Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat – While many would disagree about the identity and political affiliation of the kidnappers of Fox News journalist, Steve Centanni, a 60-year-old US citizen, and 36-year-old cameraman Olaf Wiig, from New Zealand, the majority feels that the kidnapping damages the Palestinian struggle.
Despite Wiig’s wife, Anita McNaught, appealing to the kidnappers to release her husband, because “the two men are friends of the Palestinian people”, many Palestinians see Fox News as an extremist rightwing channel that promotes the views of the current US administration, especially during the war in Iraq.
It seems, therefore, that the editorial policy followed by News Corporation-owned broadcaster, is to blame for the kidnapping. Wael Ghaboun, a Fox News employee in the Gaza Strip, rejected this analysis, adding that he had no information about the motivation or identity of the kidnappers. While not denying that journalists working for Fox News have been harassed in the past, Ghaboun said they always endeavored to report the situation as it was on the ground, irrespective of regional politics.
Masked gunmen had ambushed the bulletproof car carrying the Fox News crew in Gaza City on Wednesday 14 August and kidnapped two of the journalists inside, according to witnesses and News Corp.
If the sight of armed men in the Gaza Strip and their questioning of journalists is familiar, as Ghaboun indicated, it is not restricted to armed factions and militias but extends to wealthy families in Gaza, which have resorted to armed militias, in order to settle disputes with the Palestinian Authority.
According to Dr. Hazem Abu Shanab, who teaches media studies at Al Azhar University and heads the Watan Center for Media and Politics in Palestine, kidnappers can be divided into two groups: armed factions, part of larger Palestinian groups, with a specific task to accomplish within a certain timeframe, or prominent families who want to resolve their outstanding problems with the government.
Shanab indicated that, while kidnappings in the Gaza Strip are not yet a widespread phenomenon, such as in Iraq, they are increasing, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that foreign journalists are an easy target whose disappearance creates a media storm and puts pressure on the Palestinian Authority.
He put the blame on the Interior Ministry and said it was not serious in following up and punishing the kidnappers. Like many Palestinians, Shanab said kidnappings harmed the Palestinian cause and might change how journalists view the Palestinian people.
Ahmad al Daoudi, deputy head of the Journalists’ union in Palestine, told Asharq Al Awsat the Fox News crew might have been kidnapped “by accident” and that any foreigner was the intended target. Refusing to be drawn into a discussion on the identity of the kidnappers, al Dauodi called on them to release their captives. In a press release, the union condemned the latest kidnapping and called on the two men to be released without delay.
Since September 2004, when an Israeli citizen of Palestinian origin, who works for CNN was kidnapped, a total of 34 foreigners have been seized, including 10 journalists. In August 2005, Mohammed Wodouhi, a French journalist of Algerian origin, spent nine days in captivity, before being released, after a prominent family struck a deal with the Palestinian Authority to release six of its members.
Abu Mujahid, the official spokesman of the Popular Resistance Committees, one of the biggest armed factions in the Gaza Strip, said kidnappers were harming the Palestinian cause and should release the two journalists immediately. He also blamed the security services for the deteriorating security situation.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Rashid Abu Shabak, director general of internal security in the Palestinian territories, said the latest kidnapping differed from its predecessors as no group had claimed responsibility or announced any demands, and the current security situation was complicated by the June kidnapping of an Israeli soldier. Under new directives from the Palestinian leadership, any kidnapping will be dealt with seriously, he told Asharq Al Awsat.