“The more that Israel is exposed internationally for its human rights violations in Palestine, the more it becomes desperate in its attempt to crack down on journalists and the media in general.” — Dr. Ramzy Baroud
OCCUPIED EAST JERUSALEM — Despite wearing a press vest and holding a government press card, Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent Givara Budeiri was violently assaulted and arrested by Israeli police on June 5.
Budeiri was covering a demonstration in the Occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah when Israeli forces attacked and then detained her for several hours on the grounds she kicked a soldier, which she denies. She was released only on terms that she doesn’t visit Sheikh Jarrah for 15 days.
“The silencing of journalists by terrorizing them has become a routine activity for the Israeli authorities, as witnessed in recent weeks in Gaza and occupied Jerusalem,” Dr. Mostefa Souag, acting director-general of Al Jazeera Media Network, said in a statement regarding Budeiri’s detention.
Violence against journalists, destruction of media property, and online censorship are all part of Israel’s systematic campaign to prevent the Palestinian narrative from reaching a global platform and exposing Israel’s crimes. And these efforts are only increasing.
The climate of press freedom
During the course of Israel’s 11-day war on Gaza, Israeli airstrikes destroyed four buildings housing at least 18 local and international media outlets. These included the offices belonging to Al Jazeera, Associated Press, Al-Araby TV, and Nawa Online Women Media Network. Israel’s bombardment also killed Palestinian journalist Yousef Abu Hussein and injured journalists Mohammad al-Louh and Elias Karram. Since April 21, a growing number of journalists have been harassed and assaulted by Israeli security forces and right-wing activists.
But attacks on the press aren’t exclusive to the recent violence in Palestine associated with Sheikh Jarrah, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and Gaza. Israel holds a ranking of 86 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index (with “1” being the most free) and Palestine sits at 132.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 18 journalists have been killed in the region since 1992; and currently 13 Palestinian journalists are imprisoned in Israeli jails. The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) reported 408 violations in the Occupied West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza in 2020, with Israel responsible for 53% of the attacks. The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) reported 608 media violations in 2020, with 490 of those violations committed by Israeli forces.
Israeli press violations encompass a wide range of dangerous actions, including physical assaults, targeting of media institutions, arrests, detentions, interrogations, raids, confiscation and destruction of equipment, and even using journalists as human shields.
A journalist’s personal experience
In one case, Dan Cohen — an American journalist and MintPress News contributor who was in Palestine from 2014 to 2017 — experienced being used as a human shield by Israeli forces firsthand. During an Israeli army raid into the Aida refugee camp in the West Bank in March 2014, a commander grabbed Cohen while he was reporting and forced him to stand in front of soldiers shooting at Palestinian youth. He was able to escape unscathed, but the incident still burns in his mind when considering freedom of the press in Israel-Palestine. “It was a very obvious case of the Israeli army attempting to use me as a human shield either to punish me for documenting their activities, potentially injure me, or just to scare me,” Cohen said.
Cohen was harassed again during another army operation into the camp in 2014. A group of soldiers approached him, with one brandishing his weapon at Cohen. They forced him to turn around against a wall. “And then when I couldn’t see, they threw a flash [grenade] at me,” Cohen said. “Of course, it startled me and then they just laughed as they walked away. So, this is typical Israeli army harassment of journalists.”
Journalists — foreign and local — face a myriad of barriers when covering Palestine-Israel. But Cohen feels the pressures are more extreme for journalists who don’t fit into the establishment mold. “If you do the mainstream, New York Times reporting and stick to official events and don’t really challenge the hasbara narrative, then you’re not in any kind of danger. But if you dare to go to where Palestinians are demonstrating, then you’ll get tear gassed. You might get shot with a rubber-coated bullet and you may even get hit with live ammunition,” Cohen said. Hasbara is the Israeli term for propaganda and refers to the government’s diplomatic efforts to manipulate information and control the global narrative on Israel-Palestine. Cohen concluded, “A lot of it just depends on what you expose yourself to, but fundamentally journalists in Israel have no real protection.”
