Now that the Israeli army has launched “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” the biggest military deployment in the West Bank since the end of the second Intifada in 2005 – with Palestinian media treated as targets – Reporters Without Borders today releases “Palestinian Journalists Caught Between Three Sides.”
The detailed report, based on a mission to the Palestinian Territories in late 2013, reveals the double set of pressures threatening information freedom in the Territories. On the one hand are measures imposed by Israel and its army, which doesn’t hesitate to arrest, or even kill, news professionals.
On the other side are the consequences of the 2007 division between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Officially, that split ended with an accord signed by both factions on 23 April and the formation of a national unity government. But the fragile agreement is now being undermined. The recent abduction of three Israeli students in the West Bank, which Israel blames on Hamas, is giving rise to fear of renewed tensions between the two supposedly friendly factions.
Without directly accusing Hamas, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas himself has denounced the aims of those who carried out the kidnapping. “Those who perpetrated this act want to destroy us,” he said on 18 June.
The accord of 23 April had raised hope that the page could be turned on seven years of divisions that have deeply affected Palestinian society, especially the media. What will the effects of the split be on the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians? More than ever before, the process seems to have reached a dead end.
Israeli-Palestinian relations and progress (or lack of same) in the peace process inevitably affect intra-Palestinian relations, with major repercussions on Palestinian civil society, hence for historically highly politicized media. In fact, as a result of their extreme polarization, Palestinian journalists and media organizations are both victims of and participants in a perverse system, helping to perpetuate the “division” (Inqassam) in Palestinian society.
How to emerge from this vicious circle? Speaking with Reporters Without Borders, journalists, human rights advocates, NGO directors, serving diplomats, and political figures all shared an assessment: the Palestinian Territories make up one of the most difficult places in the world to practice journalism.
Without real progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and, likewise, without a lasting and effective reconciliation between the Palestinian factions, the quality of information, and information freedom itself, cannot improve.