In the month of August 2019 Staat van Beleg could list 714 human rights violations (and 152 reports/ analyses). (see our archive). This month we write about the increase of Israeli violations against the Palestinian media.
In April of this year we witnessed a sudden decline in the number of Israeli violations published by local news agencies. Before we could register around 700 to 800 or sometimes even more violations per month but in April we could only register 620 violations. In the following months this trend continued. In May we could register 603 violations and in June only 542. As from July we started to register the arrests per person which resulted in a higher number of violations.
We knew that violations increased rather than decreased as we witnessed on personal accounts on Facebook pages. When the local news agency Ma’an (English section) suddenly stopped reporting as from 19 June we expected something was seriously wrong and we started to raise questions. In the following months there were some alarming reports and events that answered some of these questions that we will share here.
“So far on our travels in Palestine we have witnessed a massive and desperate human rights catastrophe. – So it is not surprising that the perpetrator of these crimes is attempting to limit how much we can see and report on”.
– Abby Martin (Telesur)-
Alarming reports and events on violations against Palestinian media
- The first report we read comes from the Government Media Office (GMO) in Gaza that registered 105 violations against Palestinian media during the month of May. Among the violations listed, the GMO noted that 11 media personnel were detained, a number were used as human shields and four were sentenced to terms in prison. The report also recorded eight attacks against journalists while they were at work, while two homes were raided, when mobile telephones, laptops and cars were confiscated. Furthermore, the report pointed out that the Israeli occupation authorities prevented journalists from covering 12 newsworthy events and fined six journalists. During the two-day military offensive against the Gaza Strip at the beginning of May, the Israeli army destroyed four media offices. At least 50 Facebook accounts and pages for Palestinian journalists and media centres, news websites and news agencies were closed during the month.
- A second report comes from The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA). The report pointed to the high number of violations that affected the media freedoms in Palestine during the first half of 2019, where ‘MADA” monitored and documented a total of 330 attacks compared to 277 attacks were monitored during the same period of 2018, a total increase of 53 attacks or 19%.
- A third alarming report comes from Sada Social Center. The center documented a number of violations, most of them on Facebook. It said in July alone, Facebook committed 23 violations of the Palestinian content, ranging from the removal of pages and personal accounts, temporary bans and deletion of posts under false pretexts. During the same period, said Sada Social Center, WhatsApp Messenger blocked phone numbers belonging to Quds News Network 22 times. In August the center documented more than 17 violations against Palestinian content on social media. For instance Facebook committed 15 violations ranging from ban, removal, publication and deletion of publications. Restrictions were further imposed on the following Palestinian pages: Aneen Al-Qaidi, The Higher National Commission of the Great March of Return, Ramallah Mix, Jerusalem Committee – Yarmouk University, Qalandia Media Center, Palestine Media Center and Artist Qassem Al Najjar.
- “Skyline International for Human Rights” said in a statement that Facebook has recently blocked several pages and threatened to block the page of QNN Arabic, among other pages like Taqaddumi and Bawwabat Al Hadaf News.
- According to a press release issued by the “Freedoms Committee of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate” the frequency of photographers being targeted by the Israeli occupation is increasing with 232 violations against the Palestinian press in the first half of this year.
- We shouldn’t forget to mention that Google has intensified its censorship of left-wing, progressive and anti-war websites. Facebook also announced its intention to use artificial intelligence algorithms in its WhatsApp application, through which it will search the content of messages before encrypting and sending them.
These are just some of the many events where journalists were restricted or arrested during their work.
- On 4 August field researcher Nasser Nawaj’ah of B’tSelem was stopped by Israeli soldiers at a military checkpoint near the Palestinian village of Khirbet Susiya, in the South Hebron Hills region of the occupied West Bank. The soldiers stopped Nawaj’ah only “when they saw he had B’Tselem reports in his car”. Preventing the researcher from leaving, “one of the soldiers at the checkpoint claimed that they had to obtain confirmation that the reports do not constitute incitement material.”
- On 25 August Palestinian nonviolent media activist Mohammad Abu al-Hummus, a member of the Follow-Up Committee in al-‘Isawiya,was arrested by Israeli forces. Two days after his arrest the District Court in occupied Jerusalem held a hearing, and decided to force Abu al-Hummus out of his town until September 15th, in addition to restricting his activities, especially his media work in addition to forcing him to pay a fine of 1000 Shekels, and third-party guarantee of 10000 Shekels. Abu al-Hummus said that he was taken prisoner, Sunday, for filming the soldiers and documenting their constant invasions and violations in his town. He added that his abduction, and the conditions of his release, are meant to prevent him from talking to the media, especially his interviews with Israeli media outlets, and his constant documentation of the ongoing invasions and violations.
- On 28 August Israeli soldiers and police officers raided the office of Silwanic news agency. Jawad Siyam, the director of Silwanic, was summoned for interrogation. Siyam added that the police is alleging that he installed a wooden shed without obtaining a permit from the City Council, although the structure was built in 2009. He also said that the invasion into the media center is part of Israel’s violations against Palestinian media outlets, especially since Silwanic exposes the ongoing Israeli violations against the Palestinians, their homes and properties, not only in Silwan, but in all areas of occupied Jerusalem.
- At the end of January of this year Israel expelled an international observer force (TIPH) from the volatile West Bank city of Hebron. Since mid February Palestinian activists are trying to fill the void by launching their own patrols to document Israeli settler violence. But without the international observers local activists and journalists are in a vulnerable position and are facing Israeli assaults and restrictions on a daily basis. On 17 August Israeli occupation forces arrested journalist Abdel Muhsen Shalaldeh in Saer village in occupied Hebron.
