Hamas police expel Al-Arabiya reporter from Gaza

On February 7 Hamas forces ordered Al-Arabiya’s correspondent Wael Issam to pack his bags and escorted him to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt where he was expelled from the Gaza Strip. MENASSAT's Ola Madhoun interviewed Issam over the weekend to get his side of the story.
wael issam
Al-Arabiya correspondent Wael Issam (pictured) expelled from Gaza by Hamas police forces.

GAZA, February 9, 2009 (MENASSAT) — Reporter for the Dubai-based satellite channel Al-Arabiya, Wael Issam, was not given a reason for being kicked out of the Gaza Strip  by Hamas over the weekend.

Two armed agents belonging to Hamas' Interior Ministry in Gaza approached him at his hotel on February 7 and simply told Issam that he was "not welcomed in this country anymore."

The reporter, who went to cover Israel's 23-day assault on the Gaza Strip, told MENASSAT that he was shocked and disappointed when the men told him to pack his bags.

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said that move had nothing to do with Al-Arabiya and its crew in Gaza or with the media in general. He said it was simply a "procedure matter" carried out by the Palestinian police affiliated with the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza. 

The Islamic movement Hamas was democratically elected to power during 2006 parliamentary elections, and assumed control over Gaza in the summer of 2007 after they violently overthrew security forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas' party, the rival Fatah party.

Issam is considered to be one of the most prominent war correspondents in the Arab world. He covered the  July 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, the Lebanese army assault on Nahr-el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, the war in Somalia, and the latest war on Gaza.

A Palestinian refugee from the town of Lid (now Israel), Issam’s parents left to the West Bank in 1948 and then settled in Qatar in 1967.

MENASSAT interviewed Issam after being kicked out of the Strip. The journalist said he never imagined that he would face such treatment in his own homeland. 


MENASSAT: Can you tell us, how were you kicked out of Gaza?

“At around 4 p.m. two plain-clothed police officers came to al-Dira Hotel where I was staying.

They introduced themselves as being part of the Security and Protection department of the Gaza Interior Ministry. They were with a third person, 'responsible for the hotel’s security.'"

"The men asked me to gather my passport and luggage and accompany them to the Rafah border crossing – basically so I could leave the Strip.”

“When I refused, one of the officers showed me his card, which said that he was a captain in the general intelligence department. The other officer, in a tone that I couldn’t tell was sarcastic or not, said, ‘Khaled Meshal doesn’t want you in Gaza.’”

“At that point I realized the matter was serious. The armed men were friendly and said they had nothing against me but had received orders to take me out of Gaza.”

MENASSAT: Did you have any indication that they were going to kick you out of Gaza?

WAEL ISSAM:  “I had received threats before. The same Hamas captain who escorted me out of Gaza visited Al-Arabiya’s office in plain clothes four days earlier.”

“The captain told me that he should leave Gaza in two days. I answered, ‘I’m Palestinian and will not leave Gaza before I’m dead.’”

MENASSAT: This is not the first time you have been kicked out of a country while working for Al-Arabiya?

WAEL ISSAM: “Yes. It’s very painful. I was kicked out of the two countries I love the most: Palestine, my home country, and Iraq, where I spent more than 10 years working as a journalist.”

“I can’t find the words to express my anger. I had just finished my work in Gaza, and wanted to stay there for a few days to meet some of my Palestinian and Iraqi friends. I can’t believe that what I lived in Iraq happened again but this time in my homeland.”

MENASSAT: Why were you banned from Iraq?

WAEL ISSAM: “In 2005, the Iraqi police held me for two weeks on the accusation of inciting terrorism, and spreading pictures and reports encouraging violence.”

“It occurred after I made the movie Joumhouriyat al-Fallujah (al-Fallujah Republic) and after I covered the first and second Fallujah combats."

"I was eventually acquitted and my trial was suspended, but despite my acquittal, the interior minister issued a formal decision to ban me. I was asked to leave Iraq through Baghdad Airport in a period of 24 hours and was ordered never to set foot in Iraq again.”


“Police might have their own reasons”

The Al-Arabiya team in Gaza was also surprised to hear of Issam’s expulsion.

Nakhle al-Hajj, programs manager at the station, said that his colleague asked to stay in Gaza for a few days after finishing his assignments.

He said in a phone call with MENASSAT, “How can a Palestinian be expelled from his own country? Wael finished his work and I’m surprised he was kicked out after he finished his job.”

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza said that this procedure has nothing to do with al-Arabiya or Issam’s performance and that he will ask the Palestinian police about the reasons behind their decision.

“The police might have thier own reasons, but I don’t have any explanation. We don’t interfere in the work of the police force in Gaza.”