When it became clear that US President Barack Obama was to visit Ramallah and hold a press conference, local and foreign journalists quickly applied online for the special accreditation created for the event. More than 250 foreign and 140 Palestinian journalists were accredited. On the eve of the visit, however, 18 Palestinian journalists received a phone call from a member of Palestinian Preventative Security, an intelligence arm close to the CIA, telling them that they would not be allowed to enter the Muqata, the headquarters of the Palestinian presidency. The list included journalists working for international agencies who regularly cover events at the Muqata.
Palestinian security and political officials deny that the last-minute withdrawal of accreditation was the result of pressure from the Americans or the Israelis. After a quick look at the list of journalists blocked from access, however, one realizes they all at one time or another had written or said something critical of the Palestinian leadership. Based on previous experience, reporters believe that the ban was a result of unannounced Palestinian, US and Israeli coordination.
The Israelis have never recognized the existence of a journalistic profession or culture among Palestinians and normally treat Palestinian journalists the way they treat all other Palestinians.
What undermines the idea that the 18 banned journalists posed a security threat is that they have covered high-profile visits to Palestine for years, including by US officials. Furthermore, at least one of them, Mohammad Daraghmeh, with the Associated Press, refused to accept the decision and appealed to the office of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who succeeded in reinstating his accreditation.
A local Palestinian news agency, the Palestine News Network, first broke the story, quoting Agence France-Presse (AFP) reporter Abbas Momani. Among those banned were reporters working for Al Jazeera, a Chinese news agency and WAFA, the official Palestinian news service. The Palestinian security spokesman naturally denied any political interference and said that journalists blocked from entry can file a complaint.
The Vienna-based International Press Institute issued a statement on the matter. In it, Deputy Director Anthony Mills stated, “We are concerned by reports from Palestinian journalists that members of the media were denied access to an important official event because of their political affiliation or because they have been critical of Palestinian Authority officials and policies. We urge the President’s office to undertake an investigation into this matter and ensure that journalists for all media are given equal access in future.”
Over the years, issues of press accreditation to Palestinian events have shifted from the Ministry of Information to the media department at the Office of the President, as well as the government press office.
The newly resurrected Palestinian journalists union criticized what transpired, while some of its senior elected members have spoken to local media about what happened to their colleagues.
Nasser Abu Baker, the deputy head of the union and a reporter with AFP, spoke out forcefully against the ban. He said the union has written a letter to the Office of the President, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Interior, which is responsible for the entire security apparatus.
The union also issued a statement on Monday calling the ban an “insult” to Palestinian journalism that revealed the existence of what it called “blacklists” of journalists not allowed to attend such events. The union has threatened a series of protests that will culminate with a decision to boycott official activities if such interference by security does not stop.
Daoud Kuttab is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. He tweets from @daoudkuttab.