RAMALLAH: Palestinian journalists have told Arab News how they regularly come under attack from the Israeli army, police and Israeli settlers.
Under pressure, well-known international media organizations remove content from their sites, making it very difficult for them to objectively cover violence from the Israeli authorities in the region.
Journalists told Arab News Israel had effectively declared war against them with the death of Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh in May.
Members of the press are regularly injured, arrested and harassed by Israeli forces who prevent them from traveling outside the West Bank to Jordan, Israel or even the Gaza Strip, they claimed, adding that foreign media outlets for whom they work are forced to expel them.
Around 1,200 Palestinian journalists in the West Bank believe that regular atrocities against them — offline and online — are part of an Israeli campaign to keep them from exposing the crimes of the Israeli army and police.
On May 11, Israeli soldiers killed Abu Akleh on the outskirts of Jenin while she was covering a raid. Despite wearing a “press” jacket, she was shot dead while her producer, Ali Samoudi, was wounded. The Israel Defense Force initially blamed Palestinian gunmen for the incident, but under international pressure, admitted its troops may have fired the bullets that hit her.
Ghaida Abu Farha, responsible for documenting Israeli violations against journalists at the Palestinian Ministry of Information, told Arab News these included detaining journalists at event venues until the events ended, confiscating or destroying Palestinian press equipment and preventing Jerusalem-based journalists from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque.
She said security forces did not recognize the IDs of local and international Palestinian journalists. In May, 44 incidents were recorded in which Palestinian journalists were beaten. In June, 17 incidents of blocking Palestinian journalists from social media under Israeli pressure were recorded. In October, 12 incidents were recorded in which they were prevented from covering events. In November, two incidents of racist insults from settlers against journalists were recorded.
In the same month, the IDF seized the car key and press card of journalist Saif Al-Qawasmi near the Qalandia military checkpoint, north of Jerusalem.
On Nov. 23, Israeli settlers attacked a France 24 TV news crew in West Jerusalem during coverage of a bomb explosion. The Israeli youths disrupted a live broadcast by the channel’s correspondent, Laila Odeh, and the channel’s cameraman, Nader Baybars, using racist slurs and chanting “death to the Arabs” and “go to Gaza.”
Following that, the channel’s camera was destroyed. The Israeli police did not intervene, despite Odeh’s appeals for help.
On Sept. 3, the Israeli police arrested journalist Lama Ghosheh from East Jerusalem for writing a post on her Facebook page, praising a Palestinian killed by the Israeli police. She was released after a week and subjected to house arrest.
Mamoun Wazwaz, a photographer for the Chinese Xinhua news agency and the Turkish Anadolu agency in Hebron, told Arab News that an Israeli soldier deliberately shot him with two metal bullets on March 11 while he was filming clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers in the Bab Al-Zawiya area and Al-Shuhada Street in Hebron, even though he was standing far from the youths and wearing a “press” jacket.
Wazwaz filed a complaint with the Israeli military police against the soldier but no action was taken. This has left Wazwaz hesitant to go near clashes for fear of being targeted again.
“In many cases, the spot for taking a good picture is close to the firing range, so I prefer not to get close and settle for a less comprehensive and quality image,” Wazwaz said.
His Facebook page has also been banned.
Wazwaz said such incidents have forced news agencies to prevent them from covering important events and to limit their coverage to photographing activists and representatives of human rights institutions.
“When violent events occur, I enter into a state of self-conflict: Do I take a risk and go for photography or not? I have a family that needs me, so maybe I shouldn’t risk my life,” Wazwaz said.
“They target the Palestinian journalist, because he is the only party that documents their violations against the Palestinians.”
Veteran Palestinian journalist Mohammaed Daraghmeh told Arab News that targeting journalists with death and injury affected him as the office manager of a well-known Arab satellite channel, so he stopped sending his crew to cover important events.
“I am 100 times more careful than before regarding field coverage, for fear that one of my staff members might be killed or injured,” Daraghmeh said.
Ali Samoudi, a reporter for the local Al-Quds newspaper, and a producer for Al Jazeera in Jenin, West Bank, told Arab News that the killing of his colleague Abu Akleh, plus a bullet wound of his own in his back, was a message that Israeli forces would kill every Palestinian journalist who documents events in the Palestinian Territories.
“The presence of journalists disturbs the occupation and may limit its freedom to commit crimes, so it seeks to keep journalists away from its areas of operations,” Samoudi said.
The current year was the worst for the Palestinian media since he began his work as a journalist 32 years ago, Samoudi said. The IDF’s violence against Palestinian journalists increased to the point that many Arab and international media outlets became afraid to send crews to Jenin, he added.
Although international media outlets conducted extensive investigations into the killing of Abu Akleh, the Israeli media did not conduct any investigation. The Palestinians accused it of siding with the IDF narrative over who was responsible.
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate denounced the systematic Israeli targeting of Palestinian journalists and said it stemmed from an official Israeli decision not to allow any reporting of the occupation’s crimes against the Palestinians.
However, the Israeli authorities have denied targeting journalists.
Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, the IDF spokesperson for international media, told Arab News: “There is no way the IDF intentionally fire at uninvolved civilians and journalists. If a mistake happens, it’s a tragic mistake; there is no way that these things could happen intentionally.”