BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A Palestinian press freedoms watchdog on Thursday said 2015 had seen an “unprecedented” increase in Israeli violations against Palestinian journalists across the occupied Palestinian territory.
The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, known as MADA, recorded a total of 599 violations against media freedoms throughout the year, in what the group’s general director, Moussa Rimawi, said was the “highest ever to be monitored in Palestine since (the watchdog) started monitoring violations against media freedoms around a decade ago.”The report
said 2015 had seen 134 more violations against Palestinian journalists than the year before, an increase of 29 percent, although it noted that that 2014 had witnessed the “worst and widest violations,” including the deaths of 17 journalists during the 50-day Gaza war.
The majority of 2015’s violations -- 407 incidents -- were committed by Israeli forces, MADA said, while the other 192 violations were committed by "various Palestinian bodies."
Almost half of the violations committed by Israeli forces -- 42 percent -- were physical assaults, although the watchdog also monitored cases of soldiers denying media coverage, targeting journalists through gas canisters, stun grenades, and rubber-coated steel bullets, the confiscation of equipment, deleting recorded material, and closing media outlets.
The report found that half the Israeli violations were concentrated in the final three months of 2015, after a wave of unrest swept across the occupied Palestinian territory.
MADA said the closure of Palestinian media outlets by Israeli forces represented one of the most dangerous trends for media freedoms throughout the year, with three radio stations shut down in November, and a number of other outlets threatened due to allegations of “inciting” Palestinians to acts of violence.
It is a trend that has carried into 2016, as another major news publication, Filistin al-Yawm (Palestinian Today), was ordered to close earlier this month.
Separately, the report also noted three cases where Palestinian journalists had been used as “human shields” by Israeli forces, up from two in 2014. The watchdog also documented 20 arrests of Palestinian journalists in 2015, in what it said was the highest number since 2008.
While Israeli forces committed the “the gravest and most hazardous of all monitored violations,” the group said that violations by Palestinian parties had also increased at an “alarming” rate -- 68 percent more than in 2014.
The increase in Palestinian violations “raises serious concerns in relation to the manner in which the official authorities deal with the freedom of expression and media in the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” Rimawi said in a press release accompanying the report.
The watchdog also pointed to a “step backward” in the legal environment for media freedoms in the occupied Palestinian territory, highlighting in particular the approval of the Higher Media Council law by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in December.
The report said the law, which expands the Palestinian Authority’s control over local media, was “unacceptable by all standards and measures,” and its approval had appeared rushed.
The watchdog called on the international community to pressure the Israeli government to end “all escalating attacks against media freedoms in Palestine… and to hold accountable all the perpetrators of these violations.”