During the two weeks of sustained Palestinian protests in occupied East Jerusalem over Israel’s attempts to tighten control over the al-Aqsa mosque compound, press groups monitored a surge in violations against journalists.
The Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) recorded dozens of violations committed by Israeli occupation forces, who reportedly attacked, arrested and threatened journalists covering Palestinian protests in the city.
Israeli police barred journalists from entering the Old City of Jerusalem, while Israeli settlers and tourists entered freely.
This week, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and an Israeli press union filed petitions against the Israeli police, demanding they cease restricting and hindering press coverage in the Old City.
“The fact that tourists and Israeli Jews freely entered the Old City while journalists were barred from doing so raises concern that the police’s intention was to prevent the free flow of information through the media on the events taking place and on the police’s handling of those events,” the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said in a press release.
Oren Ziv, a photographer with the collective ActiveStills, told The Electronic Intifada that Israeli soldiers and police regularly attack Palestinian and other journalists who cover smaller Palestinian demonstrations, but the events in Jerusalem were unusual because of the wide attention they received.
During the protests, Israeli police were filmed violently assaulting Ziv’s ActiveStills colleague Faiz Abu Rmeleh.
“Palestinian journalists are always attacked at local protests, but in this case, this policy was affecting mainstream Israeli and international media too,” Ziv said.
“They don’t respect any freedom of the press in the liberal sense,” Ziv added.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel noted that several journalists had been wounded by weapons used by Israeli forces, including a sponge-tipped bullet and a stun grenade. Other journalists have reported being beaten up or forced to turn over footage.
Camera operators for international outlets including Sky News, Reuters, Al Jazeera and RT were among the journalists who were attacked, according to MADA.
Ziv says he welcomes the solidarity from more mainstream Israeli journalists and looks forward to seeing how the police respond to the petitions in Israel’s high court.
Even now that the protests in Jerusalem have subsided, following Israel’s decision to heed the protesters’ demands and remove metal detectors and surveillance equipment at the gates of the al-Aqsa complex, attacks on the press have continued.
Al-Quds TV and Lebanese broadcasters Al-Mayadeen and Al-Manar, as well as RT, were all raided by soldiers on the allegation that they were engaging in “incitement.”
The Israeli army seized documents and equipment, according to Ma’an News Agency.
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the raid.
“Israeli soldiers cannot simply allege incitement and raid broadcasters’ offices,” the group’s Middle East and North Africa coordinator Sherif Mansour said in a press release. “We call on the Israeli military to return all equipment it seized from PalMedia’s office in Ramallah immediately and stop harassing the press.”
Israel has a long record of jailing journalists and raiding media offices on the pretext of “incitement.”
Kicking out Al Jazeera
The Qatar-based media network denounced Netanyahu’s claim, vowing that “it would take all necessary legal measures in case they act on their threat.”
Kara acknowledged that the Israeli government’s move was connected to the desires of Gulf states – with which Israel is increasingly allied – to see Al Jazeera shuttered.
“We identify with the moderates in the Arab World who are fighting terrorism and religious extremism,” Kara told The Jerusalem Post. “Here in Israel, there is no place for a channel that backs terrorism either. We will act like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and more, which expelled the inciting channel from their countries.”
Reporters Sans Frontiers ranks Saudi Arabia at 168 out of 180 countries for press freedom in 2017; Bahrain ranks 164, Egypt ranks 161 and Jordan ranks 138.
Israel ranks 91.