Press freedom in Palestine worsened in the past year, according to the latest report by international watchdog Reporters Without Borders. Ranking at number 153 out of 179 listed countries, Palestine is listed just below Iraq and Afghanistan in the Paris-based group's annual Press Freedom Index.
"The Palestinian Territories fell three places because of attacks on journalists during demonstrations by Palestinians calling for an end to the war between Fatah and Hamas, and because of an illegal takeover by Hamas supporters of the journalists’ union in Gaza City," the group says.
Security forces attacked demonstrators in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who were rallying for reconciliation between the rival factions in March 2011. Hundreds of police violently broke up a demonstration in Gaza City, and at least nine people were evacuated by ambulance from West Bank city Ramallah after being injured by security forces.
Security forces from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government attacked journalists covering the protests in Ramallah and Gaza City.
In October, journalists in Gaza stormed the headquarters of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, evicted employees, and declared themselves the new union leadership pending internal elections within six months, Reporters Without Borders said.
Israel also fell six places in the press freedom index in 2011, placed at 92 for internal freedom, and 133 forextraterritorial actions.
The watchdog cited the sentence of journalist Anat Kamm to three years in prison on Oct. 31, and possible seven-year sentence for reporter Uri Blau. Both journalists were accused of handling secret military documents when they revealed the Israeli army's extrajudicial assassination of Palestinians in contravention of Israeli court rulings.
It also referred to new libel laws that will increase payouts six-fold, which rights groups said would stifle investigative reporting and criticism of public figures.
"Although Israel enjoys real media pluralism, it is not in the top 50 countries in the Reporters Without Borders index because the media are subject to prior military censorship," the report added.
The index is compiled based on questionnaires completed by partner organizations across the world.