It was the third day of protests against the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah on 26 June last year, when Najla Zeitoun went out to cover the demonstration for her two multimedia outlets where she works as a freelancer, Anadolu News Agency reports.
She had no idea what was going to happen to her and her colleagues as they covered a protest demonstration in central West Bank city against the killing of Nizar Banat, an outspoken critic of Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas.
Banat was the leader of the Freedom and Dignity List — an electoral list — and a political activist and human rights defender. On 24 June, he was beaten to death by a squad allegedly belonging to the Authority’s security forces, who showed up at his home.
“After last June, my way of life would never be the same,” the 35-year-old journalist told Anadolu Agency.
Zeitoun used these words to describe how her life has been changed following the traumatic assaults she had suffered at the hands of Palestinian security officers. She was severely beaten by security forces, sleuths in plainclothes, for reasons she still does not understand.
Zeitoun, a mother of two, says the experience she had that day was unforgettable and difficult to heal from.
“The injuries and bruises on my body eventually healed, but what happened to my soul, to be honest, will never heal. The effects of that day are still sending shockwaves in my life – physical, psychological and social,” she sighed.
On that day, plainclothes Palestinian security personnel attacked a number of women Palestinian journalists. According to Zeitoun, she and her colleagues were subjected to physical and sexual harassment, and their phones were snatched.
She stated that, when they went to the government hospital in Ramallah, the medical staff refused to give them a report proving the abuses they had undergone.
“It is hard to comprehend that our country is unsafe for us to work in, let alone live in. You expect to be beaten by your compatriots at any time. I know who beat me down by name. Some of them were university colleagues of mine. Can you imagine how horrible this is?” she asked.
She proceeded to the Palestinian judiciary and asked that those who had assaulted her be prosecuted. Instead of taking action against the perpetrators, the court not only rejected her plea but also ordered that the relevant authorities interrogate her.
“Their orders were strange,” she commented.
Zeitoun’s personal phone was taken by security personnel, and all Palestinian security agencies continue to deny having it, but she alleged that she and her family members were subjected to extortion using her personal information.
“They made phoney profiles, used my identity, posted pornographic content, and other stories that inform the followers that I wish to commit suicide,” she alleged.
Zeitoun expressed concern about the possibility of another form of violation that could endanger her life, especially since she has lost faith in the justice system to recognise her rights and hold those who attacked her accountable.
“Can you imagine how I feel when they send illicit films to my 11-year-old son from the fake account? He has lost his sense of safety on the streets and fears that the cops would harm his mother,” she said this with visible anguish and anxiety on her face.
Zeitoun is dissatisfied with human rights organisations’ lack of passion in advocating for her and other assaulted women journalists.
As a result, she and other women journalists have written numerous letters to the European Union, the UN and other international human rights organisations in order to exert pressure on the Palestinian Authority.
“After we contacted those institutions, Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, apologised to some of us and ignored others. On the same day, security men violated one of our colleagues who was standing in front of a police station, asking for the release of her husband, who was arrested during the protests,” Zeitoun said.
Three days later, a security officer harassed and threatened Zeitoun again, saying: “We broke your hand this time. We’ll smash your head the next time.”
At the end of December last year, while reporting the commemoration of the Fatah movement’s establishment anniversary, Zeitoun was subjected to threats.
“The PA (Palestinian Authority) is treating me as if I am an enemy. I’m not sure why. If they don’t want to punish those who assaulted her, they should at least stop treating her as an enemy,” she remarked.
Anadolu Agency has contacted two officials of the Palestinian Authority but they have yet to reply.