LONDON — As if journos in the Gaza Strip didn’t have enough problems to deal with, women reporters in the increasingly lawless territory have been directly threatened by the fundamentalist group, Swords of Islamic Righteousness.
Femme journos with Palestine TV, which is run by the Palestinian Broadcasting Corp., have received text messages warning them they would be killed if they didn’t begin wearing the Islamic headdress known as the hijab. The message was part of a longer letter sent to more than a dozen women TV reporters working in Gaza and the West Bank.
“I’m still afraid,” says Lana Shaheen, a field reporter with Palestine TV based in Gaza. “I am taking the threats very seriously, but I will not start wearing the hijab. I am a Muslim and I believe in God, but this is a personal matter. No one on this Earth has the right to tell me what I have to do. Only God has the right to punish me.”
The letter by the Swords of Islamic Righteousness had accused the women of acting “without shame or morals,” and threatened to “cut throats, from vein to vein, if needed to protect the spirit and morals of this nation.”
The threats appear to be falling on deaf ears, however. Many of the femme journos, along with their male colleagues, staged demonstrations in front of the Gaza offices of Palestinian prexy Mahmoud Abbas, demanding greater protection. Abbas heads the secular Fatah political faction, which funds the Palestinian Broadcasting Corp. Rival political party Hamas has accused it, and Palestine TV, of bias in its reporting.
Fatah and Hamas have been locked in a violent power struggle for much of the past year, with scores of Palestinians killed as a result of the internecine fighting. It is unclear if the Swords of Islamic Righteousness has any connection with Hamas. The Islamist extremists have launched attacks against Internet cafes, music stores and pharmacies in recent weeks for allegedly promoting un-Islamic activities.
Development is the latest in a string of attacks against media in Gaza. In January, the offices of the Saudi-owned pan-Arab newscaster Al-Arabiya were hit by a bomb. BBC journo Alan Johnson was kidnapped in March. A group calling itself the Army of Islam claimed responsibility for his abduction in May through a videotape released to Al-Jazeera. Johnson is yet to be released, despite numerous calls from the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, as well as the Palestinian government itself. In August, Fox correspondent Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig were kidnapped and held for nearly two weeks before their eventual safe release.
Palestinian TV execs are increasingly concerned that the emergence of such radical Islamist groups could spell disaster for civilians already suffering under the effects of an international economic blockade in Gaza.
“The situation is very difficult and dangerous. If this threat is acted on by this group, it means our society will regress 2,000 years,” says Palestinian Broadcasting Corp. topper Bassem Abu Sumaya. “It’s not just about the media. If there is no possibility for freedom of thought, it will affect our culture, and our people will go backward. We’re facing a very dark future.”