Israeli forces arrest at least 7 Palestinian journalists in West Bank

PRESS RELEASE
Committee to Protect Journalists – MENA

Israeli forces stand guard as Palestinians sit outside shops in Hebron, in the West Bank on April 3, 2018.  (Reuters/Mussa Qawasma)

Israeli forces stand guard as Palestinians sit outside shops in Hebron, in the West Bank on April 3, 2018. (Reuters/Mussa Qawasma)

Beirut, August 7, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the arrest of at least seven Palestinian journalists in the West Bank since July 30 and called on Israeli authorities to immediately disclose charges against them or set them free.

The early morning arrests occurred after Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared the Hamas-affiliated broadcaster Al-Quds TV a terrorist organization and banned its activities in Israel and the Palestinian territories, as CPJ documented. Lieberman’s order was issued on July 3 under Israel’s counter-terrorism law, according to news reports from the time.

“Israel has been relentless in its assault on the Palestinian press. Declaring a media outlet a terrorist organization set the tone for the country’s latest crackdown on Palestinian journalists,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour, from Washington, D.C. “We call on Israeli authorities to disclose charges against the seven journalists arrested over the past week or release them and allow them to work freely.”

Details of the arrests are below:

In dawn raids on July 30, Israeli forces arrested Al-Quds TV director Alaa al-Rimawi in the West Bank, as well as freelance journalists Mohammed Sami Alwan, Qutaiba Hamdan, and Hosni Anjas from their houses in the Ramallah area, according to news reports, the Palestinian press freedom group MADA, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), and the regional press freedom group Doha Center for Media Freedom.

MADA and the Doha Center for Media Freedom quoted al-Rimawi’s wife, Mimouna al-Rimawi, as saying that at 3 a.m. they woke up to the sound of heavy knocking on the door of their Ramallah house. At least 12 Israeli soldiers stormed the house and requested that al-Rimawi produce his identification card, according to the same report.

“The soldiers searched the house and seized a computer, his protective gear, and his car and took him to an unknown destination without mentioning any charges,” al-Rimawi’s wife told MADA and the Doha Center.

Israeli forces arrested freelance reporter Alwan, and freelance camerapersons Hamdan and Anjas from their respective homes in Al-Bireh, 2.5 km away (1.5 miles) from Ramallah, Beitunia, 4 km (2.4 miles) west of Ramallah, and the village of Kharbata Bani Harith, 19 km (11.8 miles) northwest of Ramallah, according to MADA and the Doha Center. The same press freedom groups quoted the journalists’ relatives as saying that no charges were mentioned during the arrests and that the Israeli forces seized their photography equipment, electronic devices, protective gear, computers, and Anjas’ car.

According to MADA, Hamdan was taken directly to Ofer prison; Anjas was taken to Kiryat Sefer settlement before being transferred to Ofer; Alwan was taken to Pessgot settlement before his transfer to Ofer. Al-Rimawi was also taken to Ofer, though it is not clear if he was taken there directly, according to MADA.

At a hearing on August 2, a military court extended the four journalists’ detention for a week to complete its investigation, according to a Facebook post by the Palestinian prisoners’ support group Prisoners’ Club.

Mohammed Khaled, a reporter for Al-Quds TV at their Beirut headquarters, told CPJ that although news reports identified the four journalists as working for Al-Quds TV, only al-Rimawi was a staff employee.

“The other journalists stopped working for Al-Quds TV after Israel closed its offices in Palestine in 2017,” Khaled said.

In a dawn raid on August 1, Israeli forces arrested Mohammed Muna, reporter for the London-based news agency Al-Quds Press and director of the Nablus-based Radio Hawa, at his house in the village of Zuata, 5 km (3.1 miles) west of Nablus, according to Al-Quds TV, news reports, and the regional press freedom group SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom.

Muna’s father, Anwar Muna, was quoted by SKeyes as saying that the Israeli forces searched his son’s house, seized his cell phone, and did not state the reason for his son’s arrest.

News reports cited Muna’s brother, Abdel Karim Muna, as saying that the Salem Israeli military court on August 2 extended Muna’s detention for seven days for the purposes of interrogation without providing any further details.

Muna, according to his brother, is being held at the Huwara detention facility south of Nablus, but will most likely be transferred to Megiddo prison, north of Jenin.

Muna was previously arrested by Israeli forces in August 2013 and placed in administrative detention until he was released in April 2015, according to SKeyesand Muna’s employer.

Israeli forces on August 6 arrested Ibrahim al-Rantisi, a reporter for the Turkish state-owned broadcaster TRT Arabic, after raiding his house in the town of Rantis, 22 kilometers (13.6 miles) northwest of Ramallah, according to newsreports, his employer, SKeyes, and al-Rantisi’s brother Fakhr al-Rantisi.

Fakhr al-Rantisi told CPJ that at least 15 Israeli soldiers surrounded his brother’s house at 2 a.m., knocked on the door a few times, and then broke into the house.

“They ordered him to sit down in the living room and asked his wife to bring his cell phones, which they seized, and his ID card. Then they made a phone call to confirm the identity of my brother and when they did they asked his wife to bring his shoes. One of the soldiers was filming the entire arrest. [Al-Rantisi] kissed his little daughter goodbye and left,” the journalist’s brother told CPJ.

Fakhr al-Rantisi said that soldiers took his brother to an undisclosed location. He said they discovered his brother was being held in Ofer Prison through the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club.

“I believe my brother has been arrested for his work as a journalist,” said al-Rantisi. He said that his brother began working for TRT at the beginning of this year, and previously worked for Al Quds TV, until December 2017

On the morning of August 6, Israeli police and intelligence officers arrested Nader Baybars– a cameraperson for the Palestinian Authority’s official broadcaster Palestine TV and director of the broadcaster’s “Good Morning Jerusalem” program– from the Baybars family home in the Jerusalemite neighborhood of Wad al-Joz, according to news reports. Israeli soldiers and police officers raided the family house and quarreled with members of the Baybars family, according to Baybars’ brother, Noor Baybars, who was cited in news reports.

The soldiers said they were taking Nader Baybars to Salah al Din Israeli police station in Jerusalem for interrogation, according to the same news reports citing Noor Baybars.

In February 2016, Baybars was summoned to the Salah al-Din police station in Jerusalem for questioning about his work as a journalist and the content of the “Good Morning Jerusalem” program, which the Israelis deemed harmful to the country’s security, according to SKeyes.

Israeli Defense Forces did not immediately reply to CPJ’s email requesting comment.