The Fatah Youth movement called for a demonstration against Al Jazeera after a guest attacked the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
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Ibrahim Hammami, a pro-Islamist writer and head of the Palestinian Affair Center said that Abu Ammar, another name Arafat is known by, is a traitor. Arafat, who died in 2004, is still seen a symbol for the Palestinian people.
Two days before the show, on the 20th anniversary of signing the Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Hamami wrote on his Facebook page that Arafat accomplished the Israeli dream 20 years ago.
A few days before that, Al Jazeera published a documentary called “The Price of Oslo,” unveiling what they called new historical information showing that the PLO recognized Israel and turned its back on the “revolution.”
“The Palestinian Security Forces are the sons of Arafat, not like you, Mr. Hamami, who is living in Britain that sold Palestine to the Zionists,” Kamal Mohammed, a taxi driver in the city, told protesters as he held the microphone on Wednesday.
Outnumbering the protestors who pushed against their shields, tens of riot police stood at the entrance of the building preventing anyone from going in.
“There was a decision from the highest authorities to protect Al Jazeera offices in Palestine. Since two years, a permanent police car stands by the building to protect the offices of the TV channel,” Omar Bzour, director of the police force in Ramallah, told The Media Line.
Although Al Jazeera was seen as the channel that bears the Arabic national causes, especially after its intensive coverage of the second Palestinian uprising from 2000 to 2005, the situation has begun to change slowly. Specifically after the American war in Iraq, more people started to question the objectivity of the TV station.
The position on Al Jazeera’s agenda became a main topic for media scholars, who argued that the American military bases in Doha, Qatar used to hit Baghdad mean that channel, which is Qatari, can’t be pro-Arab or Palestinian. Other scholars claimed that Al Jazeera is biased toward the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.
Walid Al Shurafa, a media professor at Birzeit University in Ramallah, published a study a few years ago in which he argued that the station uses propaganda techniques, fabricates stories and designs campaigns to lobby the audience.
Al Jazeera’s offices and crew have not been safe from attack. In 2006, three cars belonging to the media outlet were burned, while in 2010, an anonymous person shot another of the station’s cars, failing to harm anyone inside. In 2011, their Ramallah office was vandalized with graffiti.
In 2011, the channel leaked papers from the Palestinian Negotiation Department that claims the Palestinian Authority made too many compromises during the talks with Israeli officials. At the time, hundreds of Palestinians protested the channel’s policy and marched toward the Presidential
Headquarters in support of the President Mahmoud Abbas. Many at the time considered Al Jazeera a pro-Israel traitor working against the PA.
A correspondent for the TV station told The Media Line she was kicked out of a store in Ramallah as she attempted to hold interviews because the store owners were opposed to the channel.
At the demonstration, protestors held signs and pictures of the late Arafat, while chanting slogans.
“Yasser Arafat is a red line,” said employee Nibras Hussein, after she was not allowed to leave her job to partake in the demonstration. “Most people are working at this time. I am sure much more people wanted to protest Arafat’s insult but can’t leave their jobs.”
In front of the building, more protesters came to participate in the demonstration. Amna Mustafa was one of them: “I came to say I reject the Zionist-American conspiracy that is being waged through Al Jazeera channel by insulting and distorting the national figures and symbols,” Mustafa, a 33-year-old protester, said.
In 2012, the Arabic channel released a comprehensive TV documentary exposing new information about Arafat’s death, which led the PA to agree to the filmmakers’ quest to take samples of Arafat’s grave for further investigation.
Though many people in the street told The Media Line they want to know who killed Arafat, they also questioned the intentions of Al Jazeera. While many point fingers to Palestinian involvement in ending Arafat’s life, most Palestinians in the street believe that Israel was behind the leader’s death.
Protestors distributed a statement asking for an apology: “We call upon the Palestinian employees of Al Jazeera to stop working protesting the channel’s policy as an initial step,” it read.
Demands varied from asking the PA to shut down the station to simply firing Faisal Al Qasem, a prominent anchor who hosts “Al Itijah AL Moakes,” an intense talk-show.
“The silence of the anchor in the face of Arafat’s insults is an implied approval. Al Qasem could have said that the channel doesn’t approve with the opinion that was said during the show.”
Hassan Faraj, head of the Fatah Youth Movement in the West Bank, asked the crowd to differentiate between the Palestinian journalists working for Al Jazeera and the editor in Doha.
He told The Media Line that his movement is not against freedom of speech: “Al Jazeera is not practicing objectivity. The freedom of speech and media doesn’t involve insulting the martyrs, particularly Yasser Arafat, who spent all of his life and died defending the Palestinian cause.”
Kamal Mohammed, the taxi driver, said that the ethics and morals of the Palestinian people prevent them from harming the channel. “We’re peacefully protesting the channel’s despicable policy, and at the same time our Palestinian police is protecting the channel despite its wickedness,” he shouted.
Today, a popular Palestinian singer launched a song entitled “Abu Ammar is a red line,” praising the late leader and condemning Hammami.
“One line of Abu Ammar’s Kefiyyeh is more honorable than you are,” the song says.
Article written by Diana Atallah
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line