On September 5, the Israeli military released the findings of its investigation into the murder of Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11 of this year.
The findings of the report comes months after Palestinian as well as international organizations, news agencies, officials, civil society, and most importantly the family of Abu Akleh appealed for accountability.
While the report finds that Abu Akleh was likely unintentionally killed by a soldier’s gunfire, the months following her killing have shown an intensified Israeli campaign against Palestinian journalists.
Intimidation of journalists
The months since Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing have seen continued attacks on Palestinian journalists.
Just a day before releasing the report on the killing of Abu Akleh, Israeli forces raided the Jerusalem home of Palestinian journalist Lama Ghosheh, mother of two, and took her into detention. On September 5, her detention was further extended for “interrogation” purposes. This is not unprecedented for Ghosheh as she had previously been detained in 2016 for her journalism as well.
In addition, not only journalists but future journalists are being targeted by Israeli forces. On August 7, Dina Jaradat, 23, a student of media studies in Al-Quds Open University was arrested by the Israeli military in Jenin. Jaradat was scheduled to have a hearing on September 5, but it was postponed due to her deteriorating health.
Jaradat was denied health care during her 15 days of consecutive interrogation despite appeals for medical care due to a brain condition. Jaradat has hydrocephalus which requires regular drainage of fluid from her brain. Instead of receiving care for her condition, Jaradat was sent to Damon prison, taken to Rambam hospital in Haifa, only to be returned to Damon prison.
These practices serve to prevent journalists from doing their job by raising the risk of reporting out of concerns over health, freedom, and in the case of Abu Akleh, getting killed with impunity.
In 2022 alone, more than 479 media rights violations were committed against Palestinian journalists according to a report by the International Federation of Journalists.
More than a decade ago, in 2009, Israel was demoted from “free” to “partly free” regarding press freedom. In 2021, in light of Israeli violations safety for Palestinian journalists, Reporters Without Borders ranked Palestine 170th for safety in reporting, ranking more dangerous than Yemen. There are six Palestinian journalists and media workers being imprisoned by Israel, one since 2018 and two since 2020.
During the onslaught on Gaza in August, Palestinian journalists who were covering the violence and violations against Palestinian civilians and worshippers in Jerusalem were attacked by both armed Israeli forces and armed settlers. More than 20 Palestinian journalists have a travel ban against them by Israeli authorities, restricting their movement to the West Bank and Gaza.
It is important to note that while Palestinian journalists are witnessing increased harm, they are also faced with international unwillingness to either protect journalists or demand justice and accountability for their families, friends, and communities should they be murdered.
Israel’s repression, censorship practices, and evasion of accountability is neither unique nor surprising, rather they come as a familiar practice of repressive regimes. Sadly, Palestinian journalists are facing more than one of these regimes.
The Palestinian Authority: double the censorship
In response to the findings of the Israeli-led investigation into Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing, the spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority, Nabil Abu Rdenieh said in a statement, that “this is a renewed Israeli attempt at evading accountability for [Abu Akleh’s] murder.”
Despite Abu Rdeineh’s statement being true, it also betrays the increasingly dangerous and frightening reality in which Palestinian journalists operate under the Palestinian Authority.
In addition to the impunity provided to Israeli military and authorities by the international community, a ferocious campaign by the Palestinian Authority to intimidate Palestinian journalists continues to intensify.
On August 12 of this year, Palestinian journalist Mujahed Tabanja was arrested by the PA’s general intelligence service (GIS) in Nablus. This came a mere three days after Israel assassinated three Palestinians in Nablus, including the ‘lion of Nablus,’ Ibrahim al-Nabulsi.
The GIS is currently headed by Majed Faraj, a staunch confidant of Mahmoud Abbas, potential presidential candidate and primary negotiator with Israel and the US.
Tabanja, who has since been released, was reportedly tortured and beaten by Palestinian interrogators. This coercive violence was used to draw a forced confession that he is affiliated with Hamas. This further suggests that arrested journalists, whether by Israel or the PA, are facing potential fabricated charges to justify their arbitrary detainment, and in some cases, torture.
On September 4, Palestinian security forces raided the home of journalist Mohammad Ateeq, 30, in Burqin near Jenin. Ateeq was detained and held despite calls from the Palestinian Journalist Syndicate and a visit by a representative to the police station where Ateeq was being held to ensure his well-being is not being compromised.
Despite affirmations that Ateeq would not be transferred, on September 5 he was taken to the Palestinian Authority’s Jericho Prison complex, according to his lawyer, Noor Al-Din Jarrar. The allegations being put forth against Ateeq were “illegal possession of arms,” a false allegation and excuse to prolong and continue his arbitrary detention, according to a statement by Addameer.
In addition to Ateeq, on the same day another journalist, Mujahed Al-Saadi, was also arrested by PA forces from Jenin, while Palestinian journalist Mustafa Khawaja was summoned for interrogation in Ramallah, according to a representative in the journalist syndicate.
Targeted attacks and obstruction of PRESS
Since 2002, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Observatory for killed journalists, has documented at least 22 international and local journalists killed by either Israel or Palestinian authorities (including Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank). All of these cases which have been condemned are yet to be resolved. The Committee to Protect Journalists finds at least 25 journalists killed in their coverage of Palestine since 1992.
The case of Shireen Abu Akleh showcases that journalists will continue to be a target in Palestine, while accountability as a way to enhance protection remains held up by political leaders and officials who are yet to safeguard rights of press.
Almost a year before Abu Akleh was killed, in May 2021, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), sent a letter to the director general of UNESCO appealing for better documentation and protection mechanisms for journalists in Palestine. Preceding the fatal bullet which killed Abu Akleh, is a long list of crimes committed against her team and colleagues such as Guevara Budeiri, who was viciously assaulted by Israeli forces in Jerusalem. Al-Jazeera’s offices were pounded and leveled by Israeli bombardment on live television in Gaza (along with the offices of the Associated Press). And it goes without saying that this policy is not new. In 2002, when Israeli military was conducting a full-blown invasion in Ramallah, it put a ban on reporters who attempted to enter to cover the area, preventing coverage at a time when Israeli forces and settlers were committing potential war crimes. The censorship was condemned by local and foreign journalists and press agencies.
Now, years later, Palestinian and international journalists face similar threats but coming from both Palestinian and Israeli forces who are carrying out an intensified campaign to deter them from doing their jobs, and fulfilling their obligations to cover social, political, economic, scientific, and cultural developments in Palestine.
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