Dimi Reider speaks to Walid Omary, Jerusalem bureau chief for al Jazeera, about the Palestinian Authority’s decision to shut down the station’s Ramallah bureau
The fallout from the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) decision to suspend all activity by the twin channels of al Jazeera and al Jazeera International continued to grow today as the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemned the move. “PCHR asserts that this decision constitutes a flagrant violation of the right to freedom of expression, and calls upon the government in Ramallah to cancel it and allow al Jazeera and its personnel to work freely,” the organisation’s statement read.
On Wednesday, two plainclothes security officials arrived at the broadcaster’s offices in Ramallah, and served West Bank Bureau chief Walid El Omari a notice from the Ramallah commander of police.
The notice read: “According to the decision issued by Palestinian Prime Minister and Acting Minister of Information on 15 July 2009, it has been decided to suspend work in al Jazeera Satellite Channel’s offices in Palestine; thus, its teams are banned from any work pending a final judicial ruling in this regard. If this decision is violated, you shall be held legally accountable.” It was signed by a Lieutenant Colonel lawyer, Yasser al-Fahum, on behalf of the Colonel Monier Telbani, chief of police in Ramallah.
PCHR noted that the reservation provided in the letter on “pending a final judicial ruling,” rendered the entire decision meaningless.
Walid Omary, the Jerusalem Bureau Chief for the broadcaster, told Index on Censorship he was given no specific reason for the clampdown.
“I got a phone call from the office of [Prime Minister] Salam Fayad. I was told we were constantly inciting and making provocations against the Palestinian Authority, and that the last stage of this was ‘yesterday’.”
On Wednesday, an anonymous PA official told the Guardian newspaper that the decision came after al Jazeera broadcast an interview with the President Mahmoud Abbas’s chief Fatah rival, Farouk Kadoumi. In the interview Mr Kadoumi claimed that Mr Abbas, alongside security strongman Mahmoud Dahlan, conspired with Israelis and Americans to assassinate his predecessor, Yasser Arafat. Mr Arafat died after a brief illness in 2004, and speculation on the cause of his death had been rampant.
“They didn’t mention anything specific, but it’s quite obvious their excuse is the statement made on our channel by Farouk Kadoumi. Al Jazeera only reported the comments three days after they were originally made, like all electronic media. In the same broadcast we also had comments and reactions from the PA — we even had Fatah people warning Kadoumi that he was making a big mistake by inciting people against the president,” Mr Omary said.
However, Mr Omary noted that he did not believe that the Kadoumi interview was the real reason for the ban.
“The whole Kadoumi thing is an excuse. In the last two years, senior officials from the president’s office have been using PA radio and TV to incite feelings against al Jazeera, three or four times a week,” said Mr Omary.
“Ever since the Hamas coup d’etat in Gaza, Fatah officials have accused us of being biased towards Hamas. It’s a lie — we always interview Fatah officials, we cover all the activities of the president and [Fatah] prime minister, all the speeches and all the press conferences are always covered. The thing is they don’t like us covering the bad stuff that’s going on — demonstrations, protests and arrests. But we’re also covering the bad sides of the Hamas rule in Gaza.”
“We will continue covering Palestinian affairs — it will be very difficult for them to stop us. We still have our bureaus in Jerusalem and Gaza.”
“We have not received any information from them on the judicial process they were referring to in their statement, but we know that the Palestinian Authority Attorney General was ordered to open legal proceedings against us, and it appears we are going to court,” Mr Omary concluded.