Nearly every Israeli media outlet has a journalist whose task is to report on what is happening on the Palestinian side. Until recently, these journalists would travel to Ramallah and other Palestinian cities in the West Bank to interview ordinary Palestinians, representatives of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and various Palestinian factions.
Things have changed. It is hard now to spot an Israeli journalist in the field. And it is equally difficult to find a PA official willing to talk to an Israeli journalist. Every now and then, President Mahmoud Abbas does invite Israeli journalists for a briefing -- hand-picked journalists, that is.
As well, a handful of veteran Fatah officials such as Jibril Rajoub and Kadoura Fares, who are both fluent in Hebrew, grant interviews to select Israeli radio and TV stations. Like Abbas, they do so when, and only when, they have an interest in relaying a message to the Israeli public.
Otherwise, Israeli journalists covering Palestinian affairs are no longer free (or safe) to show up at press conferences or other public events in Ramallah and most Palestinian cities. In fact, they are no longer being invited to such events.
Yet we do not hear much from the banned Israeli journalists. Why? Perhaps, like battered spouses, they keep their secret under wraps because they know that they need to go back there, and would prefer not to get killed in the process. Also, as with the abused spouses, the situation is rather embarrassing.
One might think that the holiday season would be prime time to allow some uplifting coverage. That may have been what Israeli journalists were thinking when they arrived in Bethlehem late last year to report on preparations for Christmas.
Alas, seeking holiday spirit, they found hate. Threatened by "anti-normalization activists" and some Palestinian journalists, who alerted Palestinian Authority security officers to the presence of the unwanted guests, the journalists found it in their best interests to leave fast. One of the Israeli journalists was from Ha'aretz, an Israeli newspaper that has long been renowned for its sympathetic coverage of the Palestinians.
Or take, for example, the experience of a journalist from Israel's Channel 2. Last year, he and his crew were expelled from central Ramallah. They were there to cover a rally in support of President Abbas.
According to Palestinian sources, the Israeli TV crew members were threatened by "activists" belonging to the Palestinian "anti-normalization" movement.
Yet it is now Palestinian journalists who are spearheading a campaign against Israeli reporters. These journalists believe that it is their role and duty to defend their leaders and people against negative reporting in the media. They have been taught that a journalist who dares to criticize the Palestinian Authority or Hamas is a "traitor." They expect Israeli and Western journalists to report bad things only about Israel.
This year, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) issued a statement calling on Palestinians to boycott the Israeli media. Upping the ante, the PJS also threatened to boycott any Palestinian official who talks to Israeli reporters or deals in any way with the Israeli media. Choosing wording that could endanger the lives of Israeli reporters, the PJS claimed that Israeli journalists were "part of the occupation system who should be boycotted and no one should deal with them or facilitate their work." The PJS went on to accuse the Israeli journalists of serving as a "mouthpiece for the occupation and justifying its crimes against the Palestinian people."
So, thanks to such PJS statements and similar intimidation, Israeli reporters are unable to carry out their jobs in the West Bank.
"When I see my Palestinian colleagues in the field, I hide. I am afraid they will see me and incite people against me," confided an Israeli reporter who has been covering Palestinian affairs for nearly a decade.
"It's very sad when you see that your colleagues on the other side are inciting against you and doing their best to prevent you from carrying out your work. This is harmful to the Palestinians themselves because they will no longer be able to relay their opinions to the Israeli public."
Not surprisingly, leaving the region does not lift the PA ban on Israeli journalists. Palestinian journalists who in the past did meet with Israeli colleagues in Norway and elsewhere have come under attack for promoting "normalization with Israel." For Palestinian journalists, to be seen in public with an Israeli colleague is treasonous.
The Palestinian Authority campaign of intimidation against Israeli journalists has very practical consequences. Afraid to go out to the field and talk to Palestinians, these Israeli journalists are forced to rely on social media and other Palestinian media websites for their information. Others gather information from phone conversations with the few Palestinians who are still willing to talk to them. And, even those interviews are given on condition of anonymity. More creative ruses have been tried as well: Israeli journalists have presented themselves as Western nationals or representatives of foreign media outlets to get Palestinians to talk to them.
Gone are the days when Israeli and Palestinian journalists would collaborate daily, sometimes going out into the field together. This collaboration was at its best in the 80s and early 90s -- before the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO. Back then, both sides benefited from this cooperation. Many Palestinians refer to those years as the "good old days before peace."
How ironic that the "peace process" that began in 1993 has witnessed the utter collapse of relations among Palestinian and Israeli journalists. And how predictable: the very radicalization that the Palestinian Authority has foisted upon its people, poisoning their minds with lies and inciting young and old against Israel, has penetrated the journalistic ranks.
Yesterday, it was happening to Palestinian journalists who refused to serve as mouthpieces for their rulers and radicalized peers. Today, it is happening also to Israeli journalists, who are, as always in journalism, worried about "losing access." Tomorrow, this could be happening to Western journalists who attempt to gain some sense of clarity concerning the facts by doing their work as journalists properly, on the ground in the Middle East.
Many Western journalists turn a blind eye to assaults on freedom of the media under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Possibly they are worried they too would no longer be able to enter Ramallah or the Gaza Strip. They know they will be unwelcome in these places if they write any story that reflects negatively on Palestinians. Besides, why should Western media outlets care? The campaign against Israeli journalists is being waged by Palestinians, and not Israelis. To them, this fact alone makes it a story not worth reporting.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.