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What protection will the unity government offer Palestinian journalists?

Israeli soldiers arrest Palestinian journalists during a protest against settlements [Nedal Eshtayah/Apaimages]
Israeli soldiers arrest Palestinian journalists during a protest, 20 October 2017 [Nedal Eshtayah/Apaimages]

Far from exercising their right to reporting, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have ensured that Palestinian journalists continue to face restrictions, violations and punitive measures from both ends. On Wednesday, Ma'an news agency reported that another two Palestinian journalists were arrested by Israel during dawn raids upon several Palestinian media outlets, claiming the broadcasting of "inciting material".

The raids were carried out in Nablus, Bethlehem and Hebron, affecting Quds TV, Al-Aqsa, Palestine Today, Palmedia and Transmedia. Office equipment was confiscated and the outlets were closed by a military order for six months. Palmedia and Transmedia were accused of "providing services" to Hamas-affiliated media. An unnamed Israeli army spokesperson quoted by Ma'an stated: "Forces seized documents from companies that provided services to associations that promote terrorism and violence."

The Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) issued a statement, pointing out the ensuing isolation of Palestine from international media due to the targeted offices also being news providers of regional and international outlets.

Through government spokesman Yousef Al-Mahmoud, the PA condemned the raids, adding that they not only detracted from Israel's own atrocities but would also hinder international efforts to broker a peace agreement.

Read: Palestinians condemn Israel's attack on West Bank media outlets

A recapitulation of the previous months in particular should generate vivid remembrance of the Cyber Crime Law, approved by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas in his own ambition of curbing Palestinian freedom of expression. The legislation is intentionally strewn with ambiguous terms, making prosecution and penalties easy to apply. Rendering Palestinian journalists vulnerable to attacks from authorities across the political spectrum for political gain is fast becoming normalised – just another form of violence added to the increasing list of violations suffered by Palestinians under colonial and collaborator power. In its targeting of Palestinian journalists working with outlets affiliated to Hamas, the PA admitted retribution over the arrest of Fatah-affiliated journalists in Gaza.

With the reconciliation agreement being inundated with conditions that continue to shape Israeli and PA ambitions, Palestinian journalists will most probably face increasing restrictions and violations. Abbas has set all the necessary stages to consolidate repression in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, particularly when it comes to the crippling of basic human freedoms. Bringing Gaza to the brink of desperation while clamping down on media freedom in the West Bank are now seen as sequential and correlated procedures. If Hamas is marginalised any further, the resulting unity government will be a replica of the previous attempt and with precarious implications.

Read more: Israel is censoring Palestinians, and the social media giants are complicit

It is no secret that Israel and the PA specialise in violations. If both entities collaborate on the elimination of media freedom, the unity government will be given a mandate to extend the already-existing restrictions. Israel's assurance regarding PA collaboration might translate into access to Gaza through the unity government's power, thus indirectly extending their reach within the enclave. On a political and humanitarian level, such action would nullify any prospects for unity, let alone protection for Palestinian journalists. Denouncing Israel's violations is necessary. Coming from the PA, it is a matter of duplicity unless the PA can guarantee media freedom and protection for journalists above its authoritarian plans and collaboration with Israel.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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