A Palestinian journalist and activist has been detained for the fifth time by the Israeli authorities after being released earlier this year from an eight-month term of administrative detention, when she was held with neither charge nor trial. Bushra Al-Taweel, 27, was detained on 8 November while going home from Jenin via an Israeli military checkpoint near the illegal Yitzhar settlement.
Palestinian journalists face growing threats, intimidation and violence as their freedoms are curtailed by the Israeli occupation. Journalism is a crucial pillar of democracy that holds those in power to account, so it comes as no surprise that Israel takes extreme measures to block any accurate reporting of the rights violations and crimes committed by its security forces in the occupied Palestinian territories.
According to Al-Taweel’s mother, Muntaha, she was facing a lot of harassment and could neither move freely between cities in Palestine nor get a job to have an income to live on. “She is also, of course, prohibited from travelling abroad and cannot establish any commercial or economic project to develop, nor achieve her ambitions and goals as a professional journalist working with freedom and independence.”
Al-Taweel is being held in Hasharon Prison in northern Israel where, her mother claims, she is being “tortured” by Israeli interrogators who are attempting to get “baseless confessions” from her. Palestinian journalists frequently report abuse by Israeli security forces and prison officers.
Bushra Al-Taweel is the latest in a long line of Palestinian journalists who the Israeli occupation forces have harmed or killed, but the authorities have been unable to silence their criticism of the Israeli occupation and its unjust prison system. Soldiers rarely face legal consequences for their actions, and there is no sign that this will change anytime soon.
“There is no freedom for journalists to cover or publish what is newsworthy,” explained Al-Taweel’s mother. “They confiscated her cameras more than once, and she has borne insults and abuse from Israeli soldiers out in the field to cover events. They often fire tear gas and stun grenades at journalists to prevent them from filming.”
Last year, Israeli soldiers arrested Al-Taweel in Al-Bireh, near Ramallah, following the release of her father, a former leader of the local municipality in the town, Jamal Al-Taweel. She was first arrested when she was just 17, serving five months of an 18-month sentence before being released as part of a 2011 prisoner swap deal.
The fourth time that she was arrested was due to her coverage of issues affecting Palestinian detainees and prisoners held by the Israelis. “She covered things like the suffering that they and their families go through; the stopping of prisoners’ stipends, and the use of administrative detention,” said Mrs Al-Taweel.
The frequent arrest and harassment of Bushra Al-Taweel is symptomatic of the Israeli government’s intention to discredit anyone who dares to speak out about the reality for Palestinians living under occupation and siege. Such brave individuals are silenced and, if necessary, taken out of the equation by Israel.
After graduating from Modern University College in Ramallah in 2013, Bushra launched the Aneen Al-Qaid Network, a media platform run by ex-prisoners, journalists, lawyers and humanitarian activists, who highlight the plight of Palestinian prisoners. She wanted to give voice to the suffering, especially of the mothers and children held by the Israelis, letting the world know what is happening through the media.
Israel has killed 46 Palestinian journalists since the outbreak of the Aqsa Intifada in 2000, the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate revealed in early November. The announcement was made during a rally outside the UNRWA headquarters in the Gaza Strip on the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. Tahseen Al-Astal, the deputy head of the syndicate, called on the UN to assume its responsibility to protect journalists and bring to account the Israelis who commit crimes against Palestinians.
“The Syndicate records between 500 and 700 [Israeli] occupation attacks and crimes against Palestinian journalists every year,” he pointed out. “It’s time for these crimes to stop and to hold accountable those who committed them and those who issued the orders.”
Muntaha Al-Taweel is concerned about the effect that the latest arrest will have on her daughter. “It will affect her psychologically because freedom is the most valuable thing that a person possesses. Prison is difficult and cruel, especially in light of the coronavirus. If she is infected, the prison authorities will not provide any medical treatment.”
Even brief detentions during the Covid-19 pandemic can mean a death sentence. The majority of Palestinian prisoners are held in very cramped conditions, where social distancing is impossible. Moreover, they are left without the necessary sanitising, cleaning equipment and medical care to help to protect themselves.
There are currently around 4,500 Palestinian prisoners inside Israeli jails, 700 of whom require medical care. Israel has consistently failed to provide prisoners with basic precautionary measures during the pandemic, and even withdrew some food and hygiene products from prison canteens so that they couldn’t buy them. “Families send money to prisoners so that they can make essential purchases of food and personal hygiene items,” said Mrs Taweel. “If they are taken off the shelves by the Israelis, what can the prisoners do? Why aren’t governments around the world holding Israel to account for such injustice?”
Bushra Al-Taweel was subjected to an administrative detention order yet again this week for a period of four months. No charges have been made against her. The detention order is renewable indefinitely.
“My daughter, Bushra al-Taweel, was arrested simply because she is a journalist with the credibility to expose the crimes of Israel and its occupation,” said Muntaha Al-Taweel. “The world needs to sit up and take notice of what the occupation state is doing, especially against women and children.”