Mohamad Al Jaja and Press House Gaza
Defending Journalists across Palestine
For almost ten years, Press House Gaza has documented crimes against journalists and provided legal supports to media organisations in Palestine.
Operating from the Gaza Strip since 2013, Press House is a widely respected and well-known NGO applauded for its work on freedom of expression in Gaza, where it is based, as well as in the West Bank, where it works in a partnership with the Al Najah University Media Centre in Nablus.
Speaking from his home in Gaza, Mahamad Al Jaja of Press House Gaza explains the many challenges faced in the media sphere across Palestine.
“The various political factions in Gaza and the West Bank affect access of the community to independent sources of information and they are trying to manipulate the media. Hate speech is all too common here. Our people lack credible sources of media information. The authorities in Gaza, for instance, even control the curricula of media programmes at universities and graduates are imbued with their political discourses,” he says.
He explains that the Press House is the leading independent platform for free and independent media in Palestine. It is an internationally respected hub where journalists can work, network and participate in capacity developing activities. It is also a centre for advocacy and documenting crimes against journalists.
Over the years, the Press House has collaborated with many international organisations to help develop an independent Palestinian media that reflects the concepts and principles of democracy and freedom of expression.
Legal support for journalists
In 2021, an EED grant has helped Press House establish a new legal support unit that is now supporting journalists across Palestine.
“There is a high number of crimes against journalists, carried out by both the local authorities and the Israeli occupying forces,” says Mohamad. “We provide legal support to journalists and media institutions, raise awareness of their rights, and document and monitor violations. An important part of our work is educating journalists about their legal rights and increasing their awareness of legal issues.”
He relates that over the past year, the Press House has become the first point of reference for journalists. During the recent escalation in violence in May 2021, they also published a monthly factsheet on violations against media representatives, with these statistics used by other institutions and universities. “They know our data collection methods follow best practice and our data can be trusted,” he says.
According to Mohamad, there has been a noted decrease in targeted attacks against journalists thanks to the work of this legal support unit.
“When the authorities realise that this legal unit is supported by the EU, they think twice about how they should act with journalists,” he says. “We try our best to ensure that all parties commit to and respect international law.
'Everyone is a target.'
He emphasises though that this does not mean journalists are safe anywhere in Palestine. “In Palestine, everyone is a target,” he says.
“Many parties to the conflict refuse to recognise that journalists are independent and there are constant violations of media freedom and attacks against journalists. No one is ever safe,” he says, also noting that recent deaths of journalists within the Gaza Strip went virtually unnoticed by the international media.
He relates that for twenty years, journalists in Gaza were unable to obtain personal protective equipment, as this could not be imported into the strip. It is only in recent months that 42 sets of PPE have been brought in.
“Our lives are not numbers,” he continues. “What we try to do as journalists is to publicise the many stories from Palestine and the suffering to our people. Our destiny is to live in Palestine, but we don’t want to be treated like victims or collateral damage.” He relates that Press House Gaza recently ran a ‘Voices from Gaza’ campaign highlighting some of the stories of the strip’s residents, like the women who miscarried through terror during the May period, and the individuals with chronic illness who were unable to access primary car.
Mohamad believes that while life in the Gaza Strip is challenging on a daily basis for its citizens and its journalists, journalists in the West Bank face particular dangers. “They really feel they are a target of attack by the Israelis. In Gaza, we can meet journalists and discuss their experiences. Freedom of movement is far more difficult in the West Bank.”
He notes that there has been no official apology from the Israeli army following the deliberate killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on 11 May, or following the attack on the future and the raid of her home the next day.
Doing essential work in protecting journalists in Palestine
Mohamad believes that the Press House is doing essential work in Palestine. “Journalists tell their families to contact us if they are ever in trouble. We are the first port of call to provide legal protection to them. They know that we know what to do,” he says.
He relates that even the Minister for Information in the West Bank stated that journalists are in safe hands with the Press House providing these services.
Now the Press House is focused on securing ongoing funding for these legal protection services. “We must continue this work. We are the only organisation providing legal protection to journalists in Palestine. We can’t stop doing that,” says Mohamad.
This article reflects the views of the grantee featured and does not necessarily represent the official opinion of the European Endowment for Democracy, the European Commission or any other European State or other contributors to EED.