• In West Bank, Gaza, journalists face obstruction from all sides.
• Israeli fire kills Lebanese reporter during border clash.
18: Journalists detained when Israeli forces raided a Gaza-bound aid convoy.
The press operated in a highly polarized environment as Israeli, Hamas, and Fatah officials, all intent on controlling international news coverage, subjected journalists to harassment, detentions, censorship, and severe restrictions on their movements. Tensions peaked in June, when Israeli troops stormed a convoy of ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip, which was under an Israeli blockade, killing nine passengers and injuring dozens, detaining numerous accompanying reporters, and seizing journalistic material. Israeli authorities accused the organizers of the convoy of subterfuge, while pro-Palestinian activists attempted to use the episode to highlight what they viewed as repressive Israeli policies toward Gaza residents.
THE PRESS: 2010
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The Israeli military detained hundreds of people during the operation, including at least 18 journalists from Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Jordan, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Turkey, Morocco, and Italy. Many were held for days before being released or deported. Firsthand accounts indicated that Israeli authorities harassed the detained journalists, at least six of whom had their equipment either confiscated or destroyed. Othman Battiri, a senior Al-Jazeera producer who was briefly detained, told CPJ that soldiers confiscated the network’s cameras, tapes, satellite phones, and mobile phones. Issam Zaatar, an Al-Jazeera photographer who was taken into custody, reported that Israeli soldiers used force, breaking his arm and his camera. He added that he went through a “long and exhausting interrogation.”
Paul McGeough, chief correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald, told his newspaper that the raid was “very ugly.” “Our job requires us to get the stories and to reveal things that are not otherwise being revealed,” he said in an interview published on the paper’s website. “As Israel’s appalling handling of the flotilla demonstrates, you need journalists there to bear witness, to reveal what is happening out there.”
In the days following the raid, the Israeli military released edited portions of video footage, labeled “captured,” that had been confiscated from foreign journalists aboard the Gaza-bound flotilla. CPJ strongly criticized Israel’s confiscation and manipulation of journalistic material. The Foreign Press Association in Israel, which represents hundreds of foreign correspondents, called the release unethical and unacceptable, warning news outlets to “treat the material with appropriate caution.”
The aid flotilla, consisting of six ships, was organized by a coalition of human rights groups, chief among them the Islamist Istanbul-based IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation. Eight of the nine people killed were Turkish citizens–the other was a U.S. citizen of Turkish descent–and all were affiliated with the IHH. Following the raid, Israeli officials alleged that the group had links to Hamas, a claim the organization disputed. Historically, Turkey has been Israel’s only regional ally with significant diplomatic, military, and economic ties, but the military raid on the flotilla, which Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan described as “state terrorism,” significantly harmed bilateral ties.
In August, a Lebanese reporter was killed in crossfire while covering a border clash between Israeli and Lebanese military forces near the southern town of Al-Adaysseh. The journalist, Assaf Abu Rahal, who worked for the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, was struck by an Israeli shell after the skirmish broke out, according to news reports. The fighting was apparently triggered by an Israeli tree-cutting operation along the border. Lebanese authorities claimed Israeli forces crossed the border during the operation, an assertion Israel disputed. Abu Rahal’s death highlighted the continuing instability along Israel’s border with Lebanon in the wake of the 2006 conflict between Israel and the Islamist movement Hezbollah. The fighting in which Abu Rahal was killed was the deadliest along the border since the 2006 conflict, according to news reports.
In late March, journalists working for the international press revealed that Israeli authorities had issued a gag order barring the domestic media from reporting on the case of an Israeli soldier and former Web journalist, Anat Kam, who had been placed under house arrest and charged with “harming national security.” Kam was accused of leaking documents to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, allegedly showing that the military had violated an Israeli Supreme Court decision to cease a policy of assassinations in the Palestinian territories. The gag order was lifted on April 8, after Haaretz and at least one other local media outlet announced they would challenge it in court. Kam stated that she was acting as a concerned citizen and did not intend to harm national security, according to the BBC.
In the Palestinian territories, the rift between Fatah, once the main party of the Palestinian national movement, and the Islamist faction Hamas widened after a short-lived coalition fell apart in June 2007. Hamas consolidated control of the Gaza Strip while the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas retained Fatah rule in the West Bank. Journalists operating in the Palestinian territories were subjected to harassment and censorship by Hamas officials in Gaza and by Palestinian Authority officials in the West Bank. Each party maintained a ban on the distribution of publications they perceived as partisan, and they each obstructed the work of journalists perceived as favoring the other side.
The multifaceted standoff in Gaza between Israeli authorities, Fatah, and Hamas created surreal restrictions on the press. For example, as part of Israel’s sanctions against Gaza, enacted in 2008, authorities restricted the entry into Gaza of newspapers printed in the West Bank. In July 2010, Israeli authorities announced they would allow three daily papers, Al-Hayat al-Jadida, Al-Ayyam, and Al-Quds, to enter Gaza. The following day, Hamas security forces blocked distributors in Gaza from picking up the papers at the Erez Crossing, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. The newspapers, considered pro-Fatah, were directed to sign an agreement stating that they would not criticize Hamas in order to enter the strip, according to Abdel Nasser al-Najjar, chairman of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate and editorial director of Al-Ayyam. A Hamas spokesman contacted by CPJ denied that Hamas had requested such a promise.
