By Jessica Buxbaum / MintPress News
On July 15, Palestinian journalist Basel Adra found himself apprehended by the military after documenting an Israeli settler’s assault in the occupied West Bank. Adra was subjected to handcuffing, blindfolding, and forced to endure hours under the scorching sun. While the Union of Journalists in Israel decried this incident as a grave infringement on press freedom, his ordeal mirrors the distressing reality encountered by countless Palestinian reporters.
According to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), violations against journalists and media freedom in Palestine witnessed an alarming 8% surge from 2021 to 2022. The rights organization attributed this escalation to two fatal attacks targeting Palestinian journalists, curbs on social media expression, the Israeli offensive on Gaza, and a surge in settler-instigated violence.
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Beyond Adra’s detention, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, in July, extended the travel ban imposed on Palestinian journalist Magdoleen Hassouna. The court has withheld the rationale behind this restriction, merely asserting that Hassouna poses a threat to Israel’s security. Presently, Israel has enforced travel bans on no fewer than 15 other Palestinian journalists.
In a parallel case, Palestinian journalist Lama Ghosheh received a sentence of nine months of community service and a fine of 4,500 shekels ($1,250) in July, ostensibly due to social media posts purportedly “sympathizing with terror organizations” and “inciting violence.”
“The peril posed to media freedoms in Palestine grows more ominous by the day,” remarked Shireen Al Khatibb, the acting director of the MADA Center, in a conversation with MintPress News. “Various Israeli elements, whether they be the military, police, or even settlers, are emboldened to target citizens and journalists with impunity, shielded by the presence of occupation forces.”
At Odds with the Official Israeli Version
Adra’s detention stemmed from suspicions of his alleged involvement in an assault on a security guard from a neighboring Israeli settlement, according to statements sent to Adra and reviewed by MintPress News.
“[T]he police took his testimony and detained and transferred him to a nearby military base,” explained the army spokesperson. “The journalist was asked to hand over documentation of the clashes, and he was released after it became clear that he did not take part in the violent incident.”
However, Adra vehemently contests this depiction, asserting that he was never asked to provide a statement. Instead, he says, soldiers took his phone and berated him in the blistering heat, asking why he doesn’t go to Jenin. Adra had initially refused to surrender his phone to the soldiers before being taken into custody. “In the end, I was not investigated. I was not asked to give a testimony about what happened there. They just kept me there under the sun,” Adra recounted. “I think it’s just a punishment for what I’m doing as a journalist and the activist in the area.”
In response to queries from MintPress News, the Israeli army admitted that “the use of handcuffs was erroneous.”
“As a result of the incident, the standard protocols for detention of suspects during violent frictions have been reemphasized amongst the IDF [Israeli military] forces that operate in the area,” the army spokesperson told MintPress News. “The IDF regrets for (sic) the inconveniences caused to the journalist by the incident.”
This incident doesn’t mark the first instance of violence that Adra has endured while fulfilling his reporting duties. In May of the previous year, he required hospitalization after being brutally beaten by Israeli soldiers during his coverage of the demolition of a Palestinian structure in the West Bank. “They tried to arrest me very violently, and half an hour to 40 minutes kept me on the ground, dragged me on the field, tried to take me into the car very violently,” Adra recounted regarding the attack.
Press Freedom Struggles Under Dual Oppression
The work of Palestinian journalists is frequently stifled by detentions, violence, and movement constraints, all stemming from the pervasive Israeli occupation. As Palestinian self-determination remains elusive, the prospect of an unfettered and equitable press becomes increasingly remote.
“Due to the absence of independence, effectiveness and strength of the Palestinian judiciary, which protects all freedoms and defends the press movement, journalists have been forced to retreat and not fulfill the message fully due to the official and sometimes popular encroachment on their rights,” remarked Al Khatibb.
Yet Al Khatibb noted that the burden of curtailing press freedom is not solely borne by Israel. The Palestinian authorities, too, contribute to this predicament. “Some of the Palestinian security services’ repressive practices towards journalists and media freedoms have also contributed to the deterioration of media freedoms in the West Bank,” she said, adding that the Hamas-ruled government in the Gaza Strip has also infringed on press freedom.
In a recent press release, MADA vehemently condemned the abduction of Palestinian journalist Sami Saeed Alsaai by Palestinian intelligence officials on July 31 in the West Bank, along with attacks inflicted by Hamas security personnel against journalists covering recent demonstrations in Gaza aimed at ameliorating living conditions.
“‘MADA’ expresses its deep concern and condemnation of the escalation of flagrant violations against media freedoms, which are now being carried out by members of the security services in civilian clothes,” read a recent MADA statement.
Despite both Palestinian and Israeli government authorities carrying out violations against Palestinian journalists, Al Khatibb reiterated that Israel is the main culprit. “Media freedoms are still subject to violations by all the aforementioned parties, but the Israeli authorities are the largest perpetrators of these violations in terms of quantity and quality,” Al Khatibb said. “Until the end of the first half of the year 2023, the Israeli authorities were responsible for 83% of all violations against Palestinian media freedoms.”
The Need for International Intervention
Amidst Israel’s escalating clampdown on Palestinian media outlets, Al-Khatibb stresses the imperative for international entities to assume a more proactive role in protecting the rights of Palestinian journalists.
“We have not yet seen a serious and positive role with regard to international institutions concerned with Palestinian journalists, and we always demand that there be a specific mechanism by international institutions to put pressure on the Israeli authorities,” remarked Al Khatibb.
Residing in the rural expanse of Masafer Yatta in the West Bank, Adra finds himself navigating complex terrain. In 2022, Israel’s Supreme Court aligned itself with the military, designating 12 villages in the vicinity as firing zones, thereby granting approval for the displacement of over a thousand residents. In the aftermath of this judicial ruling, Masafer Yatta has witnessed a surge in assaults by settlers and soldiers, accompanied by the demolition of structures. Faced with the escalation of state-sanctioned violence, Adra’s journalistic endeavors assume heightened significance. Despite being the focus of targeted harassment, he remains steadfast in his role.
“These attacks and the violence that they’re using are meant to create fear and stop us. But it doesn’t, at the end of the day, stop us,” Adra said. “There’s something inside me that always pushes me to go do this work.”
Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.