“Criminal Act”: Israel Bans Al Jazeera, Largest Int’l News Org. in Gaza, Ahead of Rafah Invasion

As the death toll in Gaza soars to more than 34,700, Israeli authorities have taken Al Jazeera off the air in Israel and ordered Palestinians in eastern Rafah to evacuate ahead of an Israeli offensive. “The Israeli government is trying to conceal what’s happening in Gaza and trying to intimidate Al Jazeera … and delegitimize the whole coverage,” says Al Jazeera’s managing editor Mohamed Moawad, explaining this is “a strategy” to “try to make sure that the story doesn’t reach the world.” Over the past eight months, Al Jazeera has been one of the only international outlets with reporters on the ground inside Gaza, where at least three of its employees have been killed by Israel’s monthslong assault. Israel has been threatening to ban Al Jazeera for “incitement” via “a series of intimidations” for months, culminating in “a criminal act,” says Moawad. He calls on the international community, including the U.S. government, to condemn Israel’s suppression of a free press.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel has ordered 100,000 Palestinians living in eastern Rafah to evacuate ahead of an Israeli offensive on the southern Gaza city, where more than 1.4 million displaced Palestinians have sought refuge. This comes as Israeli authorities have taken Al Jazeera off the air inside Israel. On Sunday, police officers raided the network’s Jerusalem bureau, seizing broadcasting equipment. Israel’s Foreign Press Association called it a, quote, “dark day for democracy.” The move came just two days after World Press Freedom Day. Over the past eight months Al Jazeera has been one of the only international outlets with reporters on the ground inside Gaza.

This is a prerecorded video message by Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan from East Jerusalem.

IMRAN KHAN: If you’re watching this prerecorded report, then Al Jazeera has been banned in the territory of Israel. On April the 1st, the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, passed a law that allowed the prime minister to ban Al Jazeera. He’s now enacted that law.

Let me just take you through some of the definitions within the law. They’ve banned our website, including anything that has the option of entering or accessing the website, even passwords that are needed, whether they’re paid or not, and whether it’s stored on Israeli servers or outside of Israel. The website is now inaccessible. They’re also banning any device used for providing content. That includes my mobile phone. If I use that to do any kind of news gathering, then the Israelis can simply confiscate it. Our internet access provider, the guy that simply hosts AlJazeera.net, is also in danger of being fined if they host the website. The Al Jazeera TV channel, completely banned. Transmission by any kind of content provider is also banned, and holding offices or operating them in the territory of Israel by the channel. Also, once again, any devices used to provide content for the channel can be taken away by the Israelis.

It’s a wide-ranging ban. We don’t know how long it will be in place for, but it does cover this territory of the state of Israel.

Imran Khan, Al Jazeera, occupied East Jerusalem.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, that’s a prerecorded video message by Al Jazeera correspondent Imran Khan from East Jerusalem.

As the death toll in Gaza approaches 35,000, with more than 78,000 people wounded in Israeli attacks since October 7th, we’re joined in Doha, Qatar, by Mohamed Moawad, managing editor of Al Jazeera, joining us from the studios of Al Jazeera.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you start off by responding to Israel’s move and what this means for Al Jazeera?

MOHAMED MOAWAD: Thanks, Amy, for having me, and thanks for following this story.

It’s a series of intimidations that the Israeli government are placing on us. And this move is within the same loop of failure that the Israeli government have entered since the beginning of this war. First, they have intimidated us to try and stop the message, the coverage of Al Jazeera from inside Gaza. Then they have — after they have failed, they shot the messenger, actually three messengers of Al Jazeera, three correspondents, and that did not stop our coverage.

So, now they are back again and trying to stop our coverage or try to delegitimize the coverage by saying that we don’t operate in Israel. And we consider this an attack on the journalistic community in all. And we consider it a criminal act, because this against and a violation, a clear violation, to the international human rights laws.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what happened this weekend, how you found out that Al Jazeera was banned, the raiding of your offices in Jerusalem? Describe the whole sequence.

