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Israel’s war against press freedom in Palestine
Instilling Fear

Israel’s war against press freedom in Palestine

The goal of Israel’s stepped-up campaign and detentions is to discourage journalists from speaking for the Palestinians, and to incite fear in journalists by projecting the idea that they will attack anyone who dares to speak

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Last Updated : 19 June 2024, 05:47 IST
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Attacks against journalists are on the rise, but Israel’s war against Hamas in Palestine has taken to an altogether different level. It has aimed at physically decimating journalists, which is different from attacks on journalism by different powers.

A sense of fear is being instilled by States across the globe. Journalists are being told not to report on issues such as the Palestinian conflict. As a result, journalism declines in quality, and civil society and democracies become less robust. Legal measures to counteract impunity might be informed by the notion of transitional justice found in international human rights law (IHRL), which could strengthen the collective will.

The principles of transitional justice, such as criminal investigations, truth-establishing, prosecutions, reparations, and structural and institutional reforms to ensure non-recurrence, have been cited by judges and investigators in some recent instances involving attacks on journalists. It is crucial to thoroughly apply these measures to safeguard journalism locally, nationally, and worldwide.

The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have killed over 122 journalists in Gaza since October 7. As of June 14, 108 journalists and media workers have been killed: 103 Palestinian, two Israeli, and three Lebanese. Thirty-two journalists have been injured. Two journalists were reported missing. Forty-six journalists were reported arrested — multiple assaults, threats, cyberattacks, censorship, and killings of family members — including 22 who were slain while performing their duties, making Palestine the most hazardous nation in the world for journalists.

Since the October 7 attack in southern Israel orchestrated by Hamas, 76 Palestinian journalists and media professionals have been detained by Israel’s security forces in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, and 50 out of them have been imprisoned. According to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), 20 of them have been placed under administrative custody.

The unprecedented number of journalists detained without cause is part of Israel’s more significant effort to scare and discourage them from covering the military occupation. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urges that Israel stop persecuting Palestinian journalists and promptly and unconditionally free them all.

Both professional and amateur journalists chronicle the battle in Gaza from the besieged and cut-off enclave, using social media to update the world about day-to-day living during times of conflict. Additionally, they work for both domestic and foreign media. There are several independent media channels in Palestine, including Watan TV and Ajyal Radio, and media outlets connected to the Palestinian Authority or Fatah, including Palestine TV and the Wafa news agency.

Political control is applied to content. There are additional Hamas-affiliated media outlets in the Gaza Strip, including the Al-Aqsa Media Network and the Shehab News agency. The economic conditions significantly impact Independent and semi-independent media outlets in the Gaza Strip. Most of them are in uncertain financial situations. Israeli bombings have damaged the majority of the enclave’s media and telecommunications infrastructure. The economic situation in Gaza has severely deteriorated, with over 80 per cent of the population — including hundreds of journalists — displaced, living in tents, and almost no humanitarian help allowed.

On March 19, Israeli security forces detained Palestinian journalist Rula Hassanein and took her phone and laptop. Hassanein, who reports on human rights abuses and the Israeli occupation, was forced to leave her nine-month-old child with her husband. This is the narrative of only one of the 75 journalists whom Israel has detained since the start of the war. After October 7, Israel’s security forces increased the number of Palestinian journalists they were detaining without bringing charges. The primary legislation of the Palestinian Authority guarantees freedom of the press and opinion, but none of them seem relevant in the current situation.

There are many IHRL treaties, regional instruments, declarations, and UN resolutions dedicated to the freedom of the press and the safety of journalists. But Israel does not respect its IHRL obligations to the protection of journalists and free media. Certain journalistic rights are included in the freedom, such as the right to keep sources private, the right to non-discriminatory accreditation or credentials, and the freedom to travel inside and outside countries.

Free media plays a crucial role in fostering the accountability and transparency required to fulfil all human rights, which means that the freedom to practise journalism generally triumphs over official interests in regulation.

The goal of Israel’s stepped-up campaign and detentions is to discourage journalists from speaking for the Palestinian people, and to dominate the narrative that emerges from the West Bank. Another goal is to incite fear in other journalists by projecting the idea that they will attack anyone who dares to speak. Twenty Palestinian journalists are now registered by the PJS as being under administrative detention, a practice that permits the Israeli military to keep detainees without charge or trial for an unlimited period based on classified intelligence. Press freedom groups claim that since the beginning of the war, Israel has increased the use of administrative detention as a means of suppressing dissenting opinions, including those of journalists.

International human rights legislation term it violation of media freedom when Israel’s security forces target journalists more frequently and obstruct their ability to carry out their jobs. Since the beginning of the aggression on the Palestinian people and journalists, the relentless attack by Israel on ideals of press freedom has not met with required rebuttal and rebuff from international agencies or nations claiming to safeguard democratic values.

(Ravi Kumar is Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, South Asian University, and Nafees Ahmad is Associate Professor, Faculty of Legal Studies, South Asian University.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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