July 5, 2012
The Hon. Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520
Via facsimile: +1 (202) 647-2283
Dear Secretary Clinton,
We are writing to bring to your attention the Israeli Ministry of Communication's refusal to return U.S.-funded equipment that was confiscated from a private Palestinian broadcaster about four months ago.
On February 29, Israeli soldiers and ministry officials raided the offices of Wattan TV, an independent news broadcaster in Ramallah, and seized its transmitters, computers, files, and archives without a warrant or an explanation. The equipment was purchased with funds provided in large part by U.S. agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Middle East Partnership Initiative, a fund controlled by the State Department.
The Israeli ministry continues to hold the station's equipment despite international calls for it to be returned. On May 8, CPJ wrote a letter to Moshe Kachlon, the Israeli Minister of Communications, requesting that the broadcaster's equipment be returned. We have not yet received a response.
Israeli officials have said that Wattan TV was broadcasting illegally and interfered with aircraft transmissions. However, Muammar Orabi, the station's general director, told CPJ that the broadcaster had a license granted by the Palestinian Authority, which could not have been issued without Israeli acquiescence. The station, founded in 1996, has established itself through its critical voice and probing coverage of both Palestinian and Israeli authorities.
Wattan TV resumed broadcasting about two days after the raid with the help of laptops and equipment belonging to staff members and supporters, but the station is still not able to broadcast any live programs, Orabi told CPJ.
We ask you, Secretary Clinton, to use your position of influence to urge the Israeli Ministry of Communications to immediately return the U.S.-funded equipment to Wattan TV. The station is the only independent television broadcaster in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and faces financial ruin if its equipment is not returned. This would be a profound blow to those seeking access to independent information in the region.
We look forward to your response on this urgent matter.
Minister of Communications
9 Ehad Ha'am Street
Hon. Michael Oren
Israel Ambassador to U.S.
3514 International Drive, NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
Hon. Daniel Shapiro
U.S. Ambassador to Israel
71 Hayarkon Street
Tel Aviv 63903