- What we also see is that arrests of journalists do not get proper media attention. There are so many arrests during the night raids that it is almost impossible to report all these cases separately. Sometimes names are not released and it is even not clear if there are journalists among the ones being arrested. By way of illustration we will here mention some of the arrests that were slightly covered by the local media. On 29 August Israeli soldiers raided the house of photojournalist Hassan Dabbous, and searched the home, damaging and ransacking his property before abducting him and taking him to an unknown location for interrogation. In Jerusalem, also on the 29th of August a young girl identified as Mais Abu Ghoush, a media student at Birzeit University, was taken prisoner during an IOF campaign in Qalandiya refugee camp. In another article we could read that her computer was being seized but there was nothing mentioned about Abu Ghoush being a media student. On 1 September Israeli forces arrested Widad al-Barghouthi, a media lecturer from the same Birzeit University. She is the mother of prisoners Qassam (journalist) and Karmal al-Barghouthi. In another article it was briefly mentioned that her son, journalist Quassam, was detained a week earlier. On 7 September Israeli forces arrested another journalism student at Birzeit University, Samah Jaradat, after breaking into her house in Bireh. At the time of writing we could only find one news agency mentioning that Samah is a journalism student. We can only guess how many of these cases will go unnoticed. Here we can also raise the question if there are enough professional journalists operating to guarantee a proper coverage of all these arrests. The number of Palestinian journalists held in Israeli jails has risen to 24.
- Not only Palestinian journalists are subjected to Israeli violations and restrictions. During a recent nightly raid in the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Isawiya an Israeli policeman threw a stun grenade at Haaretz photographer Emil Salman, even though no one was in the photographer’s vicinity at the time. During the same raid the police demanded that a crew from Channel 13 television leave the site and reporter Yossi Eli was being arrested.
We can learn from local Palestinian news sites that the weekly marches in Gaza and in the West Bank are violently being oppressed by Israel. People – and among them journalists – get injured, are being arrested, their camera’s are being confiscated and in the worst scenario they are being killed. We have footage of these violations since there are still journalists working in the field during these marches and demonstrations.
Unfortunately, what we witness more and more, mostly in the case of home demolitions and collective punishments, is that Israel is putting whole towns, villages or neighborhoods under military siege. During a siege journalists are either not allowed in the area or it is difficult to do their work and many violations will go unreported. What we see here is that activists are taking over in documenting violations. In the case of collective punishments a siege can last for months. To highlight the impact of such restrictions we will write about the large-scale home demolition operation that recently took place in the Wadi Hummus area of Sur Baher that came under siege ahead of the demolitions.
A day before the planned demolition a photojournalist Aqat Arqawi, working for APA agency, was hit and injured by a teargas canister in her pelvis during a rally in Bethlehem protesting the planned demolition.
On the day of the demolition Palestinian and international activists from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) were present inside the houses that were going to be demolished. In a report from ISM we can read that “due to the lack of media presence inside the family homes the extent of the violence and sadism perpetrated by IOF on Palestinian citizens and international activists has remained largely unreported. ISM activists are sharing their personal accounts of yesterday morning’s events including being brutally beaten, tear gassed, pepper sprayed, strangled and laughed at in the process of non violent resistance even after compliance, but urge the international community to recognise the fact that the treatment of Palestinians is incomparable.”
What we see here is that activists who are present to protect the Palestinian homes from demolition and to witness Israeli violations are violently restricted. Most cell phones were being confiscated before the activists were allowed to leave the houses. There was some overall coverage in the media but an absence of detailed official reporting about the huge amount of violations on home owners and activists. We expect that this is a precedent for future home demolitions. During these large scale demolition the number of violations can be very high so we can understand why Israel doesn’t want prying eyes or press in the area.
Younes Arar is a prominent local activist and reporter posting daily updates of Israeli violations on the Palestinian people and their properties on his Facebook page. We mention him here because he often reports and shows footage of home demolitions in the West Bank. In the month of August he was blocked for several times by Facebook. However, Mr. Arar appealed every time and was back on Facebook soon after. This indicates that accounts are being blocked for posts with Palestinian content without justification. Mr. Arar told us that in 2018 his account was blocked by Facebook for about 150 days, five times for 30 days.
The outcome of all these media restrictions is that most of the personal accounts will not reach the international media. Luckily we have Gideon Levy, ironically working for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, who is a master in detailed reporting in the aftermath of events. Unfortunately we can not expect from Mr. Levy to make it up for a curbed Palestinian press by covering dozens of stories every month. What we read in the media is only a fraction of what is taking place in Occupied Palestine. We are missing out on inside stories and on violations.
Other possible factors
We provided you with some reports and proofs of the increase in violations against Palestinian journalists and news agencies but there might be other possible factors contributing to the decline in official reporting.
When we talk about the coverage of news in Gaza we must consider the dire economic situation. Are the agencies still able to pay professional journalists and translators?
Another possible factor is the risk journalists take every week to cover the Great March of Return in Gaza. As we could witness journalists and medics are a profound target for snipers along the border fences. Already two journalists were killed since the start of the marches and 360 others got injured. Palestinian journalists know very well that their press vests and camera’s will not protect them but instead harm them. Will journalists continue to take these risks to lose their lives?
This gap in local news coverage is a dangerous development. Where the mainstream media already tend to use Israeli newspapers as their source, the decline in the supply of local news will result in an even more unbalanced display of Israeli violations. We can all read the news on personal accounts and websites but many of these violations are not brought into official news and people will always ask for official sources. The outcome is a biased reality. It seems that we see a decline in Israeli violations but in fact this comes from Israel violating Palestinian media freedom. We may conclude that Israel in an effort to protect its status quo as tolerated occupier tries to silence everything that may harm or influence that status. We also may conclude that Facebook, Google and WhatsApp Messenger are complicit in these Israeli attacks on Palestinian media freedom.