Israeli nationalists, including far-right activists, shout and dance at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on June 5, 2024, during the Jerusalem Day Flag March. (Photo: AFP/Gil Cohen-Magen)
Israeli nationalists, including far-right activists, shout and dance at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on June 5, 2024, during the Jerusalem Day Flag March. (Photo: AFP/Gil Cohen-Magen)

Two journalists harassed, assaulted and detained during Flag March in Jerusalem

New York, June 6, 2024 – The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the harassment and assault of Palestinian journalist Saif Kwasmi and Israeli journalist Nir Hasson during yesterday’s Jerusalem Day Flag March and urged Israeli authorities to identify the attackers and hold them to account.

During the annual Jerusalem Day Flag March, which commemorates the June 5 capture of East Jerusalem by Israeli forces in the 1967 war, Israeli settlers and far right protesters assaulted Palestinian freelance journalist Saif Kwasmi, who contributes to the local news agency Al-Asiman News, and Israeli journalist Nir Hasson, a reporter for the Israeli daily Haaretz, according to the journalists’ employers, and Kwasmi and Hasson, who spoke to CPJ in person and on the phone on June 5 and 6, respectively.

“Israeli security forces stood idly by while protesters harassed and assaulted Palestinian and Israeli journalists who were reporting on the march. Not only did they fail to do their duty, but they blamed Palestinian journalist Saif Kwasmi for protecting himself from aggression,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martìnez de la Serna. “We call on Israeli authorities to investigate these incidents, identify the culprits and hold them to account.”  

Kwasmi told CPJ that he was filming the closure of local shops in Jerusalem’s Old City after Israeli police ordered the businesses to shut down during the march.

“I was wearing my vest marked with the word ‘press’ and the card given to us by the police spokesperson. A group of young Israeli settlers started to harass us and tried to attack (Palestinian journalist) Diala Jweihan. They began to push me and tried to snatch my cell phone. I had to protect myself and tried to push them away from us because there were more than 20 settlers assaulting us,” Kwasmi said.

Kwasmi explained that the Israeli border police officers did nothing to assist them until they realized that an Israeli journalist (Nir Hasson) was also under attack. Only then did they begin to push settlers away. 

“An Israeli police officer started hitting me and took me to a side street to arrest me. I told him that I am a journalist and produced my card. They escorted the journalists outside of the Old City and to a place for journalists,” Kwasmi explained. 

Later that day, two border police officers approached Kwasmi at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate and questioned him for about half an hour about his work and his reason for being there. A police commander and a member of the domestic intelligence service Shin Bet subsequently joined them and accused Kwasmi of incitement, a claim that he denied. Kwasmi told them he is a journalist and holds a card from the Israeli Journalists’ Union, but they told him that in order to work as a journalist he needs permission from the Israeli Government Press Office.    

A witness from CPJ who was at the march saw Israeli radical activist Yedydya Epstein, who is famous for disrupting the work of Al-Jazeera reporters in Israel, on the scene filming the questioning of Kwasmi and urging the police to arrest him.

For his part, Haaretz reporter Nir Hasson told CPJ that, hours before the start of the march, a group of Israeli settlers were marching on Jerusalem’s Old City terrorizing the locals and attacking the journalists systematically to prevent them from covering the attacks on the local residents.

“At some point the settlers attacked Saif and two other journalists in front of Israeli border police officers who just stood there and did nothing at first so I had to step in to stop the attack. I was pushed to the ground and beaten by the settlers. I didn’t sustain any serious injuries,” Hasson said.

Hasson added that the Israeli police didn’t allow journalists to work freely and failed to protect them.

“They gathered all the journalists in a place away from settlers instead of stopping the attackers. They prevented journalists from covering what was happening to the local residents,” he said.  

According to CPJ research, Israeli police officers briefly detained and assaulted Kwasmi in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque in April 2024. 

CPJ had documented numerous assaults on journalists since the start of the Israel-Gaza war on October 7.