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The dangers facing journalists in Palestine

September 30, 2015 at 3:42 pm

Last Sunday, the Israeli army announced the suspension of the officer who was in charge during an incident in the occupied West Bank, when soldiers assaulted two Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalists and took their equipment before destroying it. Italian video journalist Andrea Bernardi and Palestinian photographer Abbas Momani were covering clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers in Beit Furik near Nablus at the time. Following a funeral, they were assaulted by the soldiers.

This is not an isolated incident; attacks on journalists by the Israeli military in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are commonplace. MADA, an organisation which campaigns for free media in Palestine, has recorded a total of 114 violations against journalists and media freedoms committed by Israel in the first half of 2015. The bulk of these — a staggering 42 per cent — fell into the category of physical assaults.

Aside from being assaulted in the field, journalists, particularly Palestinians, face the risk of arrest and lengthy spells in detention. For example, Nidal Abu Aker, a journalist and the host of a programme on Sawt Al-Wehda radio station which reports on the issue of Palestinian prisoners, was arrested on 28 June. The last update issued in September by prisoners’ rights group Addameer, reported that Nidal was being held in solitary confinement. At that time he was on hunger strike.

The dangers for journalists generally increase greatly during Israel’s many attacks on the Gaza Strip. During the 50-day offensive last year, more media personnel were killed than in the rest of the world put together over that period. The Committee to Protect Journalists confirmed seven media deaths. The International Middle East Media Centre has said that 17 journalists were killed in Gaza, while Reporters Without Borders gave the figure as 15, most of them Palestinian.

During the lead up to the 2014 attack on Gaza, Palestinian media in the West Bank suffered from a crackdown on their work. A number of media offices were raided by Israeli security officers and their equipment was destroyed. Media professionals were also arrested and interrogated in what Reporters without Borders said was a deliberate targeting of news professionals.

Violations against the media are not only perpetrated by the Israeli military, though. In the first half of 2015, MADA recorded an unprecedented increase of 103 per cent in violations against the media by the Palestinian Authority’s security forces. This has been put down to increasing tension between Hamas and Fatah. MADA also noted operations aimed at the mass suppression of media freedom.

When looked at together, the statistics mean that over the past two years attacks against the media in the occupied Palestinian territories have doubled. During the first half of this year alone there was a 20 per cent increase in violations compared to the same period in 2014; that figure rises to 64 per cent when compared to the first half of 2013. These shocking statistics make one thing clear; being a journalist in Palestine is a dangerous profession.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.