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A climate of intimidation- Israel’s increasing crackdown on journalists in Palestine

By Jessica Purkiss

Israeli soldier preventing a Palestine TV crew from reporting during the eviction of the "al-Manatir" protest village near Burin. Photo by Lazar Simeonov.

February 16, 2013

On February 11th, the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media freedoms (MADA) posted a press release condemning the arrest, assault and detainment of Palestinian journalists covering a peaceful protest in the Caanan tent village, Hebron on Saturday 9th February. The journalists worked for Reuters, French Agency and Associated Press. 

Arrested cameraman Abdulghani Alnatsha who was taken to Kiryat Arba settlement said, "We stayed in the cold until 2 am of the next day, and then they took us to a military barracks and recorded our personal data and our fingerprints. Soon after we were taken to jail, stripped naked for search, then we were given prison uniforms to wear while awaiting our trial at Ofer Court around the midnight of Sunday."

This comes after MADA’s February 5th report entitled "A Bad Start for Palestinian Journalists" which condemned Israeli attacks on journalists during the month of January in the West Bank and Gaza.

A day earlier, the Government Information Office released a statistical report on the state of media freedom. It claimed that Israeli forces had assaulted journalists and media personnel operating in the West Bank and Gaza a total of 17 times in January 2013.

Both reports highlight the growing crackdown on media freedom and the increasing violence used to curtail the work of journalists by the Israeli army.

The reports pointed to the recent violent eviction of the protest tent village 'Bal-al Shams’ by Israeli military. Journalists were barred from accessing the area, prevented from filming and photographing and violently removed from the area, with the Israeli military claiming it was "a closed military zone."

"They have pushed us violently and I almost fell on the ground. They kept us in a low place like a tunnel to prevent us from covering the eviction process," Associated Press cameraman Iyad Hamad told MADA.

Speaking on the tactic of creating closed military zones, MADA General Director Mousa Rimawi said, "They use it as an excuse but we know they are trying to prevent coverage because they don’t want the international community to see their treatment of Palestinian people. This is an old policy."

"To prevent journalists from working is forbidden under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Everybody has the right to express himself."

"To cover an event is something that is protected under many conventions, it is a right. But Israel is behaving above all international law, not just in respect to journalists," Rimawi said.

February is already set to show another increase in violence towards journalists. The recent violent eviction of tent villages Al-Manatir and Canaan has signalled that the current climate of intimidation and persecution against journalists will continue. 

"We see in other parts of the world global opinion reacts harshly when journalists are attacked and killed, but here in Palestine it is different," Rimawi added. "There is no international official pressure and because there is not Israel feels it can act freely."

Photographers injured by Israeli soldiers while covering a protest at the "Bab al-Shams" protest village. Photo by Lazar Simeonov.

The targeting of journalists during the Gaza offensive 

A number of international organisations spoke out when Israel deliberately targeted journalists in four separate attacks during the November Israeli offensive on Gaza. The attacks left two Palestinian cameramen dead and ten other media workers injured.

Missiles struck the Al Quds TV station studio building. Al Quds is a Lebanon based satellite channel with a pro-Hamas editorial line. Another missile hit the privately-owned Alwan Radio which broadcasts entertainment shows unrelated to politics, whilst a third missile stuck Al-Aqsa TV studio.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev justified the attacks on the basis that the Israeli army had been targeting "communications facilities." He said, "There is the al-Aqsa station, which is a station that is a Hamas command and control facility, just as in other totalitarian regimes the media is used by the regime for command and control and also for security purposes. From our point of view, that’s not a legitimate journalist."

Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich wrote in retaliation against the condemnation of the targeting of journalists: "Such terrorists, who hold cameras and notebooks in their hands, are no different from their colleagues who fire rockets aimed at Israeli cities and cannot enjoy the rights and protection afforded to legitimate journalists."

But Israel’s line of justification did not legitimize their actions in the eyes of the international community. Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the attacks and called them a breach of international law amounting to war crimes.

Journalist and media workers are protected persons in war and should not be targeted.  HRW also commented that media centers are civilian objects and are also protected under international humanitarian law, unless they are used to make a direct contribution to the military action. Despite Israel’s arguments, Human Rights Watch could not find any proof that the targeted media outlets were direct participants in the hostilities. 

"Just because Israel says a journalist was a fighter or a TV station was a command center, it does not make it so," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch


:: Article nr. 95279 sent on 17-feb-2013 16:50 ECT


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