed to get information about Al-Quds, or what the policemen referred to as "Fatah's collaborator website," including details about the people who worked there, and how many employees belong to Fatah, Islamic Jihad or other factions. They also asked why Al-Quds never deals with Qasam rocket operations, why they never cover Hamas demonstrations, and what their orders are about covering Hamas activities.

After about an hour of interrogation, Salama told the policemen he was tired, fasting and wanted to go home. One of the men told Salama he would break his fast with them and after Salama politely refused, he put a piece of bread in his mouth and forced him to eat it. The bread ending up being full of sand.

"I told the guy but he forced me to eat it while insulting and degrading me, making fun of my religion and beard," he said. "After I ate it, I said, 'May god reward you for that splendid Iftar,' and asked for a glass of water, which they refused.

"The interrogator then gave me what he said was very important advice. The advice was to follow the Al Aqsa Hamas news channel for one week, to know what they are saying and what is respectful journalism."

Hamas denial

Salama was instructed not to talk about the incident, but he told his captives that he would. The officer replied, "No, nothing happened to you, otherwise I will put a shoe in your mouth." Salama was taken back to the jeep, blindfolded, and driven back to the place where he was abducted two hours earlier.

The first thing he did when freed was call the head of the station, Salah al Masri, who promised to take legal action. Several investigations were launched by the Ministry of Interior, Islamic Jihad and by human rights organizations. According to Al Masri, "There are no results yet, but the initial signs say that what Salama says happened to him is true. Hamas' official story tries to deny what happened to this journalist and says that those who did this are individuals who have no relations to Hamas or its police."

However, Islamic Jihad said the opposite. "Those who did this are members of the police force which is known to harass the press and journalists in Gaza."

Palestinian press organizations also expressed concern towards Salama’s kidnapping.

"This is a challenge for all of the press. We are against any form of aggression against journalists, and we are calling for the Ministry of Interior to punish those responsible," stated the Palestinian Journalist Group.

The Center for Freedom of Press in Palestine called it an attempt to silence journalists and condemned the action.

"The continuous aggression against journalists and media outlets, the oppression of press freedoms, as well as banning the distribution and entry of media in the West Bank and Gaza are making things worst for Palestinian people, at a time when they are faced with an embargo against Gaza and the aggressive behavior of Israel."