In February, a military court in the West Bank city of Nablus sentenced journalist Tariq Abu Zaid, who reported for the Hamas-run television station Al-Aqsa TV, to 18 months in prison. Abu Zaid had been held by the Palestinian Military Intelligence Service since August 2009 based on his work for Al-Aqsa TV, which the Palestinian Authority banned in 2007. In January, the Palestinian High Court of Justice in Ramallah ordered Abu Zaid’s immediate release, but the order was not implemented; instead, the journalist was convicted of “undermining the status of the [Palestinian] authority” by reporting for a banned news outlet, his lawyer, Bassam Karajeh, told CPJ. Abu Zaid was finally freed in November following an executive order from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
A second journalist was arrested in May amid Hamas-Fatah tensions. Amer Abu Arfa, a correspondent for the Shihab news agency, was arrested at his West Bank home by Palestinian Authority intelligence agents, according to his father. Shihab, based in the Gaza Strip, was perceived by the Palestinian Authority as being pro-Hamas. In July, a court in Hebron sentenced Abu Arfa to three months in prison and a fine of 500 Jordanian dinars (US$700) after finding him guilty of “resisting the policies of the authorities” in connection with his reporting.
In October, the Hamas Internal Security agency shuttered the office of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate in Gaza. The syndicate had been holding workshops aimed at uniting journalists across the West Bank and Gaza. The International Federation of Journalists accused Hamas of “targeting journalists who wish to promote solidarity and unity within the Palestinian community.” Hamas offered no explanation for the move.
Journalists attempting to operate in the West Bank also faced restrictions from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). A troubling series of press freedom violations in the West Bank, including detentions, censorship, and physical attacks by Israeli soldiers, prompted CPJ in March to call on Israeli authorities to end the harassment of journalists and bring the IDF’s practices in line with international standards of press freedom, which allow journalists to conduct their work without deliberate interference.
Journalists reporting on violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers or IDF forces risked physical injury, and some reporters suggested they had been deliberately targeted. In January, soldiers assaulted a group of Palestinian journalists in Burin, a village south of Nablus. In the past, Israeli settlers have repeatedly cut down or burned trees owned by Burin farmers. Israeli soldiers told the journalists–Rami Swidan, a photographer for Ma’an News Agency; Ashraf Abu Shawish, a cameraman for the news website Palmedia; and Reuters photographers Abdel Rahim al-Qusini and Hassan Titi–that they were not allowed to take pictures because the area was a closed military zone. When the journalists refused to stop, Swidan said, soldiers hit them and attempted to take their cameras, before throwing tear gas containers and stun grenades at them. The IDF did not respond to CPJ queries seeking comment either on this episode or on a string of other cases during the year.
On February 6, Israeli forces fired rubber bullets at Xinhua news agency photographer Nidal Ishtieh in Oraq Burin, also near Nablus. Ishtieh was covering clashes between settlers and villagers. Members of the IDF ordered him to stop, he told CPJ. When he insisted on continuing his work, he said, the soldier shot him in the foot with rubber bullets.
On February 8 and 9, Al-Jazeera reported that several journalists covering an Israeli military operation in the Shu’fat refugee camp, just outside East Jerusalem, were injured when Israeli soldiers fired tear gas grenades, stun grenades, and rubber bullets into a crowd containing journalists. Diala Jweihan, a photographer for Qudsnet, a news website, was injured in the stomach as a result of an IDF-fired stun grenade. Jweihan told CPJ that she was covering the clashes from a distance when a soldier fired the grenade in her direction. Four cameramen working for various media were also injured by tear gas grenades and rubber bullets fired by Israeli soldiers, according to Al-Jazeera.
On March 7, Associated Press photographer Mahfouz Abu Turk and Al-Quds newspaper photographer Mahmoud Alian were injured by Israeli forces while covering clashes between soldiers and Palestinians in the courtyard of Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, according to news reports. Abu Turk told CPJ that he sustained an injury to his right leg when it was hit with a rubber bullet and that a soldier tried to confiscate his camera. On the same day, European Pressphoto Agency photographer Abdel-Hafiz Hashlamoun, Palmedia cameraman Abdul Ghani Natshe, Quds TV correspondent Akram Natshe, and Palestinian TV cameraman Mohamed Hmeidat were injured by Israeli forces while covering clashes near the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. Hashlamoun told CPJ that two Israeli soldiers pushed him into a wall and broke his camera. Hmeidat and Akram Natshe both told CPJ that they were beaten and bruised by Israeli soldiers and were forced to leave the scene.
In May, the Israeli military obstructed an Al-Jazeera crew trying to cover a protest rally in the village of Bil’in, west of Ramallah. IDF soldiers arrested Al-Jazeera cameraman Majdi Bannoura and assistant Nader Abu Zer when they arrived in Bil’in to cover a protest against the separation barrier being erected there by Israel, according to local news reports. Soldiers informed the crew that Bil’in was a closed military zone and that no one was allowed to videotape in the area, Bannoura told CPJ. When Bannoura noted that other media groups had been allowed to videotape there, soldiers handcuffed and blindfolded him and his assistant and took them to a military checkpoint. (Al-Jazeera crews themselves had been allowed to film there previously.) The two journalists were made to wait at the checkpoint for four hours before being transferred to Ofer military base in Ramallah, Bannoura said. There, they were interrogated for half an hour and released with a warning not to return to Bil’in, he told CPJ.