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'Desperate move': Israel's Al Jazeera shutdown condemned by social media users

Qatar-based network has been one of the last remaining international media networks reporting from the ground in war on Gaza
A picture shows a view of the Al Jazeera television network offices in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, on 5 May (Zain Jaafar/AFP)

Israel's decision to close Al Jazeera's operations in the country has been roundly condemned by social media users, with many saying the move is aimed at stifling the network's reporting of potential war crimes unfolding in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet voted unanimously to shut down the local offices of Al Jazeera. Within hours, police raided the network's offices in Jerusalem, where they confiscated communications equipment, stopped cable and satellite broadcasts, and blocked access to the channel's websites.

Several prominent social media users condemned Israel's decision to target the network, saying the move came at a time when Israel's long-term strategy for the enclave remains shrouded in uncertainty.

The decision came shortly before Israel said it would launch a partial offensive on eastern Rafah, an operation that risks exacerbating the humanitarian catastrophe brought on by the devastating war.

"Israel's banning of Al Jazeera is one aspect of its War On Truth," Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister of Greece said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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"It aims at preventing Israelis from knowing that what goes on in Gaza, in their name, which is no self-defence but an all out massacre. An industrial strength pogrom. Genocide," he continued.

The Qatar-based network has been one of the last remaining international media networks reporting from the ground on Israel's ongoing war on Gaza, which has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children.

Several users underlined that the network was their main source of information about Gaza in a period when mainstream media is accused of biased coverage that favours the Israeli narrative and erases Palestinian suffering.

Another user on X accused western media of double standards, stating that the closure of an international network like Al Jazeera in other countries would spark an outcry.

Some Israeli and pro-Israeli users welcomed the decision, saying they felt "safer" with the shutdown of the network, and saying the move was "long overdue".

Other users from Israel have expressed disbelief and shock, raising alarm about the future of the press in the country.

"It really scares me to see a news site blocked by the government," said Alon-Lee Green on X. "Which media body will be next?"

'Journalism is not a crime'

The closure comes after months of Israeli incitement against Al Jazeera, despite the network being one of the first Arab news outlets in the region to interview Israeli figures on air. 

Since the war began, Israel has targeted a number of Al Jazeera journalists covering the war in Gaza. 

Al Jazeera's Gaza bureau chief, Wael al-Dahdouh, lost his wife, seven-year-old daughter, and 15-year-old son in an Israeli air strike in October. His eldest son, Hamza, also an Al Jazeera journalist, was killed in an air strike in January.

Wael was injured in another air strike, which killed fellow Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Samer Abudaqa in an Israeli attack in Khan Younis in December. Wael later left the Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Al Jazeera reporters had "harmed Israel’s security and incited against soldiers", and referred to the outlet as a "Hamas mouthpiece".

The network called it a "deceptive and slanderous move".

Al Jazeera's senior political analyst Marwan Bishara called the move "foolish" and "desperate", and correspondent Wajd Waqfi stated that the closure shows "Netanyahu's fear". 

Translation: "Today it is confirmed to the world that the Netanyahu government is afraid of #الجزيرة (Aljazeera). And they are not ashamed to show this fear, even if it would sacrifice a quality that the West has tried to give her over decades, which is “democracy.” Closing the Al Jazeera office and confiscating equipment will not prevent us from publishing the truth, as journalism is not a crime!" 

As of 3 May, the Israeli military has killed at least 142 journalists and media workers since the start of the war on 7 October, according to the government media office.

In the same period, Israel dropped four places on Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index, ranking 101 out of 180 countries.

This week also marks the second anniversary of the killing of Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was fatally shot by an Israeli soldier while reporting in Jenin on 10 May 2022.

The Israeli army initially denied killing Abu Akleh, but months later admitted she was "likely" killed by an Israeli soldier.

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