Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan orders Musawa, a Ramallah-based television station catering to Israel’s Arab citizens, to be shut down for violating Israeli sovereignty.
By Makbula Nassar
For the second time in a year, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has ordered the closure of a Palestinian media outlet.
The satellite station in question, Musawa, was originally launched in March 2015 under the name “Palestine 48,” is broadcasted through the Egyptian satellite company “Nile-Sat,” and receives its funding from the Palestinian Authority. Its broadcasts are based in Ramallah and are catered for Arab citizens of Israel. Today most of its content is produced by Arab producers based in Israel.
Last Thursday the Public Security Ministry announced that the closure order would be signed after it became clear that the station functions on behalf of the Palestinian Authority inside Israeli territory without the proper written permit, as is required by the Oslo Accords. “I will not allow any harm to come to Israeli sovereignty or allow the Palestinian Authority to make a foothold inside state territory,” Erdan said in a statement. The order will remain in effect for six months.
Although Erdan already signed an order to close the station in July 2015, its activities did not actually cease: regular broadcasts continued and talk shows were broadcasted live from Ramallah, all while the guests traveled to PA territory on a regular basis to talk about issues pertinent to Arabs living in Israel. Several months ago the station returned to its studios in Nazareth, using local producers, after it changed its name and branding so as to avoid confrontations with the Israeli authorities.
Ramzi Hakim, a senior news anchor for the station who also works for the Al-Arz production company (which was also shut down by the Public Security Ministry), told +972’s Hebrew sister site, Local Call, that Erdan’s decision has “no legal basis.” According to Hakim, the studios and production services in Nazareth are owned and run by Al-Arz, which provides services to a number of stations in the area and the world, including Musawa. Hakim emphasizes that they are currently continuing as usual.
The language used by the Public Security Ministry hints at the fact that the decision to shut down the station is based on updated intelligence. Yet the fact of the matter is that production, which started anew in Nazareth over the past few months, is not so secret at all. After all, it is impossible to maintain discretion during live broadcasts or filming outside the studio. Broadcasts over the past few months has focused on entertainment, current affairs, political discussions and Arab dramas, while news was not shown. The station directors in the Palestinian Authority have made clear every step of the way that they do not wish to broadcast anti-Israeli content, and have expressed their desire to include as many Jewish-Israeli voices as possible.
The Palestinian Broadcasting Company issued a response to the decision, calling Erdan’s move part of Israel’s policy of shutting down free speech and restricting Palestinian media outlets. According to the company, Israel ought to be focusing on shutting down media outlets that allow the settlers to incite to violence and call for setting families on fire.
Looking at Erdan’s use of “sovereignty” as an reason to shut down the station, one would think Israel respects its side of the Oslo agreements. This sounds especially absurd when taking into account Israel’s daily violations of Palestinian sovereignty in PA-controlled areas, including through arrests of elected officials — not to mention 22 Palestinian journalists — some of whom are continually held without charges or put on trial.
The Israeli army has previously entered PA-controlled areas and raided buildings belonging to Palestinian media outlets located in the heart of Ramallah. In 2012 soldiers raided studios belonging to “Watan” television station, as well as the educational “Al-Quds” channel in Ramallah. Soldiers destroyed equipment and arrested four journalists at their place of work. Similar steps were also taken against “Falesteen al-Yom” and “Trans Media” in Ramallah.
Ever since the station’s establishment, the behavior of Israeli authorities vis-a-vis Musawa has been two-faced. In both cases the closure orders were signed after months of activity, such that it does not seem like preventing the broadcasts was as urgent as one would think. Over the past few months the station has resumed its work without any problems — and with the full knowledge of the authorities. The station regularly broadcasts interviews with Israeli journalists as well as Knesset members from Zionist parties. Even the Public Security Ministry spokesperson regularly provides responses to the station’s journalists, treating Musawa just as it would any other media outlet.
One can view the timing of the order as a way to punish Mahmoud Abbas — a big supporter of the station — after he falsely accused rabbis of calling to poison of Palestinian wells (a statement he later retracted), as well as his refusal to meet with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. But it doesn’t end there: two weeks ago Muhammad Al-Madani, the PA liaison to Israel who helped establish the station, was barred from entering Israel for “subversive behavior.”
It is clear that Israel is trying to hinder media outlets that cater to Israel’s Arab citizens, which are free of oversight from Israel’s Government Advertising Agency as well as the Government Press Office. After all, this is channel is free of conditions and limitations laid down by the Israel Broadcasting Authority (especially when the station in question has the potential to reach large numbers of people), and which is captured on satellite dishes in every Arab home across Israel — and all without Israeli mediation.
Makbula Nasser, active in political and feminist affairs, is a journalist and hosts a show on current affairs on Radio Al-Shams, where she’s worked for over 10 years. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where she is a blogger. Read it here.