MOHAMED MOAWAD: If you go back like three months back, the Israeli government have been threatening Al Jazeera, intimidating Al Jazeera by saying that they are going to vote for a law to block Al Jazeera for 45 days under the umbrella of the emergency actions that they are taking because of the war, the ongoing war. So, we’ve been hearing that, like our colleagues at Haaretz who were threatened to be defunded because they are against the national security of Israel, as the Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government stated. We’ve been hearing that they are going to put the vote for the cabinet to pass. And it took them three months. Up until yesterday, they have listed it on the top of the agenda of the government. They voted in favor, anonymously.

And the minister of communications took actions on the ground to block our coverage by seizing our signal with the cable companies in Israel and raiding our locations. They have raided a remote location, live position, where our colleagues at Al Jazeera English were broadcasting. And they have placed a blockage on our office in Jerusalem.

And, of course, this law is ambiguous. I mean, they can take actions as much as the Prime Minister Netanyahu is concerned. They can do the same with our office in Ramallah in the West Bank, because they can say that this is under the umbrella of the emergency law.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that the banning starting this weekend — and can you explain: Does this go for 45 days, or is it indefinite? Do you think that there is a direct relationship between the banning of Al Jazeera, which is one of the few international news organizations that have journalists on the ground in Gaza, and Israel announcing and dropping flyers in southern Rafah telling people to leave because of an imminent invasion?

MOHAMED MOAWAD: Of course, Amy, this move is politicized. I mean, anything taken against Al Jazeera is a politicization by the Israeli government and Prime Minister Netanyahu against a journalism organization, Al Jazeera. But, for us, we consider it, you know, part of a sequence of intimidations. We have three colleagues killed on the frontlines, families targeted of our colleagues. And, for us, we don’t want to be dragged in the political realm. We prefer to be in the journalistic realm. But, apparently, the Israeli government, for a country that’s called itself a democracy, is taking the same actions that were taken against us back in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, when a bunch of authoritarian regimes banned Al Jazeera and closed our offices under the umbrella of violating or threatening their national security, which is a very ambiguous and baseless and unfounded claims.

And by the way, Amy, it is very important to mention that our coverage includes, does include, the Israeli side. We have, from the beginning, aired all the press conferences for the Israeli officials, while this might anger our audience because they feel like this is uncomfortable for them to be watching the statements of the Israeli government. And at the same time, we air all the atrocities happening in Gaza. But we are committed to the impartial coverage, and we continued that. So, we consider all the events on the ground as events that we continue to cover from inside Gaza, but, of course, we cannot disconnect it from the fact that the Israeli government is trying to conceal what’s happening in Gaza and try to intimidate Al Jazeera and block Al Jazeera’s coverage and delegitimize the whole coverage by saying, “They don’t operate in Israel. They are a one-sided kind of coverage.” But we are committed to staying objective. And that’s our goal and our ethics from — code of ethics from the beginning of the launch of this organization in the Middle East 25 years back.

AMY GOODMAN: Today Israel marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. At a wreath-laying event at Israel’s national Holocaust museum and memorial in Jerusalem, video shows Prime Minister Netanyahu being heckled with calls to resign. This is what happened.

PROTESTER: [speaking in Hebrew]

AMY GOODMAN: Apparently, the protester said in Hebrew, quote, “We must not descend into the abyss again. What else is necessary for you to go home?” he said to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Your response, Mohamed Moawad?

MOHAMED MOAWAD: Well, this is one of the events that Al Jazeera could have covered yesterday, but our correspondent wasn’t able to reach the area, because we abide by the laws. We don’t want to violate it, because our colleagues are operating under the Israeli law in Israel and Jerusalem. Our colleague today appeared live from Ramallah, from the West Bank, where we moved all our colleagues there. And we covered these events remotely. Of course, we will keep the space for this kind of coverage, and we’ll make sure that what’s happening inside Israel is on our screen. But still, the one who is not benefiting from that is the Israeli side. We want to stay impartial, but these kind of important events, the turmoil that Israel is going through, isn’t — we are not able to cover like before, after this decision.

