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Report: Increase in violations against press freedoms in occupied Palestinian territory

Dec. 29, 2016 8:15 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 11, 2017 4:53 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- November 2016 saw a significant increase in violations against media freedoms in the occupied Palestinian territory, with the large majority of violations committed by Israeli forces, according to a report from the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA).

The Ramallah-based NGO released the report on Tuesday, highlighting that in November alone, the group recorded a total of 31 “violations against media freedom,” with 27 violations committed by Israeli forces, and four committed by Palestinian authorities in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip.

With an increase from 11 recorded violations in October to 27 in November, Israeli violations last month included the restriction of movement of many journalists and media outlets, raids on press offices, destruction of property, and the detention of Palestinian journalists.

According to MADA, Israeli authorities banned a total of 28 journalists from traveling from the Gaza Strip to the occupied West Bank for the seventh annual Fatah conference, despite all the journalists applying for permits ahead of the event.

On Nov. 17th, MADA reported that Israeli forces “attacked” more than nine journalists by beating them, and firing tear gas bombs and pepper spray at them while the journalists were covering a peaceful demonstration against illegal Israeli settlements and the displacement of Bedouins in the Jordan Valley.

Among the injured were Associated Press (AP) cameraman Majdi Muhammad Ishtayeh, 34, Muhammad Turkman, Reuters photographer Saed Hawari, AP photographer Abbas Moumani, Sky News reporter Feras Lutfi, Sky News cameraman Abed al-Rahman Khabeisa, Roaya TV reporter Hafeth Abu Sabra, Roaya cameraman Muhammad Abu Shousheh, and IRIB photographer Khalid Sabarneh.

On Nov. 16, Israeli forces stormed the media program for health development office in Ramallah after bombing the front door open, and smashed equipment and confiscated several technical devices, including three hard-discs, two servers, and a recording device for cameras.

Throughout the month, Israeli forces stormed three printing houses across the occupied West Bank -- the Taj printing house in the al-Fawwar refugee camp in Hebron, the Asayel Yafa printing house in Qaqiliya and the Alam al-Ibdaa printing house in Salfit -- where they caused thousands of shekels worth of estimated damages.

Israeli forces also detained a number of Palestinian journalists in November, identified by MADA as Khaled Maali, 49, from Salfit, Ramsat agency cameraman Nidal Asmar Al-Natsheh from Hebron, and freelance journalist Hamza Burnat, 28. Meanwhile, Israeli authorities also renewed the administrative detention -- internment without charge or trial for indefinitely renewable periods -- of Omar Nazzal, member of the General Secretariat of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, for an additional one-month.

Maali’s wife, Afaf Maali, reported to MADA that Israeli forces raided their home in the northern occupied West Bank city of Salfit before dawn on Nov. 3 and confiscated Khalid’s phone and computer before detaining him.

According to Afaf, Israeli authorities interrogated Khalid regarding four personal photographs and a picture of the Al-Aqsa Mosque he posted on Facebook, considering them to be “inciting photos.”

Khalid, however, refuted their claims and adamantly ensured that the photos were nothing out of the norm of his work as a journalist, and that everything he publishes is legal and falls under professional standards.

MADA criticized Israeli authorities’ stipulation that Maali, who was held for eight days over alleged Facebook “incitement,” should not engage in any media activity for a month after his release on bail of 7,000 shekels ($1,832).

In the case of Nidal Asmar al-Natsheh, 28, Israeli forces detained him from his home in the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron on Nov. 9, and held him in a solitary confinement cell at a detention center in the central Israeli city of Petak Tikva.

Al-Natsheh told MADA that during his detention, he was interrogated regarding a film he produced a year and a half ago about the situation of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli prisoners and the Israeli policy of attempting to force feed hunger strikers.

The report also highlighted that on Nov. 22, Israeli forces prevented a group of five journalists from covering the killing of Jihad Muhammad Said Khalil, 48, who was shot dead by Israeli forces after an alleged stabbing attempt at the Qalandiya military checkpoint.

According to MADA, Israeli soldiers covered the journalists’ cameras and prevented them from filming or entering the scene.

Meanwhile, the total number of recorded Palestinian violations against media freedoms saw a decrease from 11 in October, to four in November.

Palestinian violations recorded in the West Bank and Gaza consisted of three cases of preventing coverage by cutting a live broadcast, one case of detention, and one case of summoning and interrogation.

On Nov. 18, Palestinian Police in Gaza detained Palestine Today TV reporter Alaa Abdulaziz Salameh, 33, and cut off the live broadcast of a football game where he was reporting from.

Abdulaziz told MADA that he was detained based on a complaint filed by the police lieutenant accusing him of exploitation, following an interview Abdulaziz conducted with the lieutenant in August regarding municipal elections.

Separately, on Nov. 29, Palestinian security prevented a crew from al-Ghad TV from entering the seventh annual Fatah conference, threatened the crew, and demanded they stay away from the premises.

Israeli authorities have carried out a crackdown on Palestinian journalists and human rights activists since a wave of violence erupted in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory last October, with several dozen Palestinian journalists being detained by Israeli forces.

"Israel’s systematic assault on Palestinian journalists and media institutions is part of a broader campaign to instill fear and silence in an entire population,” Jamal Dajani of the Palestinian Prime Minister's Office said in a press release in May, following an attack on Palestinian journalists at a World Press Freedom demonstration in May.

“Today, freedom of expression has become grounds for arrest, under the Israeli pretext of incitement. Israel wants to stop Palestinians from reporting on Israeli human rights violations; Israel doesn’t want the world to know the real facts on the ground."

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