Shatha Hammad is a Muslim journalist who has become the voice of Palestinian women all over the world. Last year she won the One World Media "New Voice" prize. The judges acknowledged her "groundbreaking work and her ability to shed light on political and social issues in the West Bank." It is one of the most important prizes in Palestine.
Throughout her career, she has been detained at Israeli military checkpoints, covered violent crackdowns by the occupation authorities, and had her work impeded by soldiers and police. Through all of this, she has never given up, and she continues to tell the world about the cruelty of Israel's brutal occupation of Palestine.
The 32-year old's face has been in the Middle East newspapers again over the past few days. This time she hasn't only been covering the news, but she also became the news due to the violence meted out against her in Ramallah by Palestinian Authority security officers during the protests against the killing of political activist Nizar Banat.
Banat, 43, was arrested while sleeping in Hebron last week. PA security officers beat him savagely on the head before dragging him away. His death in custody was confirmed a few hours later.
Along with other journalists, Hammad sought answers from the PA. Violence dominated yet again, though, and five journalists — four of them women — were injured by the police. Hammad was hit in the face by a tear gas canister. According to medical sources, at least 20 people altogether were injured in the clashes.
From Rio to Ramallah, I talked to Shatha Hammad to understand what happened and why so much Palestinian on Palestinian violence has taken place. I was also keen to know what it is like to be a woman and a journalist in Palestine these days.
Lucia Helena Issa: As a prize-winning Palestinian journalist and a woman, did you ever expect such violence from Palestinian security officers?
Shatha Hammad: I never expected that the Palestinian Authority would inflict this violence and oppression against the people of Palestine in general, and journalists in particular, even though we know that the PA has for years been growing in its repression, stifling freedoms — including freedom of expression — and persecuting journalists. Today the escalation of repression and physical assault is the natural evolution of the authority's practices. Since 2017, the repression of the media has become more systematic and explicit by the imposition of the cybercrime law and the blocking of dozens of news websites
LHI: When did you decide to be a journalist in Palestine and become a voice for other women?
SH: Since my childhood, I have watched the Israeli occupation and the role of the press in covering the issue, especially during the Aqsa Intifada (2000-2005). This is what inspired me to study journalism. I decided to study with a vision of the role of women in this profession and its importance. Today, as a woman working in the media, I seek to reveal the truth and stand with the oppressed and those who suffer at the hands of the Israeli occupation or the Palestinian Authority.
LHI: How did the violence begin in Ramallah, especially against the women journalists?
SH: It started on Saturday with an assault by plain-clothes officers. They concentrated their attacks on the women and girls, beating and threatening them and shouting obscenities. The targeting of women was systematic and clear because of their role on social media to document attacks. That's why their phones were confiscated. One of the officers tried to steal my phone and, when he couldn't, simply threw it on the ground and broke it. Similar attacks happened on Sunday against women journalists. We were penned in and prevented from moving and filming; then we were threatened and had equipment broken.
LHI: For you, what is Nizar Banat's main legacy for the Palestinians?
SH: He had an important impact on the Palestinian people. He dared to criticise the Palestinian Authority and its practices; dared to criticise the president and political corruption among influential figures. His was an important voice for all of us.
LHI: The division between Palestinians is becoming entrenched. Is there a sense among them that this violence and division weakens the main objective of an independent Palestine?
SH: The Palestinian people reject all divisions. In the same house, we find brothers with different ideas and belonging to different parties. The problem is one of political leadership, especially the movement in power and its exclusion of others and use of violence against anyone who demands more democracy and the involvement of other parties in the political process.
LHI: What does this violence against journalists mean for press freedom in Palestine?
SH: It is very dangerous and frightening. We do not know how we will practice our profession in the future. I am very worried. I feel fear because my life is threatened for no other reason than that I am doing what my profession demands of me. A tear gas canister hit me in the face and I almost lost my eyes. We only ask that we are able to exercise our rights and practice our profession as journalists in safety. We ask human rights organisations to stand with us and support us and not leave us alone. Our lives are always threatened by the Israeli army. Today, our lives can be threatened by the security services of the Palestinian Authority. We didn't expect that because they are supposed to be on our side.
LHI: Some of your relatives live in Brazil. How do you feel about the love and support that millions of Brazilians have for Palestine these days?
SH: I have never been to Brazil but I would love to go there one day. Everyone in the family was shocked at what happened to me and worried. Their support, love, and reassurance were important for me as an individual. Imagine how we all feel when we hear about the support of so many Brazilians for Palestine. It's wonderful.
LHI: What message would you send for Brazilian women who also want their voices to be heard in their country, and for all violence against women to end?
SH: Women are always capable of making a change, and our society trusts us and we have this responsibility. Women in Palestine are leading a revolution against the occupation and against the tyranny of the Palestinian Authority. If we can do it, I know that the women in Brazil can also do it. They too are strong and capable of making changes in all sectors and areas of life.