Hours after the recent ceasefire agreement took effect in the Gaza Strip, many Palestinian journalists in the coastal enclave-including Al Jazeera’s chief correspondent Wael al-Dahdouh and reporter Hisham Zaqqout-discovered that they were banned from using WhatsApp Messenger-a vital Tools are used to communicate with resources outside the blockade, editors, and the world.
According to the Associated Press, 17 journalists in Gaza confirmed that their WhatsApp accounts have been blocked since Friday. By noon on Monday, only four journalists working in Al Jazeera had confirmed that their accounts had been restored.
The incident marked the latest move by Facebook Inc, the owner of WhatsApp, which left Palestinian users or their allies confused as to why they were targeted by the company or whether they were indeed singled out for censorship.
Twelve of the 17 journalists contacted by the Associated Press said they were part of the WhatsApp organization, which disseminates information related to Hamas’ military operations.
“Shocked and unreasonable”
Al-Dahdouh said he could not access WhatsApp before dawn on Friday, and then resumed access on Monday. He said that reporters joined the Hamas group only to obtain information needed for journalism.
The correspondent said in a speech on Al Jazeera that he was surprised when he received a message from WhatsApp that his account had been banned completely indefinitely, which was in line with the ceasefire statement at 2am (2300 GMT) last Friday Coincide.
After Qatar’s channel management department communicated with the US WhatsApp authority, the WhatsApp account was banned for three days and then activated again on Monday.
al-Dahdouh said: “The group and the conversation are back, but the content is deleted, as if you are joining a new group or starting a new conversation.” “I have lost information, images, numbers, messages and communication.”
Al Jazeera stated that the WhatsApp account of its journalist in Gaza was blocked by the landlord without prior notice.
The news network told the Associated Press: “Al Jazeera strongly emphasizes that its reporters will continue to use its WhatsApp account and other applications for news gathering and personal communication.” “Al Jazeera reporters have never used their accounts for personal or professional purposes. Any way other than.”
During the war, the Qatar-based Gaza News Network office was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike. The Israeli airstrike destroyed high-rise residential and office buildings. The building also houses the Associated Press office.
Freedom of the press groups accused the Israeli military of trying to censor reports of air attacks, and the Israeli military claimed that the building contained Hamas military intelligence. The Israeli military issued a warning, giving the occupants of the building an hour to evacuate.
Facebook and its photo and video sharing platform Instagram were criticized this month for deleting posts and deleting accounts posted by users. The user posted protests about the protests about Sheikh Jala in Occupied East Jerusalem. (Sheikh Jarrah) The neighbourhood forcibly expelled Palestinians. It prompted 30 organizations to sign an open letter asking to know why these positions were deleted.
The Arab Social Progress Media Center (7amleh for short) stated in a report released this month that Facebook accepted 81% of requests from the Israeli internet sector to delete Palestinian content last year. It found that, according to the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, Twitter suspended the accounts of dozens of Palestinian users in 2020.
Sada Social, an occupied organization in the West Bank that tracks alleged violations of Palestinian content on social media, said it is collecting information on the number of journalists in Gaza affected by the latest WhatsApp decision.
It is unclear whether the journalists were attacked because they have been following Hamas’ announcements on WhatsApp.
The organization is considered a “terrorist organization” by Israel and the United States, and the WhatsApp owner’s Facebook location is located in the organization.
Hassan Eslayeh, Freelance journalist In the Gaza Strip where his WhatsApp account is blocked, he said he thinks his account may have been locked because he is in a group called Hamas Media.
Eslayeh said: “This has affected my work and income because I have lost conversations with sources and people.”
This is not the first time he has encountered problems with social media applications. Eslayeh’s Facebook page has been deleted 17 times, and his accounts on Twitter and Instagram have also been blocked and deleted several times.
He attributed these “hostile measures” against Palestinian journalists and activists to Israeli pressure, and said that the management of these websites and applications is inseparable from the Israeli occupation and is “suffocating” and harassing journalists. they.
History of blocked journalists
A WhatsApp spokesperson said the company prohibits accounts from complying with its “Prevention of Damage and Applicable Law” policy. The company said it has been in contact with the media in the past week. The company said: “If there is any impact, we will restore the identity of journalists.”
Among those affected by the WhatsApp blockade are two AFP reporters. The Paris-based international news service told The Associated Press that it is working with WhatsApp to understand the problem and restore its account.
The 11-day war caused extensive damage in Gaza. 253 Palestinians were killed in the fighting, including 66 children and 39 women. At least 12 people were killed in Israel, including two children.
This is not the first time a journalist has been suddenly banned from using WhatsApp. In 2019, the accounts of many journalists in Gaza were blocked without explanation. After contacting the company, the accounts of people working with international media organizations have been restored.
The New York Times also reported that the country’s far-right Jewish Israelis used about 100 WhatsApp groups to commit violence against Palestinian citizens in Israel.
WhatsApp stated that it did not have access to people’s personal chats, but when it reported information that it believed indicated that the user might have been involved in causing imminent harm, it banned the account. The company stated that it also responded to “effective legal requests from law enforcement agencies for the limited information we provide.”