Omar Nazzal, a well-known journalist in Ramallah, has been in custody since Saturday on terror charges, based on secret evidence. His lawyer says that his alleged contact with militants was an integral part of his job.
Israel arrested a Palestinian journalist on Saturday while he was trying to leave the West Bank en route to Sarajevo for a meeting of the European Federation of Journalists.
Omar Nazzal, a Ramallah-based independent journalist and a member of the board of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, was arrested before crossing Allenby Bridge into Jordan and has since been detained on “security charges,” Israel claimed.
He has yet to be questioned and be told what charges he is facing, even though his remand was extended on Monday.
Contacted by Local Call, Shin Bet Security Services said the suspect is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which Israel sees as a terrorist organization
Nazzal is a former employee of the pro-Islamic Jihad radio station Falastin al-Youm (Palestine Today), whose offices were shut down by Israel last month. It should be noted that he left the job long before Israel started to crack down on the station.
For some time he has been banned from going abroad, a restriction he has been attempting to lift for more than a year.
“We have been in contact with the State Prosecution and the legal department of the IDF’s Judea and Samaria division, but they just deferred us from one functionary to the other and never gave a reason for the ban or said when it would expire,” Mahmoud Hassan, Nazzal’s lawyer, said. “When he tried to leave, he had no idea whether the ban was still in place, and in any event didn’t believe he was going to be arrested.”
His remand was extended Monday based on secret evidence presented to the military court by police. A spokesperson for Israel Police declined to comment on the charges, saying that “it is a very sensitive case.”
Speaking for the defense, Hassan told the court that the fact that he wasn’t arrested in his home but only when he arrived at the border crossing means that he doesn’t pose a clear and present danger and should be released.
He added, despite being oblivious to the charges, that Nazzal’s journalistic vocation requires him to meet with different people, some of who are militants, “for the sole purpose of doing his job.”
The judge said that the detention of a journalist “requires a much greater deal of discretion, lest we infringe on the freedom of expression,” yet he was convinced by the secret evidence presented to him that the presumed offenses “exceeded the realm of journalism” and, on account of suspected perjury, he decided to extend the defendant’s remand.
“Israeli journalists enter refugee camps all the time and meet with Islamic Jihad militants,” Hassan told Local Call. “It’s only because he’s Palestinian that he’s being indicted. He’s a serious and reputed journalist, who I presume was arrested for doing his job, but I have no way to know.”
Shin Bet emphasized that he was arrested for his involvement in terrorist activity.
“Nazzal has recently been appointed as director of Falastin al-Youm, which was declared illegal in February 2016,” a spokesperson said. “He has been associated with the Popular Front for years, including very recently.” However, they failed to address the fact that it’s unlikely that an individual would be involved both with Islamic Jihad, a religious fundamentalist organization, and the Popular Front, a left-leaning secular group.
Journalist associations from around the world as well as the Palestinian Authority published urgent calls for his release. In addition, a solidarity demonstration was held in Ramallah on Sunday.
“It was shocking to hear that a participant to a congress for journalists from all over Europe has been arrested by the Israeli authorities on his way to attend and banged without any reason being given,” said Jim Boumelha, the president of the International Federation of Journalists. “The 100 delegates representing over 320,000 journalists in 51 unions from all over Europe will be demanding that their colleague is released forthwith.”
Also condemning the arrest, the Palestinian Ministry of Communication said that there are 19 Palestinian journalists currently in Israeli custody, including the administrative detainee Mohammed al-Qiq, who is slated for release after he agreed to suspend a 90-day hunger strike.
This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.