Every day, Western media headlines showcase intense conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis, with the Palestinians more often than not getting the blame. Some are major news stories, as we saw in the three-day war that took place last weekend between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip which received much high-profile coverage.
But many incidents get little mainstream media attention or coverage, putting the civilians and journalists, especially the Palestinians, at risk and taking the edge off of the harsh reality of Israel’s excessive use of force, the racism that underlines Israeli policies and the cost on the everyday lives of Palestinian civilians who often are the victims of the crossfire.
As the world focused on the rocket battle between Hamas and Israel this week, life went on as usual in the Israeli occupied West Bank were Palestinians are forced to accept an inferior status, denied civil rights that can range from survivable clashes to the loss of life.
Palestinian photojournalist Ahmad Al-Bazz, 26, who lives in Nablus in the Israeli occupied West Bank, was just doing his job when he travelled to South Hebron on 3 May to cover the volunteer work of a Jewish American and Israeli group, the Centre for Jewish Non-Violence, to repair a badly damaged central access road used by Palestinians. Israel has a segregated road system in the occupied West Bank, one for the armed Jewish settlers and the other for non-Jews that is enforced by the military and armed settlers. The settler roads are highly maintained while Palestinian roads get little or no infrastructure support because of the lack of money.
The slogan of the Jewish Centre for Non-Violence, which first arrived in the West Bank in 2017, is “Occupation is not my Judaism”.
The effort wasn’t a protest, but as many as 60 Jews and 40 non-Jews, including other Jewish and Palestinian volunteer groups, showed up to begin repairing the potholes. Al-Bazz joined because it was “just a good story I wanted to cover.”
But as the volunteers began filling and repairing the potholes, heavily armed Israeli soldiers arrived and ordered everyone to leave. When the volunteers demanded to know why, the soldiers pounced on the group, roughing them up and arresting 17, including Al-Bazz and another journalist. They were handcuffed and taken for interrogation on a journey that lasted nearly nine hours to a nearby Israeli police station in the illegal racist Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba, best known for its memorials to Jewish Defence League terrorist Meir Kahane and mass murderer Baruch Goldstein.
“It was a US Jewish delegation of around 60 persons who came to the West Bank to show solidarity with the Palestinian people. They organised an event to renovate an old road that is used by Palestinians in Area C south of Hebron,” Al-Bazz explained during an interview this week.
“That is what the people were doing. They were covering some holes and making the road better for Palestinian vehicles. It was a peaceful thing, you know.”
“It wasn’t a protest. They were volunteers there to fix the road and I was there to get some pictures for the Palestinian media,” said Al-Bazz, who freelances for online sites including +972 and Mondoweiss. Previously, Al-Bazz worked for PalMedia, the largest video agency in the territories that was closed by the Israeli army in 2017 to stifle its news reports on the occupation.
Occupation forces treat all Palestinians “as being the same”, Al-Bazz explained, regardless of whether they are partaking in protests, medics caring for the injured, or journalists covering the unfolding events.
“My problem with them [occupation forces], as a journalist, is usually they are not ready to give you the privilege of being a journalist. So, they deal with you as a part of the crowd, like any protestor. This is what happened to me last Friday. The soldier was not okay to hear that I am a journalist and this is my press card,” he said.
“It depends on the mood of the soldier. This is what I have been experiencing in the past five years so I go to the same location and the same event but you get a different reaction depending on who is there, who is the soldier there. But in both cases they can legalise what they are doing.”
The volunteers had been operating in what the Oslo Accords declared as “Area C”, a part of the occupied West Bank which is under full Israeli administrative and military control. Al-Bazz said that Israel can declare any part of the area as a “Closed Military Zone”, for any reason and at any time. The volunteers, had however, arrived in the area before the area designated a “closed”, Al-Bazz explained.
“They give you five minutes to leave and if you don’t leave you can be arrested and this is what happened with me,” the 26-year-old said.
“During the interrogation in the police station they said your charge is that you stayed despite the soldier notified you to leave and he told you it is a closed military zone. That was my charge. They closed it after we got there. That area is a Palestinian community. They came and checked out what people are doing and then they brought papers and showed it to everybody and said it is a closed military zone and you have to leave.”
It was nine hours from the time the occupation forces arrived on site to when Al-Bazz was finally released from custody, his fourth such detention.
“I was taking a photo of someone being dragged and the policeman said ‘ah come on, come on’, I had to obey. He took me from there. He said something in Hebrew I did not understand. But after that in the police station the officer said I was detained because I did not leave when it was declared a closed military zone.”
“They took the 17 people near the military jeeps. Ten of us were handcuffed. I was not handcuffed. We stayed there for about two, three hours under the sun until they brought a bus for the detainees. Then the ride on the bus took about 90 minutes because it kept stopping at some points but I don’t know why. It was not easy to recognise where you are because the glass on the bus is not clear.”
Al-Bazz was given the choice of signing a statement that he would not return to the site for 15 days or be fined 2,000 Israeli shekels ($560); two years wages for the freelancer.
In spite of the response they receive, Al-Bazz supports the Centre for Jewish Non-Violence’s work, but said it’s difficult for Palestinians to “feel comfortable with these people”, because the “only Jewish people they know are the soldiers and the settlers and they have been experiencing that for at least 70 years.”
“One day you have a Jewish American person coming there, despite the fact this person is an American and he has been living there all his life. It’s not easy for a Palestinian person to understand. But this is one of the purposes of this action to start showing that not all Jewish people are on the same side. They can be different. Yes, they [Palestinians] understand this but it takes time.”
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.