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Israel’s cabinet unanimously bans Al Jazeera

08-05-2024

JERUSALEM/ DOHA: Israel’s cabinet unanimously voted to shut down Al Jazeera in the country on Sunday, immediately ordering the closure of its offices and a ban on the company’s broadcasts.

The decision was announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on X. Hours later, Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi published footage on X showing Israeli authorities specifically inspectors from the Ministry of Communications, backed by the police raiding the Al Jazeera office in East Jerusalem and confiscating the channel’s equipment.

Here is all you need to know about Israel’s Al Jazeera ban, and how it might affect reporting on the war on Gaza and beyond.

Why did Israel shut down Al Jazeera?

The shutdown comes a month after Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed a law on April 1 that allowed Israel to temporarily shut down foreign media outlets including Al Jazeera if it deems them a threat to security.

In a previously recorded report, Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, explained the terms of the law further. Based on the law, the Al Jazeera website is banned in Israel, “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”, Khan added.

Additionally, the Al Jazeera television channel is completely banned in Israel, he explained. Within the country, cable providers now show a message that the network is prohibited from the air, though in East Jerusalem, some people have told Al Jazeera that they could still access the channel on television as of Monday afternoon.

Khan added that the internet access provider that hosts aljazeera.net “is also in danger of being fined if they host the website”.

Akiva Eldar, a political analyst and contributor to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, told Al Jazeera that the shutdown is “a very populistic move to feed the beast of the public opinion that is very disappointed from the conduct of the government in Gaza and in the international arena”, adding that this is also “to please the partners from the radical right”. Netanyahu’s government relies on support from a band of far-right parties and leaders many of them, like Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, holding key positions in the cabinet.

Karhi’s office said that Al Jazeera is shut down for 45 days, and the shutdown can be renewed, in accordance with the law passed on April 1.

When the law was passed, Netanyahu said he would “act immediately” in accordance with it to stop Al Jazeera’s activity. However, the timing of the shutdown, a month later, coincides with crucial negotiations between Israel and Hamas on the war, mediated by Egypt and Qatar, where Al Jazeera has its headquarters.

Al Jazeera has been targeted by Israel before: Netanyahu threatened to shut down its Jerusalem office back in 2017, and an Israeli missile destroyed the building housing the broadcaster’s office in Gaza in 2021. Many Al Jazeera journalists and in several cases, their families have been killed in Israeli firing or bombing, including during the current war in Gaza.

What was Al Jazeera’s reaction?

On Sunday, Al Jazeera released a statement condemning the shutdown, describing it as a “criminal act” and warning that Israel’s suppression of the free press “stands in contravention of international and humanitarian law”. (Al Jazeera)

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