In modern history, media freedom has been a cornerstone for healthy democratic societies across the world.
Journalists, in their role as the fourth estate, keep the checks and balances of those in power so well-informed citizens can make decisions based on facts about both policies and politicians.
But for countries like Palestine, where the occupying power has a vested interest in keeping the silence, the stakes are high. The demand for a free press often must face up against rulers which will seemingly do anything to take away the citizens voice.
Since the beginning of this year up until August 2018, the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) has documented a total of 391 violations against media freedoms in the West Bank and Gaza, including East Jerusalem.
The Israeli occupation carried out 303 of these violations, about 78% of all recorded violations in what MADA describes as systematic policy by Israel to silence Palestinian journalists.
This constitutes a 21% rise when compared to the attacks on journalists monitored in the same period last year.
General Director of MADA, Mousa Rimawi told Palestine Monitor he believes the violations come down to the tightening of social media by Israel, and their attempt to protect their image to the international community.
There’s a goal of Israeli occupation to silence Palestinian media because they are afraid of their image internationally. Because journalists are covering these events and documenting Israeli crimes against Palestinians, Rimawi said.
The rise in press freedom violations also comes down to the Israeli violations of human rights in Gaza, according to Rimawi.
They [Israeli forces] are targeting and killing journalists which pose no threat. As you know two journalists were targeted by snipers in Gaza, Rimawi said, referring to the double killing of journalists Yassir Abdelrahman Murtaja and Ahmad Hassan Abu Hussein who were killed covering the ‘Return Marches’ in Gaza this year.
Israelis are not ashamed of their crimes or their practices, but they are ashamed of their image to the world, Rimawi said.
Risking lives are an everyday occurrence
According to MADA, there have been 116 physical assaults on Palestinian journalists by Israel, including beatings and injuries, in the first half of 2018. This compares to 45 assaults in the same period in 2017.
Palestinian journalist Nour Odeh, who worked as Al Jazeera’s senior correspondent for Palestine until 2011, told Palestine Monitor she believes Israel is becoming more emboldened to commit violations especially against journalists as they rarely face any consequences.
We know that we are fair game, and we are part of the Israeli army’s concern. We know we are targets, Odeh said, after she explained how she was used once as a ‘human shield’ by an Israeli soldier shooting at Palestinian protesters.
However, this is not uncommon for Palestinian journalists she added.
This is our every day. This is the reality. I don’t think there is a single journalist who assumes for a minute that his or her rights and their protection would be respected.
Palestinian journalist for Alhurra TV, Fetan Elwan understands first-hand what it is like to be at the receiving end of Israeli violations while reporting in the West Bank. In her career, Elwan has been shot three times, twice on purpose at close range, by rubber coated bullets whilst covering clashes.
I was holding my microphone and it was clear that I am a journalist. The soldier was pointing the gun up and down me and I was standing still thinking that I have rights and he cannot shoot me, Elwan said, as she described the first time she was shot covering a clash.
And then he shot me in my leg with a rubber coated bullet. It two meters away so I couldn’t walk for six months because of it.
Behind the PA firewall
But it is not only Israel which Palestinian journalists must contend with. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has committed 88 violations in the same period, which comes to a percentage of 22% of all recorded violations.
Although the violations are not always physical.
In July last year, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued the Law on Electronic Crimes which within weeks after the law’s formal introduction, five journalists were arrested for writing Facebook posts critical of the PA.
Elwan believes this new law is one of the biggest threats to Palestinian journalists as prison sentences and heavy fines can be the result for online criticism of Palestinian authorities.
We have several journalists who are going to court because they [supposedly] endangered the security of the country for instance, and they’re journalists who spoke out against the PA. I know of at least five journalists who have been taken to court because of their words.
Control is the reason Elwan believes the PA is initiating these new laws.
They [PA] don’t want anyone to speak out against Mahmoud Abbas or anyone, so they have law that they can put you in jail or arrest you because of it.
Global community also forgets the Palestinians
Advocacy coordinator at Palestinian prisoner support and human rights NGO Addameer, Dawoud Yousef doesn’t see the situation getting better for Palestinian Journalists anytime soon.
Yes, it’s definitely getting worse. With all the arrests from the Israelis, it peaks and troughs depending on the political situation, Yousef explained. But we can say there is a consistent targeting of anyone who is actively seeking to organise or actively seeking to articulate what the occupation is doing.
And then the added variable into that standard is the PA, and that shows the space for dissenting voices within the PA is definitely getting smaller and smaller, Yousef said referring to the electronic crimes law.
The end of last month saw two days of International recognition for the media, with the day of Universal Access to Information, and more importantly, Day of the Palestinian Journalist on September 26.
However, even with days of recognition, Nour Odeh explained how she feels Palestinian journalists are left behind when it comes to international solidarity.
It’s very unfortunate that Palestinian journalists are still treated as belonging to a side that denies them the right of collegial solidarity, Odeh said, explaining how Palestinian journalists suffer due to being often associated with terrorist organisations in the eyes of the international community.
There’s a very well oiled machine that has the capacity to turn any Palestinian journalist into somebody suspect, whether it’s in the west bank or in Gaza. And in Gaza it always, unfortunately now, easier.
All of us at one point or another are going to need solidarity unfortunately.
Source: Palestine Monitor