AMY GOODMAN: The Israeli communications minister, Shlomo Karhi, said, “We finally are able to stop Al Jazeera’s well-oiled incitement machine that harms the security of the country.” Your response?

MOHAMED MOAWAD: Of course. This is the same thing that we have heard before in the Middle East, as well, when we get both sides to speak. I mean, the fact that they call the other party of the conflict bad people doesn’t mean that a news organization, you know, won’t deal with it. I mean, we report both sides. We have the Palestinian side and the Israeli side. We report both sides. And what the Israeli government is bragging about is trying to censor our coverage or try to intimidate us to have us not cover the other side of the story. We are committed to that. We’re covering from Gaza with six correspondents on the ground. We are the only news organization on Earth covering from north of Gaza.

And we call all the international community to act, the journalistic community specifically, because up until now, we are seven months in this war and the atrocities happening in Gaza, and you don’t have an international journalist entered Gaza, because the Israeli government is preventing this from happening.

So, it’s a strategy that the Israeli government is working upon from the beginning of the conflict, is try to make sure that the story doesn’t reach the world. But guess what: Any reporting of Al Jazeera is corroborated by other news organizations. We get called up by ABC, CNN, NBC, all the news organizations around the globe, to ask us to get the rights of the footage that we get from inside Gaza. And our reporting is the base for so many investigation reports that happened and that was broadcasted on so many channels around the globe.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Mohamed Moawad, Al Jazeera’s managing editor, speaking from the studios of Al Jazeera in Doha. I wanted to ask you about the killings and woundings of journalists. This Saturday, May 11th, will mark two years since the Palestinian American Al Jazeera Arabic reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli gunfire while on assignment in the West Bank for Al Jazeera outside the Jenin refugee camp. Since October 7th, there have been reportedly over 50 attacks against Al Jazeera journalists. In December, Al Jazeera cameraman Samer Abu Daqqa was killed by an Israeli drone attack as he reported in Khan Younis. Longtime Gaza correspondent Wael al-Dahdouh was also injured in the attack. Then, in January, his son Hamza, also a journalist, along with videographer Mustafa Thuraya, were killed in an Israeli drone strike. I remember watching Al Jazeera that day, when reporters at Al Jazeera in your studios in Doha held up signs of the killed and the injured. Mohamed Moawad, can you respond to what the kind of toll that this attack on Gaza, and, of course, in the case of Shireen Abu Akleh, that was two years ago, in the West Bank, has taken on your staff, on your reporters, and beyond Al Jazeera — according to CPJ, Committee to Protect Journalists, over a hundred media workers?

MOHAMED MOAWAD: We remember Shireen Abu Akleh every day now with what’s happening in Gaza and, you know, the devastating loss of our colleagues on the frontline. We remember Shireen Abu Akleh because now we understand that when the whole journalistic community and the international community let this go without holding the Israeli government accountable for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, who was covering not, you know, a war like what’s happening in Gaza right now, but was covering an incident, an Israeli operation in Jenin — when the international community was silent with this crime, then came other crimes, and other crimes followed.

So, what we want right now is from the international community, the journalistic community, is to show strong actions against the Israeli government, place pressure for the United States. We are still waiting for a statement from the White House, from the State Department, to comment on what’s happened with our offices in Jerusalem and Israel. This is very important. Right now we haven’t seen a statement yet. And this is very important for the United States, who, you know, is talking about preventing the harming of journalists around the globe and defending democracy. So, we’re still waiting for a statement from the United States. We call upon the international community to intervene, because this is a kind of an intimidation to the whole journalistic community to try to make sure that Gaza’s story isn’t out there in the world and try to make sure that we don’t give voice to the voiceless, we report one side only of the story, from the Israeli side, and we don’t talk about what’s happening in Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, and condolences on the death of so many journalists at Al Jazeera. Mohamed Moawad, we thank you so much for being with us, managing editor of Al Jazeera, speaking to us from Al Jazeera headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

Coming up, as the World Food Programme warns northern Gaza is experiencing a “full-blown famine,” we’ll get a report from a doctor just out. Stay with us.

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