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Four West Bank villages where weekly protests are marred by Israeli aggression against journalists

Palestinian activists hold flags as they sit on a road in front of Israeli military vehicles at a weekly protest against Jewish settlements, in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah on 14 March 2014
Palestinian activists hold flags as they sit on a road in front of Israeli military vehicles at a weekly protest against Jewish settlements, in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah on 14 March 2014

REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

The Palestinian popular nonviolent resistance, and in particular the weekly peaceful demonstrations held across numerous Palestinian towns and villages to protest the confiscation of Palestinian land by the Israeli authorities have attracted the attention of local, regional and international media outlets. This media coverage has been a key factor in the success of this phenomenon.

Journalists covering these events have paid a very high price though, being victims of numerous attacks by the Israeli occupational forces (IOF) for their coverage of the IOF's violent repression of peaceful demonstrations. These abuses against news workers, aimed at censoring any mention of the IOF's illegal practices, have taken many forms, including physical violence (beating, shooting rubber-coated steel bullets as well as stun and gas grenades), preventing them from covering events and from accessing the site of the demonstration, detaining them until the end of the protest, and arresting them for up to two days as a punishment for covering these protests.

Among the serious violations monitored by the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) against journalists covering these marches were those suffered by AFP photographer Jafar Ishtayeh.

On 24 January 2014, while he was covering a march in the village of Kafr Qadoum, the IOF threw two tear gas bombs at him, hitting his hand and shoulder and causing bruises, bleeding and loss of consciousness.

Ishtayeh had been previously assaulted severely by the IOF on 17 August 2012, again while covering a march in Kafr Qadoum. On that occasion, IOF soldiers severely beat him with cudgels because he had photographed them while deploying among the demonstrators. In addition to suffering from a bone fracture in his hand, he was detained for four hours alongside five other journalists. They were all forced to sign a pledge that they would not come back to the site. Ishtayeh suffered a third violation in Nablus on 16 July 2014 when his car was completely burnt while he was covering clashes. The IOF threw tear gas canisters at the vehicle from a very short distance, breaking a window and then provoking its complete burning.

Ishtayeh's case was one of the numerous stories featured by IFEX on the International Day to End Impunity in November 2012.

Another media worker, Imad Burnat, was a target of similar repeated violations. Burnat worked for Reuters and provided videos for documentary directors about the peaceful demonstrations against settlements in the West Bank village of Bil'in as well as the violations committed by the IOF during these protests. Burnat relayed his experience in the documentary film “Five Broken Cameras”, which portrays the assaults and violations perpetrated against journalists and civilians during the Bil'in peaceful demonstrations. His documentary film won many international prizes and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary in 2013.

In the last five and a half years (2009 – mid 2014), MADA has monitored 147 violations against journalists covering weekly demonstrations in the West Bank.

More specifically, there were 10 violations in 2009, 46 in 2010, 31 in 2011, 27 in 2012, 21 in 2013, and 12 during the first semester of 2014. These statistics only show the violations committed during peaceful demonstrations and do not include the numerous abuses against journalists which occurred during other manifestations of popular resistance in Palestine, as well as other violations of Palestinian media freedoms committed by Israel.

Of all those violations, 86% were concentrated during the weekly protests in four villages: Bil'in near Ramallah (38 violations), Beit Ummar near Hebron (37 violations), Nabi Saleh near Ramallah (28 violations), and Kafr Qadoum near Qalqilya (24 violations). The rest were committed during demonstrations organized in other villages such as Al-Ma'sara near Bethlehem (11 violations), Beit Jala near Bethlehem (6 violations), Ni'lin village west of Ramallah (2 violations), and one in Al-Walaja village also near Bethlehem.


Palestinian boys from the West Bank village of Bil'in wave their national flags at a weekly demonstration in the village on 3 June 2005
Palestinian boys from the West Bank village of Bil'in wave their national flags at a weekly demonstration in the village on 3 June 2005

Lisa Nessan/Flickr

The weekly demonstrations in Bil'in started in February 2005 after the IOF communicated to the village's council its decision to uproot a large number of olive trees. This triggered the establishment of the Popular Nonviolent Resistance Committee against the Apartheid Wall and Israeli settlements which has been organizing demonstrations every Friday against the confiscation of the village's lands ever since.

These protests have achieved real success. According to the spokesperson of the popular resistance committee, Abdullah Abu Rahma, the most important achievements were the destruction of a part of the Apartheid Wall, the recovering of 1,200 acres of the village's lands, and halting the construction of 1,500 new settlement units.

International interest in the Palestinian popular resistance as well as the images broadcast by the media have disturbed the Israeli occupation. As a result, journalists have become IOF targets along with Palestinian protesters and international and Israeli solidarity activists.

Abu Rahma confirmed the importance of media coverage for the success of the village's resistance: “The media coverage was one of the main reasons for the success of the Bili'n experience. The village has become an international symbol of popular resistance because of the media coverage and the image the media has conveyed about what is happening on the ground,” he said.

Palestinian journalists have suffered serious violations of their rights by the IOF while covering events in Bil'in. They include:

·Wattan TV cameraman Ahmad Shoman who was shot in the head with a rubber bullet;
·Palestine Public TV correspondent Haoroun Amayre who suffered from severe asphyxia;
·Al-Haya Al-Jadeeda photographer Muhieb Al-Barghouthi who was shot with two rubber bullets in the legs;
·Palestine Public TV cameraman Mohammad Radi and AP photographer Majdi Eshtayye who were both arrested, and the latter beaten.

