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Daoud Kuttab, Palestinian Territories

World Press Freedom Hero (Honoured in 2000)

Photo by IPI/David Reali, 2010

Daoud Kuttab, one of the best-known Palestinian journalists, has fought for a free media in Palestine under both the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian Authority. Throughout his career, his creative initiatives have helped drive the development of an independent Palestinian press.

Born in Bethlehem on April 1, 1955, Kuttab began his career with the defunct English-language weekly Al-Fajr, working successively as a reporter, features editor, and managing editor from 1980 and 1987. After leaving Al-Fajr he worked as a reporter and columnist for the Arabic-language East Jerusalem daily, Al-Quds, where he was the first Palestinian to conduct exclusive interviews with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, as well as other Israeli leaders.

During this period Kuttab was arrested, searched and fingerprinted by the Israeli authorities on several occasions for activities that included participation in public demonstrations against Israeli press censorship. Since the implementation of the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, Kuttab has also been a vocal critic of the undemocratic treatment of the nascent Palestinian press by Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, which has demonstrated little regard for critical reporting or freedom of expression.

In 1994 Arafat ordered Al-Quds to stop publishing Kuttab’s columns after he led independent journalists in a protest against the banning of Al-Nahar, Jerusalem’s only other Arabic-language daily at the time. Al-Quds gave in, and Kuttab was fired.

However, Kuttab refused to be silenced. He continued to write critical pieces for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The International Herald Tribune, among other publications. As president of the Palestinian Audio-Visual Union, he protested against censorship and access violations by both the Israelis and the Palestinians. As co-director of Internews Middle East in 1996, Kuttab created the Arabic Media Internet Network in order to provide via the Internet censorship-free, Arab-language news to media organizations in the Middle East. In June 1996 he used this World Wide Web site to great effect when mobilizing support for Dr. Eyad Sarraj, a human rights activist arrested by the Palestinian Authority for his criticism of Arafat.

Kuttab was arrested without charge on May 20, 1997, by Palestinian police after broadcasting live proceedings of the Palestinian Legislative Council. In the weeks before his arrest, Kuttab’s live coverage had been repeatedly jammed by the Palestinian authorities. Kuttab had a contract with the Palestinian Authority to carry live broadcasts of the legislative council’s sessions on a TV station owned by Al Quds University, but Palestinian officials who were disturbed by the council’s criticism of Arafat and his policies summoned Kuttab to Ramallah, on the West Bank, where he was detained without charge. Following a campaign for his release by local and international press and human rights organizations, Kuttab was freed after a week in detention. Returning to his home in East Jerusalem on May 28, he vowed not to be intimidated by further attempts to gag him.

Kuttab, who is also the founder and former president of the Jerusalem Film Institute, is currently director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University and remains co-director of Internews Middle East, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization based in Jerusalem that supports independent media in the region.