The International Federation of Journalists today announced that it plans to send a mission to Israel and Palestine and has called for an end to restrictions on rights of reporters in the region. "In recent months Israeli authorities have been to blame for most of the attacks on journalists and the media," said the IFJ, "but in the aftermath of events in the United States we are also concerned about the deterioration in the rights of journalists under Palestinian jurisdiction".
On 11 September, police forces and armed gunmen prevented journalists in Nablus from covering celebration by some Palestinians following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
On the same day, the security services summoned a freelance cameraman working for the Associated Press and warned him not to air his footage of the events in Nablus. Later, the Palestinian authority cabinet secretary Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a former leader of Palestinian journalists in exile, said that the Authority could "not guarantee the life" of the Associated Press cameraman if the film were broadcast. The footage was not aired. An Associated Press still photographer also did not take pictures of similar demonstrations after being warned at the scene not to do so.
"We are appalled at this intimidation of journalists," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ. "It is not for the authorities to dictate what should or should not be published by media."
The IFJ mission, which will focus on the safety of journalists working in the region and will look for practical ways of assisting journalists, particularly Palestinians who been among those most affected by violence against media, will travel to the region in the coming weeks.
The IFJ mission follows months of crisis for media in which journalists have been targeted by security forces. Of 102 violations of press freedom up until July this year some 87 were perpetrated by Israelis and 13 by Palestinians.
In recent days, however, Palestinian violations have increased. On 14 September, Palestinian police briefly detained several photographers and cameramen working with international news agencies in the Gaza Strip and confiscated their equipment. The journalists had been covering a rally to commemorate a Palestinian suicide bomber that the militant Islamic group Hamas staged in the Nusseirat refugee camp.
The Palestinian authority ordered the closure of the private television station Al Roa TV, in Bethlehem, on 20 September. A Palestinian security official, Nakhle Kaaber, declared to Agence France-Presse that Al Roa will remain closed until further notice. This decision was made after the channel broadcasted a statement from the Aqsa Brigades, a group affiliated with Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization, claiming responsibility for the death of a settler on 20 September near the Tekoa settlement.
The IFJ is calling for the Palestinian Authority to lift all restrictions on journalists. "This is the time to respect democratic principles and not to give in to the temptation to censor journalism," said the IFJ in a letter to Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestinian Authority. "The Palestinian Authority must do more to help journalists work in safety and free from intimidation."