Palestinian police officers are seen in Ramallah, in the West Bank, on June 26, 2021. Security forces recently attacked five journalists covering protests in Ramallah. (Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)

Palestinian security forces assault at least 5 journalists covering protests in Ramallah

New York, June 30, 2021 – Authorities in the West Bank should conduct a thorough investigation into security forces’ recent attacks on members of the press covering protests, and ensure that those responsible are held to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On June 26 and 27, security forces affiliated with the Palestinian Authority assaulted at least five reporters who were covering protests in the West Bank city of Ramallah, according to journalists who spoke with CPJ, news reports, and reports by the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) and the Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom.

Protests began in Ramallah after Nizar Banat, a Palestinian anti-corruption activist, died in the custody of the Palestinian Authority on June 24, according to reports.

In May and June, Israeli security forces detained at least three journalists and injured at least 12 others who were covering protests in Jerusalem, according to CPJ research

“With their recent crackdown on protest coverage, Palestinian security forces are taking a page from the book of their Israeli counterparts when it comes to the violent treatment of journalists covering events of public interest,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa representative, Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “Palestinian authorities in the West Bank must thoroughly investigate all instances of violence against journalists covering protests, and ensure that members of the press can do their work freely and safely.”

Saja Alami, a reporter for the news websites Ultra Palestine and the Palestine Post Network, told Skeyes that she was standing next to Fayhaa Khanfar, a reporter for the news website JMedia, covering the protests on the evening of June 26 when two security officers confronted them “and insulted us by saying that we journalists are traitors and the ones who ruined the country.”

One of the officers then pepper-sprayed both journalists and demanded they hand over their phones, Alami said. She told Skeyes that they both refused to give up their phones, and the officer ordered their arrests.

Alami said she fled the scene and was not detained, and was treated nearby for respiratory problems caused by pepper spray.

Khanfar told Skeyes that one of the officers grabbed her phone and she chased after him, but another officer hit her in the shoulder and knocked her to the ground, causing her to briefly lose consciousness. In a Facebook post, Khanfar wrote that she regained consciousness under a car and began looking for the officer who had seized her phone. She wrote that a group of police officers in plainclothes mocked her when she inquired about her phone, and did not return it.

Khanfar was treated at the Palestinian Red Crescent Hospital for bruises in her shoulder, pelvis, face, jaw, and both knees, according to Skeyes.

Also on June 26, a security officer snatched the phone of Najlaa Zaitoun, a reporter for the Quds News Network news website, out of her hand while she was covering the protests, she told CPJ via messaging app.

She said another officer proceeded to hit her in the chest, and then, “I told him that I was a journalist and that I was doing my job, when another police officer hit me with a stick on my left shoulder.”

Footage of the incident posted on Facebook by Ultra Palestine reporter Mohammed Ghafari shows a police officer wearing a black cap shoving Zaitoun and then hitting her with a stick. In a June 27 Facebook post, Zaitoun wrote that security forces had not returned her phone.

During the protests on June 27, five uniformed police officers attempted to confiscate the camera of Ahmad Talat Hasan, a freelance photojournalist, while he was filming in Ramallah’s Sa’aa Square, he told CPJ via messaging app.

He said the officers failed to take his camera and then, “They proceeded to hit me in the face and the head, even though I was wearing a helmet and a vest clearly marked with the word press.” He said he then left the scene and was not arrested or detained.

According to a June 27 medical report that Hasan shared with CPJ, he sustained lacerations on his head and right cheek, and a bruise on his left cheek as a result of the assault.

Also at that protest, security officers in plainclothes attempted to grab the phone of Shatha Hamad, a reporter for the news website Middle East Eye, and when they failed to do so, the officers threw the phone to the ground and broke it, Hamad told CPJ via messaging app.

She said that security personnel were “constantly threatening us [journalists] by making gestures with their bodies,” and had essentially banned photography at the demonstrations.

Later in the protest, at about 6:30 p.m., a police officer fired a tear gas canister that hit Hamad in the face, cutting the skin around her left eye with shrapnel, she said. She told CPJ she was taken to the Palestine Medical Complex in an ambulance, where she was treated for minor injuries.

CPJ emailed the Palestinian Interior Ministry for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply.