Israel Shuts Down Palestinian Media Outlets Shortly After Joining U.S. in UNESCO Withdrawal

Israel has shut down eight Palestinian media outlets in the West Bank and the Gaza strip only a few weeks after deciding to withdraw from the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). According to Al Jazeera, the media outlets were closed by the Israeli army to halt potentially terrorist-sympathetic broadcasting.

According to Ma’an News Agency, the Israeli army confiscated equipment and shut down offices during a wave of raids in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, including TransMedia and Palmedia offices, which were closed with a six-month military order.

Israeli forces had orders to seize documents from companies that “provided services to associations that promote terrorism and violence.” Al Jazeera also reported that 14 Palestinians were detained during the raids.

A spokesperson for the Israeli army added that media outlets that were “suspected in broadcasting inciting content and promoting violence and terrorism against Israelis” had to be searched. The TransMedia and Palmedia offices in Nablus and Hebron, for instance, were closed for “providing services to Hamas-affiliated news channels al-Aqsa and al-Quds TV.”

Al Jazeera has also experienced conflict with the Israeli government.

This past August, Israeli Communications Minister Ayoub Kara said he intended to close the Al Jazeera’s bureau in Israel because he felt that many countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, agreed that Al Jazeera supports terrorism based on the articles the site publishes. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Kara also promised to “revoke its journalists’ press passes and cut off its cable and satellite broadcast links in the country.”

The raids on Palestinian media came after Israel decided to withdraw from UNESCO along with the United States, which is an international organization that not only commits member countries to standards of education, science and culture but to press freedom as well.

According to RSF, one of the main objectives for UNESCO is “to promote the respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms.” A specific mandate regarding press freedom reads: “the free flow of ideas by word and image; it works to foster free, independent and pluralistic media in print, broadcast and online.”

Though the purpose of the Israeli government’s tactics is to eradicate terrorist-sympathetic or violence-inducing content from its media, withdrawing from UNESCO could result in the sacrifice of the country’s standard of press freedom.

UNESCO’s purpose is to coordinate international cooperation. In other words, it holds its members to a standard so that the citizens of the world have a chance at press freedom, education, science and culture. If people are denied these rights, UNESCO can then work at implementing them–which is futile without the support of influential nations such as the U.S. and Israel.

RSF also reports that UNESCO has recorded the killings of “close to 1,000 journalists and media workers since 2007.” The organization is also primarily responsible for ensuring the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and Issue of Impunity.

The Trump administration declared that the U.S. would withdraw from this international organization on Dec. 31, 2018 due to fiscal reasons and alleged “anti-Israel bias.” The U.S. has provided a significant amount of UNESCO’s funding in previous years. With the U.S. out, UNESCO will have a considerable set back in financing all of its programs, specifically those that holds countries accountable for attacks on journalists.

The U.S. State Department released a statement saying, “This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” according to The Guardian.

The U.S. withdrew from UNESCO in 1984 and rejoined in 2003. According to RSF, the U.S. cut the amount of funding given to the organization in 2011 in response to the organization giving full membership to the State of Palestine. Israel and the U.S. have criticized UNESCO on other alleged “anti-Israeli” actions, such as establishing the city of Hebron as a Palestinian world heritage site.

According to The Guardian, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed support for its long-time ally by stating, “This is a brave and moral decision, because UNESCO has become a theatre of absurd. Instead of preserving history, it distorts it.”

In contrast, the director general for UNESCO Irina Bokova, said, “At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack.”

Bokova continued by saying, “This is a loss to the United Nations family. This is a loss for multilateralism.”

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