Israel’s alarming shutdown of Al Jazeera

Press freedom is in a state of emergency in Israel and Gaza.

Israel’s alarming shutdown of Al Jazeera0

Inspectors and police are seen raiding the Al Jazeera offices in Jerusalem, Israel, on May 5, 2024, and confiscating its equipment.  Saeed Qaq/NurPhoto via Getty Images Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

Israel’s decision to shut down Al Jazeera’s operations in the country signaled an escalation in an already hostile environment for journalists covering the war in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has previously called Al Jazeera a “mouthpiece for Hamas,” accused the Qatar-based news network of threatening Israel’s national security and used powers granted under an emergency law to shutter the outlet. He has not identified what specifically about Al Jazeera’s coverage the government believed crossed that line.

“The government headed by me unanimously decided: the incitement channel Al Jazeera will be closed in Israel,” Netanyahu wrote Sunday on X in Hebrew.

For years, many experts in Israeli politics have been warning about the country’s gradual embrace of far-right undemocratic principles. Now, as Israel prepares for an imminent invasion of Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, the Netanyahu government is impinging on freedom of the press in a way that may limit oversight and should put the world’s liberal democracies on guard.

“This move sets an extremely alarming precedent for restricting international media outlets working in Israel,” Carlos Martinez de la Serna, program director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement. “The Israeli cabinet must allow Al-Jazeera and all international media outlets to operate freely in Israel, especially during wartime.”

What we know

Months ago, the Israeli government adopted an emergency law to censor foreign journalists deemed threats to national security while the war in Gaza proceeds.

Pro-Iranian channel Al Mayadeen was previously censored under the law, with Netanyahu’s security cabinet citing its “wartime efforts to harm [Israel’s] security interests and to serve the enemy’s goals” following the October 7 attack by Hamas, which receives funding from Iran. Two of the network’s journalists were subsequently killed in an Israeli bombing in southern Lebanon.

The government has been talking about invoking the law against Al Jazeera since at least early November, when communications minister Shlomo Karhi claimed the network had “photographed and published” the positioning of IDF forces, “broadcast military announcements by Hamas,” and “distorted facts in a way which incited masses of people to riot.”

On Sunday, the government finally brought down the ax, restricting the network’s ability to broadcast from Israel and to be viewed by Israelis, as well as seizing broadcast equipment. The block is in place for 45 days, with the option of a 45-day extension.

In a statement, Al Jazeera called the decision a “criminal act that violates human rights and the basic right to access of information.” It’s not clear how the decision will impact the network’s ability to cover the war from Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

Why does it matter?

The decision to shut down Al Jazeera is the latest escalation against journalists trying to cover the war both in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Throughout the war, Israel has said that it cannot guarantee journalists’ safety in Gaza and has denied foreign journalists access to the region. As of May 3, at least 97 journalists and media workers have been killed over the course of the war, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. By some counts, that’s more than were killed during the entire two-decade Vietnam War.

Journalists covering the war have also faced assaults, threats, cyberattacks, and censorship, as well as contended with communications blackouts in Gaza. There are also multiple reports of killings of reporters’ family members in Palestine.

Under international law, journalists don’t constitute a separate, protected class from civilians overall. However, because it is illegal to intentionally target civilians or launch an attack that does not distinguish between military targets and civilians, it is also illegal to intentionally target journalists.

Media cannot be considered military targets even when they are being employed for propaganda purposes unless they make an “effective contribution to military action” or they “incite war crimes, genocide or acts of violence,” according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Nevertheless, independent investigations from Reporters Without Borders have alleged that Israel has intentionally targeted journalists on multiple occasions.

For Israel, which is increasingly losing the international war of public opinion, all of this is a means of undermining independent reporting that could further damage its image abroad. It could also obscure the reality on the ground. The war has made independent reporting difficult, with dozens of outlets’ offices destroyed, in addition to journalists being killed. In that vacuum, Hamas and Israel frequently offer dueling narratives that are often impossible to verify.


No votes yet.
Please wait...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *