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Setting a precedent? Israel classifies Al-Aqsa TV as a terrorist organisation

Palestinian crew work in the control unit at the Al Aqsa T.V. station in Gaza City (June 2010)
Palestinian crew work in the control unit at the Al Aqsa T.V. station in Gaza City (June 2010)

AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

This statement was originally published on madacenter.org on 12 December 2014.

Israeli authorities released Al-Aqsa TV correspondent Mustafa Al-Khawaja on 11 December 2014 on bail of 10,000 NS (approximately 2,544 USD) in Ramallah. He was arrested on 20 October 2014 and held for 50 days.

Khawaja told the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) that during his detention he was interrogated about his work for Al-Aqsa TV and accused of "incitement against Israel" and the "promotion of terrorist ideas" in his work for the channel.

During his trial, the general prosecutor claimed that since 1 October, Al-Aqsa TV has been considered by Israel as a "banned terrorist organisation" and therefore working for the channel is prohibited. This has never been officially announced and is unknown to the general public. Khawaja's lawyer tried to refute the charges during the process, arguing that the channel has been working for about eight years now. Khawaja was eventually released on bail, pending the completion of his trial.

This is perhaps the first time that a media outlet is classified as a terrorist organisation. The fact that Al-Aqsa belongs to Hamas does not give Israeli authorities the right to classify it as a terrorist organisation since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which celebrated its 66th anniversary on 12 December, guarantees freedom of expression for all. Besides, the work of Al-Aqsa channel is subject to Palestinian, not Israeli, law.

Al-Aqsa TV and its staff have been long-time targets of the Israeli authorities. On 20 November 2012, Israeli forces deliberately killed photojournalists Hossam Salameh and Mahmoud Komi, alleging that they were working for the "Hamas terrorist" movement. During the latest war on the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army shelled and destroyed three Al-Aqsa facilities under the same pretext.

As recalled by Reporters Without Borders, the expert committee formed by the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia to assess NATO bombings in 1999 specified that a journalist or media organization is not a legitimate target merely because it broadcasts or disseminates propaganda.

Israel, which has been excelling in issuing orders and military decisions meant to suppress freedom of expression and the media in Palestine since its occupation of 1967, continues to insist on pursuing such an approach. This is an extremely serious matter since the court's decision can constitute a judicial precedent to further suppress media freedoms in occupied Palestine through the occupier's military courts. The Israeli example can also be used by other dictatorial regimes throughout the world in order to start classifying media outlets as "terrorist organizations” to justify their persecutions of journalists.

MADA condemns the classification of Al-Aqsa TV as a terrorist organisation, and calls on the international community to put pressure on Israel to rescind its decisions and to stop all its violations of freedom of expression in Palestine. More generally, MADA demands an end to all media freedoms violations in Palestine, which have escalated dramatically this year.

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