By Steven MacMillan
For years now, the government of Israel has pursued increasingly belligerent policies towards Palestinian journalists who cover the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the expansion of the illegal settlements program.
On the 2nd July, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) denounced Israel’s treatment of a Palestinian TV crew who were covering an altercation between Palestinians and Israeli forces at the Shuafat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem – where living conditions are desperate and it is often without running water. According to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), the Israeli forces fired gas canisters, stun grenades and rubber coated bullets towards them, injuring 2 of the crew. The President of the IFJ Jim Boumelha strongly criticised the attack:
“The blatant disregard of the Israeli government and its forces for the rights, freedom and lives of Palestinian journalists must end now. Media freedom is being undermined, basic human rights are being blatantly ignored and the Palestinian journalists are being injured or killed for no other reason than they are doing their jobs and reporting the truth.”
This episode is by no means an isolated incident. In May of this year Reporters Without Borders (RWB) issued an article titled the ‘increase in violence by Israeli security forces against Palestinian journalists’. The article documents how the Israeli military intentionally fired rubber bullets and tear gas at Palestinian journalists who were working in the city of Ramallah. According to the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms, Israeli forces have frequently carried out attacks on journalists covering the occupation of Palestine – a trend that is on the rise – with over 30 physical attacks in 2014 alone.
Richard Falk, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights, has been a strong critic of the treatment of Palestinian journalists by the Israeli establishment. A Professor of International Law at Princeton University, Falk’s first report on the situation in Palestine to the UN General Assembly describes the abuses against journalists back in 2008. The report documents the case of Mohammed Omer, an award winning Palestinian journalist who accused Israeli forces of beating and interrogating him in June 2008. Upon his return from accepting the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism due to his courage and integrity in covering the situation in Gaza, Mr Omer was crossing the Allenby Bridge on route to Gaza when the attack allegedly took place. When the UN report was written, the government of Israel had refused the UN’s appeal to comment on the episode, so the report quotes Mr Omer’s own account of the incident:
“Upon my return from London I was stripped naked at gunpoint, interrogated, kicked and beaten for more than four hours. At one point I fainted and then awakened to fingernails gouging at the flesh beneath my eyes. An officer crushed my neck beneath his boot and pressed my chest into the floor. Others took turns kicking and punching me, laughing all the while. They dragged me by my feet, sweeping my head through my own vomit. I was told later they transferred me to a hospital” (Falk, 2008, 18.)
Falk’s report then continues, placing the incident in a wider context:
“The unfortunate incident described above cannot be discounted as an accident or an anomaly involving undisciplined Israeli security personnel. The treatment of Mr. Omer seems to have been motivated by Israeli anger over international recognition of his journalism describing the occupation of Gaza, his willingness to repeat his descriptions abroad and his dedication and intention to continue in the professional role of bearing witness to the excesses of the occupation. It should be noted that all Palestinians are subject to arbitrary harassment and abuse at borders and checkpoints, although the hostility towards journalists seems particularly severe……. In sum, the experience of Mohammed Omer appears to be only the most recent example of a pattern of official Israeli conduct interfering with press freedoms under conditions of occupation, thereby depriving the Palestinian population of whatever protection might result from exposing abuses of authority by the occupying Power.” (Falk, 2008, 19. & 20.)
Falk has been a vocal critic of Israel’s expansion of the settlements program in the West Bank, accusing the government of “ethnic cleansing” against the Palestinian population in May 2014. He also asserted that Israel had committed “war crimes or crimes against humanity” during the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza in December 2008, issuing a statement that was published in The Nation paper:
“The Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip represent severe and massive violations of international humanitarian law as defined in the Geneva Conventions, both in regard to the obligations of an Occupying Power and in the requirements of the laws of war.”
– Steven MacMillan contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: The Analyst Report.
– Richard Falk report to the UN General Assembly 2008: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967. – Section III. Significant human rights challenges: some case studies A. Freedom of expression and harassment of media personnel: the case of Mohammed Omer 18. 19. 20.