The Islamic State terror group appears to have joined the Palestinian Authority [PA] and Hamas in their campaign to silence Palestinian journalists.
Over the past few days, several Palestinian journalists have received death threats from the «Gaza branch» of Islamic State. The group accused the journalists of publishing «lies» about Islamic State in particular, and Islam in general.
The threats were sent to the journalists through social media and messages to their mobile phones.
«Islamic State warns the journalist and media people against their continued and constant attacks on us,» read one of the messages sent to the journalists. «We in Islamic State affirm that we will execute the rule of the sharia [Islamic religious law] against these apostates, who are sowing discord among Muslims.»
The last threats have created panic among many Palestinian journalists, who are already being targeted by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the PA in the West Bank.
Members of Islamic State, in Gaza. (Image source: Islamic State YouTube video)
But the Hamas and PA crackdown, which has included arrests, intimidation and physical assaults, is nothing compared to the threats coming from Islamic State, a bloodthirsty, savage group that has killed journalists, relief workers and thousands of innocent civilians.
Late last year, the terror group issued similar threats against writers, poets and women in the Gaza Strip.
Since then, almost all those who received the threats have been keeping a low profile. Others have gone into hiding, according to sources in the Gaza Strip.
Now the Palestinian journalists are saying that they are taking the Islamic State threats seriously. «Of course we are afraid,» said a veteran journalist from Gaza City. «You never know who is hiding behind the mask. It could be someone from Islamic State or Hamas or Islamic Jihad or even Fatah. It is not safe to be a journalist living in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.»
The Hamas and Palestinian Authority crackdown against Palestinian journalists — as well as Islamic State threats — has made it impossible to express any views in public.
The PA has succeeded in turning the Palestinian media in the West Bank into a mouthpiece for its leaders and government. The three major Palestinian newspapers, Al-Quds, Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda and Al-Ayyam are no different from government-controlled media outlets in Arab dictatorships.
Palestinian journalists, writers, bloggers and political activists who dare to criticize the Palestinian Authority or PA President Mahmoud Abbas often find themselves behind bars or on trial for «extending tongues» against the leadership.
That is why it is hard to find real investigative Palestinian journalists in the West Bank. Freedom of the media exists only when the journalists direct their criticism against Israel. Reporting about financial or political corruption in the PA is seen as an act of «treason.»
Under Hamas in the Gaza Strip, it is a waste of time to talk about «freedom of the media.» There is no real media left there. The few journalists and freelance «fixers» working with Western media do not feel safe, for example, to report about any story that might reflect negatively on Hamas or any other radical group in the Gaza Strip.
The threats against Palestinian journalists are important because this is no longer a «local» issue or an internal Palestinian affair. Those who are seeking to silence the Palestinian journalists are also trying to prevent the international media from learning about what is really happening in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
A Palestinian journalist working with international news agencies and newspapers is not going to report truthfully and honestly, when he or she is facing daily threats from so many parties. The only stories these journalists are going to offer the international media are ones that depict Israel in a negative manner. The Palestinian journalists know that at the end of the day they need to go back to their families in Ramallah and Gaza without having to worry about masked men knocking on their doors at night.
The threats against Palestinian journalists are worrying, and should be exposed and brought to the attention of human rights groups around the world. More disturbing is that many of the international journalists operating in the region are willing to turn a blind eye to the dangers facing their Palestinian colleagues and employees. The international media outlets and their representatives are prepared to take almost any story offered to them by Palestinian reporters, especially if the story consists of anti-Israel statements.
A recent study by the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms found that 80% of Palestinian journalists practice self-censorship in their writing. This means that the international media is relying on news that has been censored by their Palestinian reporters, who are afraid for their lives.
Palestinian columnist Asmaa Al-Ghoul quoted Fathi Saba, who writes for Al-Hayat, as saying that self-censorship is the name of the game for every Palestinian journalist. «There is a policeman in the mind of every reporter in the West Bank and Gaza,» he said.
Now that Islamic State has come into the picture with its own threats, one should only expect the coverage from the West Bank and Gaza Strip — largely dependent on information provided by Palestinian journalists — to become even more hostile toward Israel and the West.