Palestinian Journalists Facing Wave of Detentions, Attacks
Journalists Being Held without Charges by Israeli Military
By: Scott Griffen, IPI Associate
VIENNA, Feb 20, 2012 – The International Press Institute (IPI) is concerned over a recent wave of press-freedom violations against Palestinian journalists at the hands of both Israeli forces and Palestinian security services.
Since the beginning of 2012, at least five journalists working in the Palestinian Territories have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and a further two have seen their detention periods extended, according to media reports. Three of the recently arrested journalists were allegedly interrogated for several hours about their writing before being released, while the remaining pair continues to be held without charges.
IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: “We are concerned that the arbitrary detention of journalists in the Palestinian Territories reflects a desire to control information and silence criticism - neither of which is acceptable in a democratic society. The pattern of interrogating journalists for what they write and then later releasing them appears to be a method of encouraging self-censorship, something that is ultimately most harmful to the people of Palestine.”
Moreover, in a series of incidents in the West Bank, Israeli forces have allegedly targeted journalists covering protests with rubber-coated steel bullets and tear-gas canisters.
Bethel McKenzie said IPI was “troubled” by reports that journalists were being targeted for doing their job. She emphasised: “Journalists are there to collect facts, not to take sides.”
The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), which tracks press-freedom violations in Gaza and the West Bank, said in its most recent monthly report that “the New Year did not begin well” for Palestinian journalists. The group spoke of an “extensive campaign of violence and harassment” against journalists by Israeli forces, and assailed Palestinian authorities for failing to improve the Territories’ poor record on press freedom.
The most recent of the arrests occurred on 5 February, when Israeli forces raided the homes of reporter Suhaib Al-Asa of Radio Bethelem 2000 and Oman Halaiqaa, a photojournalist based in al-Khalil province, and confiscated the journalists’ mobile phones, recorders and camera memory cards, MADA said. Both al-Asa and Halaiqaa were arrested and are currently being held without charges in the Etzion and Ashkelon detention centres, respectively. MADA told IPI it was unaware of specific writings that could have prompted the arrests.
The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) reported on 14 February that Israeli authorities two day earlier had extended Al-Asa’s detention period for 11 days. The group added that Al-Asa had been previously detained by authorities at least twice.
The arrests of al-Asa and Halaiqaa came just days after another pair of journalists was reportedly detained and interrogated by Palestinian security services. Rami Samara, an editor at the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, told MADA he was taken to Palestinian intelligence headquarters on 1 February and questioned for three hours about criticisms of the PLO leadership he had posted on his Facebook page.
Samara said he was released only after colleagues organised a sit-in protest in Ramallah. AP quoted him as saying afterward, “Before this detention, I thought that we, the Palestinian people, enjoy wide freedom, but after what I saw, I think I'm being followed by the intelligence in every step of my life," he said.
Yousef Shayeb, a correspondent for the Jordan-based al-Ghad newspaper, told the Associated Press (AP) he had been held for eight hours on 31 January and questioned about stories in which he alleged corruption at a Palestinian diplomatic mission abroad. A Palestinian government spokesman said Shayeb was under investigation for libel, AP further reported.
On 22 January a cameraman for Marah TV, Yousef Abu Jas, was summoned to a military court in Jenin (West Bank) for a “security check.” According to MADA, Abu Jas was interrogated for five hours about his journalistic activity before being released.
Israeli authorities in January extended the detention periods of two Palestinian journalists arrested without charges last year, Nawaf al-Amer of Quds TV and Amin Abu Warda a correspondent for the Palestine News Network (PNN). Officials on 8 February extended Abu Warda’s extension period for five months and ordered al-Amer to be held for an additional three months beginning 26 January.
IPI calls on Israeli authorities to either name charges against al-Asa, Halaiqaa, al-Amer, and Abu Warda or release them immediately.
MADA and other groups have also expressed concern over what they view as targeted attacks by Israeli forces on Palestininan journalists covering protests in the West Bank. On 27 January, Israeli forces reportedly fired two rubber-coated steel bullets at photographer Muheeb Al-Barghouthi, of the newspaper Alhayat Aljadedah, who was covering a demonstration in the town of Bil’in. Al-Barghouti told MADA he required immediate transfer to a hospital after one of the bullets struck near a bone in his left leg.
In a separate incident on the same day, Israeli soldiers allegedly targeted a group of journalists covering a weekly protest in Kafr Kaddom with tear-gas canisters. Haroon Amayreh told MADA one of the canisters hit him in the leg and that he and other journalists experienced breathing difficulties.
Reporters without Borders last week cited a third incident, in which two Palestinian journalists were reportedly injured by rubber bullets and tear-gas grenades in the town of Nabi Saleh.
The Israeli military has responded fiercely to claims that it directly targets journalists. "There is no such policy and I would even say it's ridiculous to make such a claim," military spokesman Arye Shalicar told AFP. Shalicar added that the demonstrations are by nature violent and that journalists, "by the fact of being there … are placing themselves in danger and they need to be aware of that.”