In a meeting held at the British Parliament yesterday, Palestinian journalists told parliamentarians, journalists and the general public that “we want you to see our reality”. They called on the international community to “take responsibility” for the protection of Palestinian journalists, for discussions to be “translated into reality” and for a British parliamentary delegation to visit the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) to listen to journalists’ testimonies.
The meeting was addressed by prominent members of the Palestinian journalism community, including President of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) Nasser Abu Bakar and Ramallah photojournalist Musa Shaer. General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Michelle Stanistreet, was also in attendance, as well as British Members of Parliament Grahame Morris of the Labour Party and Brendan O’Hara of the SNP.
Abu Bakar of the PJS opened the meeting, explaining that the PJS held a long-standing relationship with the NUJ based on their “shared values on the need to defend freedom of the press and the rights of journalists to carry out their work”. Abu Bakar spoke of the long history of journalism in Palestine yet emphasised that since the State of Israel was created in 1948 and its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza imposed in 1967, “profound injustices” have been committed against Palestinian journalists.
Abu Bakar cited just some of the challenges facing Palestinian journalists today. These include limitations on freedom of movement, bans on entry into occupied East Jerusalem, the demolition of media institutions, violent attacks on journalists, the deliberate destruction of their equipment and a deliberate targeting of journalists with live fire. Abu Bakar told the meeting that “the army of a state has launched a war against journalists”.
Ramallah photojournalist Musa Shaer echoed Abu Bakar’s account, lamenting that such a topic “shouldn’t need to be discussed in 2018”. Shaer told the meeting of his own personal experience as a Palestinian journalist; he began working in 1983, during which time he has been shot, arrested and imprisoned, assaulted and verbally abused “more times than I can count”. In September 2017, while on duty in Aida refugee camp north of Bethlehem, Shaer was shot with two rubber-coated bullets in the chest and hand, even though he was wearing a press vest and positioned behind a small, concrete wall. Despite all this Shaer told the meeting, “I consider myself one of the lucky ones, who wasn’t killed or severely injured”.
Here the meeting recalled the recent violations committed against journalists during the Great March of Return, including the killing of Palestinian journalists Yaser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu-Hussein. Shaer noted that the deaths of Murtaja and Abu-Hussein were caused by Israel’s “systematic approach, which violates rights and prevents journalists from doing their job”. Speaking as a representative of his fellow Palestinian journalists Shaer stressed that “there is no guarantee that next time I go to work I won’t be shot or injured”. He asked British MPs and the wider audience to “hear us, know about us and that our work as journalists is a mission to uncover facts and make the world a better place”.
British MPs Grahame Morris and Brendan O’Hara expressed their solidarity with Palestinian journalists, with Morris telling the meeting that “the second best thing to seeing the situation in the oPt for yourself is the work that journalists and photographic journalists do”. Morris said that he sees this work as “vital” and condemned the deliberate targeting of journalists as “appalling”. Morris denounced the British government’s weak response to the ongoing violations against Palestinian journalists, saying that “the current government shames us in their expressions of regret – the wringing of hands is not sufficient”.
O’Hara echoed Morris’ sentiments, pointing to his own background as a TV director and documentary filmmaker. O’Hara told the audience that he knows “how tough a job journalism can be, but I will never know what that job is like when facing constant intimidation and threats of arrest, violence and death”. He said that it is “outrageous” that Palestinian journalists cannot enjoy the freedom of movement and safety in their work that “most journalists enjoy and take for granted,” and that he found the accounts of Abu Bakar and Shaer “harrowing”. As such, O’Hara said that such violations should be “called out” and that “wherever these threats come from against journalists, they must be condemned unreservedly and unambiguously”.
In a final comment, Abu Bakar stressed that he “came here today to secure the protection of journalists”. He argued that this “is a big responsibility for us, and we are all responsible in this sense,” saying that he hoped this “historic meeting” would “be translated into reality”. Abu Bakar told the meeting that he was “ready to receive a UK Parliament delegation to listen to the testimonies of journalists and see the medical reports in the hospitals, to listen to the children or widows of those journalists killed”. He added: “we want you to see our reality, to ensure that what we warn of is real and imminent” and “we are confident that this will happen for us all.”