For journalists like Cohen, who has reported for alternative media outlets like Mondoweiss, challenging Israel’s status quo can turn you into a target. This is even more likely if you’re Jewish. “Zionists consider Jews who dissent from the Israeli government positions as traitors who are even worse than Arabs,” Cohen told MintPress, adding:
Jews speaking out against Israeli crimes — whether you’re an activist, a journalist, or anybody — severely undermines the so-called Jewish state’s ability to project itself as a defender of Jews worldwide and claim that its crimes against Palestinians are necessary to ensure the livelihood of a worldwide Jewry.
Yet it’s not just the Israeli military and government targeting the press. In recent weeks, CPJ, the Committee to Protect Journalists, uncovered far-right, Jewish nationalists encouraging violence against media professionals documenting these extremists’ coordinated attacks against Palestinians. “[We] can do both [target Arabs and journalists], it really doesn’t contradict. There are Arab terrorists and there are media terrorists,” read a WhatsApp message from a local group.
According to the Union of Journalists in Israel (ITONAIM), Israeli journalists faced dozens of attacks from the public and Israeli authorities from April 21 to May 15.
The I’lam – Arab Center for Media Freedom, Development and Research also released a report documenting 13 incidents of harassment and violence against Palestinian and Israeli journalists in May. The majority of these cases were committed by Israeli security forces. I’lam reported:
According to the testimonies collected, the Israeli security forces’ attempts to eradicate journalists and prevent the media from reporting on the events aim to provide the official Israeli narrative with legitimacy and credibility in front of the world… Eradicating journalists is not only violating national and international laws, it also undermines the people’s right to know the facts, which it appears Israel is trying to hide.
Palestinian press under greater threat
Neither Israeli nor Palestinian journalists are immune to harassment — especially when it comes to reporting on Israeli corruption. But one group faces significantly greater danger in doing their job.
“There is very little margin for press freedom in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories. Traditionally, the limitations and the restrictions have been imposed on Palestinian journalists covering Israeli military activities, the Israeli occupation, and Israeli violations of human rights,” Dr. Ramzy Baroud, editor of Palestine Chronicle, told MintPress News, adding:
As of late, even Israeli journalists and media that seem to be sympathetic in any way with Palestinians or who are exposing the right-wing policies of Benjamin Netanyahu and his government have also faced a degree of limitation and restriction. But, of course, we are still talking about a vastly disproportionate difference here in how Palestinian and Israeli journalists are treated.”
According to a report from PJS’ Freedom Committee, Israel committed more than 180 press violations against Palestinians in May. About 80 violations occurred in the Gaza Strip, with around 37 media institutions targeted and at least 10 journalists injured by rocket fire.
In the West Bank and Jerusalem, roughly 100 Palestinian journalists have faced ongoing attacks from Israeli authorities through work restrictions, confiscation of equipment, tear gas, sound bombs and rubber bullets.
PJS called on the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) to send a commission to investigate Israeli crimes against Palestinian journalists. The HRC responded on May 27 by adopting a resolution establishing a commission to investigate press violations that have occurred in Palestine-Israel since April 13.
Amid Israel’s latest crackdown on Palestinian journalists, Cohen emphasized, however, that this isn’t a new phenomenon explaining:
For decades Palestinian journalists have been persecuted by an Israeli military dictatorship that doesn’t afford Palestinians any rights or guarantee any kind of freedom, whether that’s freedom of press or anything else. So, the recent attacks on Palestinian journalists and media institutions are part and parcel of the modus operandi of the apartheid regime.”
Media attacks worsening
As previously mentioned, multiple press watchdog groups monitoring Palestine-Israel indicate a drastic increase in media violations in recent months. Dr. Baroud agrees freedom of the press is worsening as Israeli crimes are broadcast on the world stage, concluding:
The more that Israel is exposed internationally for its human rights violations in Palestine, the more it becomes desperate in its attempt to crack down on journalists and the media in general. [Journalists] pose a threat to Israel in the sense that their job exposes Israeli practices and human rights violations against the Palestinians. So, in the eyes of Israel the journalist becomes the enemy because, even though he’s not carrying a weapon, the camera and the pen become weapons.”
Feature photo | Israeli security forces arrest Al Jazeera journalist, Givara Budeiri, during a protest in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, June 5, 2021. Oren Ziv | AP
Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.