Friday, August 14, 2020

When a Palestinian journalist is shot in the eye, the world sees the truth; Israelís attempts to silence the media

By K. KŁnzl - November 25, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [press freedom]

Wrapped in the baby-blue, star-printed sheets of Hadasa Ein Karma hospital in West Jerusalem, under the faint glow of the florescent lights, wearily lay Muath Amarneh, a Palestinian journalist who had been hit in the eye by the rubber bullet of an Israeli sniper last week.


Amarneh was documenting clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers in Surif City, northwest of Hebron when he was suddenly knocked to the ground with a blow to the face.


“I felt like the whole world was spinning, my whole life flashed before me and I felt as if I was dying. Within one minute of being shot the soldiers surrounded me,” Amarneh told Palestine Monitor.


Amarneh had positioned himself amongst other journalists outside the crowds of protestors throwing stones, the soldiers stood about 100 meters away. Across the billowing flames that divided battle lines, Amarneh remained hunched down, only once he revealed himself when he stood to adjust his camera lens was he then shot.


“[The soldiers] immediately started filming me and speaking in Hebrew, telling me 'this was not us, this was a rock from one of the protestors, this was not us’ trying to convince me they were not to blame,” Amarneh recalled.


 Although still awaiting surgery to remove the rubber bullet lodged in his head, Amarneh lay conscious amongst family members recounting the details of that day and assessing a life without the eye with which he saw the world through his camera lens.


“I felt like from the start of the protest to the finish, the soldiers were trying to injure me or one of the journalists around me, they were intent on making this happen,” Amarneh said.


Israeli border police claimed that they used “nonlethal” means to quell the protestors, which they stated was not directed towards the journalists at the scene.


Amarneh’s injury is a particularly brutal incident in a series of escalating efforts by Israel to target Palestinian journalists.


“I think they were targeting him (Amarneh), this is what the witnesses say, and it wouldn't be the first time,” Mousa Rimawi, Director of The Palestine Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) told Palestine Monitor.


“In Gaza last year two journalists were killed and many were injured by Israeli sniper fire during the Great March of Return rallies. Most injuries were in the upper side of the body, meaning they intended to kill or injure them badly,” Rimawi continued.


The Palestine Journalist Syndicate (PJS) released a report stating that around 600 rights violations have been committed by Israel against Palestinian journalists from October 2018 to October 2019.


According to Musa Alshaer, board member of PJS, the report included 60 journalists who were shot and sustained serious injuries, 43 suffered wounds by sound grenades thrown directly at them by Israeli forces, and more than 170 were beaten, detained, or banned from coverage.


Additionally, Israel has made attempts to silence journalists freedom of speech online. The report exposed “more than 180 violations were committed by Facebook in coordination with the Israeli occupation authorities.” 


The other violations include “raids of homes, offices, fines, and bans of movement inside the country and travelling abroad” in addition to the 18 journalists who are currently incarcerated in Israeli jails.


Most recently, Israeli forces closed the offices of Palestine TV in Jerusalem last week, barring employees from returning for at least six months.


“The purpose of these policies targeting the Palestinian media is to silence, however, they (journalists) don't just cover the occupation for local media, they are covering it for Arab media, international media….. they (Israel) don’t want the international community to know they demolish houses, kill people, and arrest children,” Alshaer told Palestine Monitor.


In September of 2016, the Associated Press (AP) reported that Israeli government officials and Facebook convened in meetings over “legislative steps meant to force social networks to rein in content that Israel says incites violence.”


Rimawi commented on the meetings stating, “we are not sure if there was an agreement between Israel and Facebook, but one thing we do know is that right after they (facebook) began to block Palestinian sites on facebook for journalists and media outlets.”


Israel can continue this policy as long as they are enabled to label all criticism of the occupation online as 'anti-Semitic, hate speech.’ 


According to Rimawi, Facebook accepted 85 per cent of Israeli demands to close Palestinian pages in 2017.


“Criticising Israel is not antisemitism. They try to qualify the two, that is very dangerous, not just in Palestine but everywhere. We believe it is part of the fight, against Israel’s definition of antisemitism that they impose on the world,” Rimawi told Palestine Monitor.


Alshaer contrasts these attacks with the Facebook pages of Jewish settlers. “We find that with these Israeli settler websites, no one is asking what they write and what they say about the Palestinians, they encourage violence against us.”


According to Alshaer this is part of the impunity Israeli officials and soldiers enjoy, citing the 43 murders of Palestinian journalists by Israeli occupation forces since 2000 that have yet to be made accountable.


Rimawi commented on reports of investigations into the case of Amarneh; “Even if there are investigations, we know the results, they say the soldiers were behaving by the norms of the army, so we don't believe in their justice system.”


The case of Amarneh caused a storm of attention across social media with hundreds of celebrities posting pictures covering one eye in solidarity along with hashtags such as #Muatheye or #eyeoftruth.


Solidarity rallies have been organised across the West Bank. Demonstrators donning eye patches in Bethlehem were attacked by Israeli forces on the 17 November. Among the group injured by tear gas canisters were journalists, marching in solidarity for their colleague.


Amarneh says he never works without his PRESS jacket and helmet, however, this is not the first time he has been targeted by Israel for his work. In his ten years of reporting, Amarneh has been hit seven to 10 times by rubber bullets in his legs and arms while covering protests, in addition to receiving direct threats over the phone by Israeli soldiers, “they told me that if I continued to work as a journalist, I would be arrested.”


“We need to put an end to this impunity all over the world, it can’t be solved partially here in Palestine, it must be globally. We need international awareness, for other countries to adopt policies that threaten Israel by practical means. It is not an easy fight but we will continue,” Rimawi said.

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