Israel orders Al Jazeera to close local offices, escalating Netanyahu’s long-running feud with news network

Israel orders Al Jazeera to close local offices, escalating Netanyahu’s long-running feud with news network
  • PublishedMay 6, 2024

Israel has ordered the local offices of Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite news network to close, escalating a long-running feud between the broadcaster and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line government as Doha-mediated ceasefire negotiations with Hamas hang in the balance.

The extraordinary order — which includes confiscating broadcast equipment, preventing the broadcast of the channel’s reports and blocking its websites — is believed to be the first time Israel has ever shuttered a foreign news outlet.

The network has reported the Israeli-Hamas war nonstop since Hamas’s initial cross-border terror attack on October 7, and has maintained 24-hour coverage in the Gaza Strip amid Israel’s grinding ground offensive that has killed and wounded members of its own staff.

While including on-the-ground reporting of the war’s casualties, its Arabic arm often publishes verbatim video statements from Hamas and other militant groups in the region, drawing Mr Netanyahu’s ire.

“Al Jazeera reporters harmed Israel’s security and incited against soldiers,” Mr Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday.

“It’s time to remove the Hamas mouthpiece from our country.”

Al Jazeera issued a statement vowing it would “pursue all available legal channels through international legal institutions in its quest to protect both its rights and journalists, as well as the public’s right to information”.

A middle-aged man in a grey polo shirt watches a small TV set up on a table underneath a large Al Jazeera logo on the wall.
An Al Jazeera employee watches TV in the network’s Jerusalem office in 2017.(Reuters: Ammar Awad)

“Israel’s ongoing suppression of the free press, seen as an effort to conceal its actions in the Gaza Strip, stands in contravention of international and humanitarian law,” the network said.

“Israel’s direct targeting and killing of journalists, arrests, intimidation and threats will not deter Al Jazeera from its commitment to cover, whilst more than 140 Palestinian journalists have been killed since the beginning of the war on Gaza.”

Israeli media said the order allows Israel to block the channel from operating in the country for 45 days.

The Israeli government has taken action against individual reporters over the decades since its founding in 1948, but broadly allows for a rambunctious media scene that includes foreign bureaus from around the world, even from Arab nations.

That changed with a law passed last month, which Mr Netanyahu’s office says allows the government to take action against a foreign channel seen as “harming the country”.

Earlier, Mr Netanyahu denounced what he said was a “volcano of anti-Semitism” sweeping the world.

“Today, we again confront enemies bent on our destruction,” Mr Netanyahu told a large crowd at a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem.

“If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.

“I say to the leaders of the world, no amount of pressure, no decision by any international forum, will stop Israel from defending itself.”  

Immediately after the announcement, Al Jazeera’s English arm began broadcasting a prerecorded message from one of its correspondents from a hotel the channel has used for months in east Jerusalem.

“They’re also banning any devices — that includes my mobile phone,” correspondent Imran Khan said.

“If I use that to do any kind of newsgathering, then the Israelis can simply confiscate it.”

Israeli police later raided the hotel room and confiscated equipment, an Israeli official and an Al Jazeera source told the Reuters news agency.

Al Jazeera was removed from Israel’s main cable provider in the hours after the order. However, its website and streaming links across multiple online platforms still operated Sunday.

The ban did not appear to affect the channel’s operations in the occupied West Bank or Gaza Strip, where Israel wields control but which are not sovereign Israeli territory.

Decision risks harming Israel-Qatar relations

The decision threatens to heighten tensions with Qatar at a time when the Doha government is playing a key role in mediation efforts to halt the war in Gaza, along with Egypt and the United States. 

Qatar has had strained ties with Mr Netanyahu, in particular since he made comments suggesting that Qatar is not exerting enough pressure on Hamas to prompt it to relent in its terms for a truce deal. Qatar hosts Hamas leaders in exile.

The sides appear to be close to striking a deal, but multiple previous rounds of talks have ended with no agreement.

The Netanyahu government has also long had a rocky relationship with Al Jazeera, accusing it of bias.

Relations took a major downturn nearly two years ago when Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh was killed during an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank.

A picture of a journalist in a Press vest sits on an empty chair at a news conference.
A picture of slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh sits on a chair at a news conference in 2022.(Reuters: Evelyn Hockstein)

Those relations further deteriorated following the outbreak of Israel’s war against Hamas on October 7, when the militant group carried out a cross-border attack in southern Israel that killed 1,200 people and took 250 others hostage.

In December, an Israeli strike killed an Al Jazeera camera operator as he reported on the war in southern Gaza. The channel’s bureau chief in Gaza, Wael Dahdouh, was injured in the same attack.

Al Jazeera is one of the few international media outlets to remain in Gaza throughout the war, broadcasting bloody scenes of air strikes and overcrowded hospitals and accusing Israel of massacres.

Israel accuses Al Jazeera of collaborating with Hamas.

While Al Jazeera’s English operation often resembles the programming found on other major broadcast networks, its Arabic arm often publishes verbatim video statements from Hamas and other militant groups in the region.

It similarly came under harsh US criticism during America’s occupation of Iraq after its 2003 invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Al Jazeera, which is funded by Qatar’s government, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Associated Press. 

Al Jazeera has previously been closed or blocked by other Middle East governments, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain during a years-long boycott of Doha by those countries, which ended in 2021.

Sunday’s development also immediately recalled Egypt’s shutdown of Al Jazeera after the country’s 2013 military takeover following mass protests against President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group.

The shutdown led to the arrest and imprisonment of Australian journalist Peter Greste, who received a 10-year prison sentence but was later released amid widespread international criticism.

SOURCE: ABCNEWS

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