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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Netanyahu calls Al Jazeera an ‘incitement channel’ as it is shut down in Israel

By Matthew Mpoke Bigg

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said Sunday that his Cabinet had voted to shut down the Israeli operations of Al Jazeera, a Qatar-based network that is a major source of news in the Arab world and has often highlighted civilian suffering in the Gaza Strip during Israel’s war with Hamas.

“The government under my leadership has decided unanimously: The incitement channel Al Jazeera will be shut down in Israel,” Netanyahu said on X, formerly Twitter. It was not immediately clear whether the closure would be temporary or whether it would affect the network’s reporting in Gaza and the West Bank.

Journalism organizations have said that such a closure, which had been under discussion in Israel for weeks, would be a blow to press freedom.

Israel’s communications minister, Shlomo Karhi, said in a video statement that Al Jazeera “will no longer broadcast here in Israel and its equipment will be confiscated.”

In a statement in Arabic, Al Jazeera condemned Israel’s move, which it called a “criminal act.” “Israeli’s suppression of the free press to cover up its crimes has not deterred us from performing our duty,” the network said.

The decision could complicate Israel’s relationship with Qatar, which helps fund the network and has also been helping to mediate cease-fire negotiations between Israel and Hamas. The Qatari government did not immediately comment.

Netanyahu said in a statement that Al Jazeera’s reporters had “harmed Israel’s security” and incited violence against its soldiers. He had previously called Al Jazeera a “Hamas mouthpiece.” Israeli lawmakers passed a bill last month allowing the government to temporarily close foreign media outlets that Netanyahu determined were undermining the country’s national security.

The order to close Al Jazeera’s local operations will initially apply for 45 days, and a district court judge must approve it within 24 hours before it is carried out, according to Avraham Hasson, an aide to Israel’s minister of communications. Hasson said the judge could rule to change the length of the closure. The government has the option of extending it for another 45 days, but any extension would also need a judge’s approval.

Netanyahu’s government has had a tense relationship for years with Al Jazeera, which has reported extensively from Gaza during the war between Israel and Hamas that began in October.

The war in Gaza has taken a toll on the network’s own employees and their families. In October, Wael al-Dahdouh, the Gaza bureau chief of Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language service, was told live on air that his wife, son, daughter and infant grandson had been killed in central Gaza, where they had been sheltering. In January, his eldest son was killed in an Israeli airstrike, according to authorities in Gaza.

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