Palestine Public TV correspondent Ali Dar Ali reported to MADA that he had been injured multiple times by rubber bullets or tear gas canisters, and added that journalists are directly targeted by the IOF. As an example, he recalled once being was injured by a gas bomb thrown by an Israeli soldier from a distance of only 4-5 meters while he was preparing to interview one of the protesters. The bomb hit him in the leg causing bruises and burns. Despite that, he said he will continue doing his job and covering the weekly demonstrations.

Beit Ummar

Bil'in's successful experience has inspired other areas in the West Bank, such as the village of Beit Ummar, near Hebron, where weekly demonstration started in 2006 every Saturday to protest against Israeli settlements and the Apartheid Wall. MADA has monitored 37 violations against journalists covering these weekly protests between 2009 and the first half of 2014. MADA has also observed an escalation of violence in Hebron, where journalists are not targeted by the IOF only but also by Israeli settlers.

"The [Israeli] occupational forces think that if we face their attacks one week, we will not go and cover the protest the following week. But the opposite is true; we come back even more determined to report." - AFP photographer Hazem Bader

The violations in Hebron are usually severe and “collective,” meaning that all journalists on the field are punished. For example, once the IOF beat and threw tear gas bombs at a group of journalists, with one canister hitting Reuters photographer Abdulrahim Al-Qousini underneath his left ear causing his eardrum to rupture. He is still getting treatment and there has been no improvement in his medical case yet. On that same occasionm an Israeli officer beat up AFP photographer Hazem Bader, directing hits at his face and leg with a cudgel. AP photographer Abdulhafiz Hashlamoon also got bruised on his back as a result of a metal bomb thrown at him.

Bader, who was assaulted many times by the IOF, said: “We were targeted while we were covering the severe assaults of the IOF against protesters in Beit Ummar. I think this is the reason behind the escalation of violations against journalists. They do not want us to cover these assaults.”

He added: "The [Israeli] occupational forces think that if we face their attacks one week, we will not go and cover the protest the following week. But actually the opposite is true; we come back even more determined to report."

Kafr Qaddum

The residents of Kafr Qaddum, a Palestinian town in the north of the West Bank, launched their first popular march on 1 July 2011. Since then, a demonstration has been organized every Friday to demand the reopening of the only street in the village. The popular protest media coordinator Murad Ishtawi explained that the street was closed by a military order during the First Intifada in 1987 under the pressure of the Israeli settlers of Qadumim, a settlement located on 4,000 acres of the village's 24,000 acres.

The most serious violations of journalists' rights monitored by MADA in Kafr Qaddum so far are the following: Palestine Public TV correspondent Bashar Nazal and cameraman Ahmad Shawer were beaten on their hands and legs by the IOF; AFP photojournalist Jafar Ishtaieh, mentioned earlier in the report, was targeted by a gas canister which injured him in the hand and shoulder making him lose consciousness momentarily, he was also severely beaten, sustained a hand fracture, and was arrested together with other five journalists.

Nabi Saleh

Popular resistance activities in Nabi Saleh, a small Palestinian village located 24 km northwest of Ramallah, started in late 2009 when its residents, together with those of the surrounding villages, decided to resist against Israeli settlement expansion. A year later, the IOF started using violence against journalists and anyone trying to document its repression of peaceful protesters.

Bilal Tamimi, a resident of Nabi Saleh, took on the responsibility of documenting these marches to make up for the lack of media coverage, even though he is not a professional journalist.

He reported to MADA many of the IOF abuses during the marches, with the latest occurring in February 2014. He said that because of the regularity of these demonstrations, the Israeli soldiers present in the area know very well all the protesters taking part.

He explained that the reason why the media are targeted by the Israeli occupational forces is that they do not want the world to see their use of violence against Palestinian protesters, which has led to the death and injury of many. Besides, coverage of these events has allowed the liberation of several imprisoned protesters accused of various charges by the IOF. The videos of the protests were indeed presented in court, proving the falsity of the IOF allegations.

Anatolia Turkish News Agency photojournalist Muaz Ahmed Mashal faced repeated attacks while covering events there. He was injured by 12 rubber-coated steel bullets in the legs while covering the weekly marches of April 2014. He reported to MADA that what first motivated him to continue his work despite the odds is his patriotic duty towards Palestinians who are victims of Israeli violence. He described the Palestinian journalists as field soldiers ready to endanger their lives to carry out their professional mission.

Mashal added that journalists do not expect assistance from the international community, which has done nothing to ensure their protection except for a few press releases issued by some organizations.

MADA monitored several dangerous attacks against journalists during the past years. For instance, cameraman Ahmad Daghlas was severely injured in the head after being targeted by a gas canister by the IOF, French La Desk agency photographer Chris Hubywas was gravely injured in his right foot, Palestine Public TV cameraman Najeb Frawneh and correspondent Ali Dar Ali were detained for four hours, Al-Quds TV correspondent Linda Shalash received threats that she would be arrested if she did not leave the place, Pal Media and Turkish TRT TV correspondent Hamzeh Na'aji was critically injured by a gas canister thrown directly at him by Israeli soldiers.

Anatolia Turkish News Agency photojournalist Muaz Ahmed Mashal
Anatolia Turkish News Agency photojournalist Muaz Ahmed Mashal

The Israeli occupation has been targeting the media in Palestine for many decades, with numerous journalists killed, injured or arrested. However, Palestinian news workers have not surrendered and have kept on covering events despite the danger in order to inform the world about the reality of the Israeli occupation in Palestine.

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) calls on all governmental and non-governmental organizations to take serious steps towards protecting journalists' lives and providing safety in Palestine. MADA also asks the international community to increase its pressure on Israeli authorities to stop their repeated violations of press freedom in Palestine. MADA expresses its appreciation of journalists' work and its pride in their insistence to do their job despite the difficult circumstances.

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