Israeli troops have stormed two Palestinian TV stations, seizing equipment and forcing them to close. In the early hours of 29 February, members of Israel Defence Forces (IDF) raided Al-Wattan and Al-Quds Educational TV in the West Bank, territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority. During the raid on Al-Wattan, four members of staff were held for several hours, whilst 21 computers and live broadcasting equipment were taken, along with administrative files and official documents. Broadcasting equipment was also seized from Al-Quds Educational TV. The IDF said the raids were carried out because the “pirate” TV stations were broadcasting without a licence.
Two Ramallah-based TV stations were raided by Israel Defence Forces (IDF) troops at the behest of the Israeli Ministry of Communications in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Wattan TV station director Moammar Orabi described how the channel’s offices were entered at 2am by 30 soldiers. Their broadcast equipment, computers and administrative files were seized and four of their employees detained. All four, comprising two correspondents, one graphics technician and the head of production, were released a few hours later.
Wattan TV, owned by a group of three NGOs including the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, is a well-known leftwing channel, and frequently broadcasts coverage of the weekly protests that occur across the West Bank which often incur violent crackdowns by the IDF.
Orabi told AFP just after the raid: “it was a surprise. We still don’t know why they confiscated the equipment and shut down the station, even though we work in areas belonging to the Palestinian Authority and we have a licence from them.”
The IDF also confirmed that educational broadcaster Al-Quds TV was raided at 3am local time and had their equipment confiscated. Among the material broadcast by Al-Quds TV is Sharaa Simsim, the Palestinian version of “Sesame Street”. Neither station has been able to operate since the raid.
After pressure from a variety of news outlets including AFP and Reuters to explain the reasons behind the raids, an IDF spokeswoman later stated that both the channels, which broadcast exclusively in the West Bank, were “broadcasting illegally” as they use frequencies which she claimed “interfered with aircraft communication” at nearby Ben Gurion airport according to local news agency Ma’an.
However, Suleiman Zuheiri, Undersecretary of the Palestinian Ministry of Telecommunication in Ramallah, told Ma’an that “civil aviation waves, according to international parameters, start at 120 megahertz, while TV frequencies start at above 500 megahertz.”
The Palestinian Ministry of Telecommunication had never been informed that either station had been broadcasting potentially “disruptive” signals, and the Israeli Ministry of Communication had failed to give any advance warning that they intended to close the channels.
Furthermore, Zuheiri also underlined that both stations are registered at the International Telecommunications Union, implying they could not be broadcasting illegally.
The Palestinian Authority said on Wednesday that this action could signal the beginning of a “frequency war” with Israel. The Minister for Telecommunication and Information Technology, Abu Dakka, spoke out at a press conference in Ramallah on Thursday 1 March. Dakka said he felt that the Israeli government had conducted the raids with the express aim of seizing these frequencies for 3G and 4G phones that use the frequencies to get a television signal. In an interview with Palestine radio, his Undersecretary, Zuhairi, went further and emphasised that the recipients of the frequencies are the settlements in the West Bank, who want to receive Israeli broadcast services.
Reporters Without Borders also expressed their “deep shock” at the raid on Friday 3 March: “These arbitrary and illegal operations served yet again to intimidate Palestinian media and journalists, the victims of repeated attacks by the Israel Defense Forces. We urge the Israeli military to return the confiscated equipment and allow the two stations to resume broadcasting.”
Journalist and blogger Olena Bilozerska has managed to recover some of the equipment and material which was illegally seized from her home in Kiev on 12 January. The police interrogation on 8 February included questions about her sources. The police returned some items but have kept 162 CDs and DVDs which contain material needed for her work. She regained her camera and video camera, neither of which was working. The authorities also returned her computer, which had been dismantled.