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Who will protect Palestinian journalists?

Between shootings, beatings and arrests, Palestinian journalists are subject to violence and restrictions that their Israeli counterparts generally avoid.

Last week at a protest in the West Bank city of Beitunia, a group of Palestinian protestors attacked Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff and photographer Daniel Book. According to Issacharoff, he was told to leave the protest by Palestinian journalists, and when he refused he was surrounded by a group of angry Palestinian protesters, who he says wanted to “lynch” him. Eventually, he was escorted out of the area with the help of two Palestinian officers. Such incidents are depressing, especially for journalists who are simply trying to report the news.

This incident, however, raises several issues regarding access and cooperation among Israeli and Palestinian journalists.

After years of conflict and a failed peace process, trust has been shaken between Palestinian protestors and Israeli journalists. Many Palestinian protestors worry that they cannot trust Israelis with photographs that could lead to their arrest. In addition, the knowledge that Israeli journalists could, at any time, be called up for their annual reserve service in the IDF further complicates their relationship with Palestinian society.

Israeli security forces detaining, assaulting and obstructing Palestinian journalists (Photos: Activestills.org)

Israeli security forces detaining, assaulting and obstructing Palestinian journalists (Photos: Activestills.org)

On a personal note: when I was filming National Geographic’s Conflict Zone, the biggest hurdle I had to overcome was the issue of trust. This was true for the settlers, the IDF and the Palestinian protestors in Nabi Saleh alike. For example, it was understood from the onset that we wouldn’t film the faces of stone throwers, since our footage could potentially lead to their arrest. And while on their base, the Israeli army asked us on several occasions not to film certain things or people for security reasons.

+972 Editorial: Demanding freedom of movement and access for Palestinian journalists

Another sore spot mentioned by Issacharoff is the fact that many Palestinian journalists have no access to Israel, and therefore cannot cover anything beyond the West Bank and Gaza. The access Israeli journalists have to both sides creates an unfair advantage over Palestinians. Therefore, it is no surprise that some Palestinian journalists are calling for limits on Israeli access to the West Bank; some of them feel that the privileges held by Israeli journalists is a reflection of the occupation, and thus want Israeli journalists to face the same restrictions on freedom of movement as they do.

Furthermore, unlike Israeli journalists, many Palestinian journalists have been arrested, beaten or shot by Israeli soldiers. While the Israeli media was busy covering the Issacharoff story, it failed to report that journalists Issam a-Rimawi and AbdulKareem Mestaif were shot by Israeli soldiers while reporting on the Nakba Day protests. These incidents, like many others, go unreported by the Israeli media.

Illustrative photo of journalists at a demonstration at Qalandia. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Illustrative photo of journalists at a demonstration at Qalandia. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

In the wake of the incident, I hoped Issacharoff and other Israeli journalists begin wondering who in Israel can truly help protect the rights of the Palestinian journalists? The Popular Struggle Coordination Committees (which organize weekly, non-armed protests across the West Bank), the Palestinian Authority, and other anti-occupation organizations condemned the attack and spoke strongly against any violence against the journalists. Promises were also made to protect journalists regardless of their nationality. Even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hosted Issacharoff several days after the incident, assuring the journalist that he would oppose any attempts to curb the media’s work.

When will Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu host the likes of Issam a-Rimawi or Abdul Kareem Mestaif and condemn the attacks on them? When will the Israeli government provide the same access to Palestinian journalists that Palestinians allow Israeli journalists?

Perhaps I won’t ever have my questions answered. After all, as a Palestinian journalist, I don’t have the same access to Netanyahu that Issacharoff has to Abbas.

Read this post in Hebrew on Local Call.

Editorial: Demanding freedom of movement and access for Palestinian journalists
Why did the IDF assassinate two Palestinian journalists?
WATCH: Where are the Palestinian Journalists in Israeli media?

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