In the first six months of 2023, a total of 194 Israeli violations against journalists were documented.
It is almost impossible for a journalist from the West Bank to travel to or return from Gaza. Very few journalists from the West Bank can enter Jerusalem. To enter Jerusalem, men must be over 55 and women over 50, or have special permits from the Israeli authorities.
International law protects journalists in areas of armed conflict. The deliberate targeting of journalists is therefore considered a war crime.
Palestinian journalist Walid Batrawi wrote for Journalist Post about the fate of his friend, journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was brutally murdered by Israeli soldiers, and the practice of journalism in the region.
It has been more than a year since Al-Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by a stray bullet from an Israeli soldier in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank.
Shireen was not only a colleague but also a friend. When we worked for Al-Jazeera English, we shared an office and our Friday morning breakfasts, which she prepared to perfection.
Shireen was a very humble and sensitive person, though she looked strong on screen, and her tragic assassination shocked us and the world.
Palestinian, international and Israeli human rights organisations, as well as prominent international media outlets such as CNN and the BBC, have produced independent investigations holding Israel responsible for Shireen Abu Akleh’s murder. Yet the Israeli soldier found responsible for her shooting still enjoys immunity and continues to walk free!
A screenshot from Al-Jazeera Arabic shows reporter Shireen Abu Akleh lying on the ground after being fatally shot in the West Bank city of Jenin on 11 May 2022. (Al-Jazeera/YouTube)
It is true that Palestine ranks low on the list of journalists killed, with 21 professional or citizen journalists killed by Israeli forces, according to UNESCO. In addition, journalists continue to be harassed on a daily basis.
The Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) documented a total of 194 Israeli violations against journalists in the first six months of 2023. In July, for example, MADA reported 45 violations to the authorities, including physical assaults such as beatings and punching, as well as the injury of three journalists by rubber bullets and the suffocation of three journalists by tear gas canisters.
Israeli harassment is not confined to Palestinian journalists. The Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel issued a statement on 10 July expressing concern over an incident in which an Israeli soldier in a military vehicle opened fire on the camera and live broadcast equipment of FPA member Al-Araby TV during the Israeli forces’ operation in Jenin on 4 July.
Reports of violence against Palestinian journalists come not only from Israeli soldiers, but also from local residents, who are subjected to all kinds of harassment in full view of the army. According to the International Federation of Journalists, “On 20 June, freelance photojournalist Khalid Taha was attacked by Israeli settlers while travelling in his car between the towns of Hawarah and Nablus in the northern occupied West Bank. On the same day, a journalist working for the Al Ghad TV channel was beaten by Israelis at the entrance to the city of Nablus.
According to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, on 2 August, in the northern part of the occupied West Bank, a man driving an ambulance bearing the emblem of Israel’s national ambulance service, the Red Star of David, pointed his gun at Palestinian journalists Nasser and Ali Ashtiyya and local activist Ayman Ghrayyeb and threatened to shoot them. Israel’s violations go beyond targeting Palestinian journalists to include foreign media workers.
In a statement issued on 21 May, the FPA expressed its concern over the physical and verbal attacks on journalists during the flag march at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem on Thursday 18 May.
Not only soldiers, but also civilians
Protesters repeatedly attacked journalists with water bottles, cans and wooden sticks. Demonstrators also shouted violent and racist slurs at journalists in front of police officers. At least two journalists were slightly injured as a result of these attacks. In addition, a CNN crew covering events in the Old City (of Jerusalem) was beaten with unnecessary force by a police team while trying to interview local Palestinians.
In addition, Israeli soldiers at checkpoints do not recognise International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) press cards and only accept Israeli government press cards, which are rarely issued to Palestinian journalists.
Palestinian journalists are also restricted in their movements by the authorities. It is almost impossible for a journalist from the West Bank to travel to or from Gaza. Very few journalists from the West Bank can enter Jerusalem. To enter Jerusalem, men must be over 55 and women over 50, or have special permits from the Israeli authorities.
The Israeli authorities did not allow any foreign journalists to enter the Gaza Strip in May 2023, despite requests from various international media organisations during the five days of tension in Gaza.
Two years ago, in May 2021, the Israeli Air Force destroyed office buildings used by 23 Palestinian and international media outlets, including the US news agency Associated Press and the Qatari television channel Al Jazeera, RSF reported.
Smoke rises as the building collapses following an Israeli airstrike on the Al-Jalaa tower, home to several media outlets including Associated Press and Al Jazeera, in Gaza City on 15 May 2021. EPA-EFE/MOHAMMED SABER
Following the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the International Centre for Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) and the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) filed a new complaint with the International Criminal Court on 20 September 2022 regarding the shooting of Abu Akleh and Ali Samoudi, a Palestinian journalist who was with her on the day of the incident.
In April 2022, an application was submitted to the ICC requesting the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) to open an investigation “into the systematic targeting by the Israeli occupation forces of the premises of Palestinian journalists and media organisations, including Ahmed Abu Hussein, Yasser Murtaja, Muath Amarneh and Nedal Eshtayeh”. The petition emphasised that “all of the journalists included in both complaints were wearing clearly visible PRESS vests at the time they were targeted”. It also detailed the targeting of media offices in Gaza City in May 2021.
International law protects journalists in areas of armed conflict. The deliberate targeting of journalists is therefore considered a war crime. According to the International Press Institute, “States must promptly, thoroughly and independently investigate attacks against journalists and prosecute those responsible. This obligation also applies in conflict zones, where the authorities have a legal obligation under international humanitarian law to ensure the safety of journalists and media workers”. But Israel has never been able to do so.
Who is Walid Batrawi?
Walid Batrawi is a Palestinian journalist based in Ramallah and winner of the 2003 Natali Prize for “Excellence in Human Rights, Democracy and Development Reporting” in the Arab World, Iran and Israel category.