Palestine: UN Special Procedures must speak out on targeting of journalists

Palestine: UN Special Procedures must speak out on targeting of journalists - Protection

The signatory organisations, including ARTICLE 19, IFEX, and IFEX members, call for Israel to abide by its legal obligations in the Gaza Strip and the Occupied Palestinian Territory at large, stop pressuring social media giants to remove Palestinian content and ensure respect for Palestinians’ digital rights, and immediately end discriminatory and punitive measures against Palestinian journalists.


31 October 2023

Dear Ms. Khan, Ms. Albanese, Mr. Tidball-Binz, Ms. Lawlor, Mr. Nyaletsossi Voule, and Mr. Riyad al-Maliki

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA Center) is gravely concerned with the ongoing and systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), particularly in the Gaza Strip.

Since 7 October 2023, Israel has injured tens of Palestinian journalists with missile fragments resulting from the bombing of buildings and residential neighbourhoods in the Gaza Strip. As of 31 October, 26 Palestinian journalists have been killed, with numbers rising daily. Two journalists were killed on the first day while covering events east of Bureij in the middle of the Gaza Strip along the border. Three journalists were targeted after two days by a missile while they were fleeing from the Haji building located 150 metres away. The building includes foreign media offices, including the African Press Agency (APA) office and the Al-Jazeera Media Network office. Israel’s bombing has either partially or completely destroyed some media institutions, including the headquarters of the Al-Ayyam newspaper in the Palestine Tower, the Fadel Shanaa Foundation, the Shehab Agency, and Gaza FM Radio. It has also targeted the homes of some journalists and their families. For example, Israeli forces destroyed the house of the director of Zaman Radio and the broadcaster of the Al-Quds Today Channel. There are also reports of missing journalists: Nidal Al-Wahidi and Haitham Abdel Wahid have been missing since the first day of the war while covering events near the Beit Hanoun checkpoint – contact was lost and there is still no trace of them today. Internet outages and electricity disruptions add another layer to the difficulties the MADA Center faces in its efforts to collect information about journalists in Gaza and have severely hampered the capacity of the MADA Center’s field researchers to efficiently report on unfolding events.

In the West Bank, Israel has launched a new campaign targeting Palestinian journalists and media outlets, with more than 12 journalists arrested in the past few days. This is taking place against the backdrop of the 2022 assassination of two women journalists, Shireen Abu Akleh and Ghufran Al Warasneh, who were killed while wearing press helmets and flak jackets in the course of their work. Media have also been shadow-banned: the Al-Aqsa satellite channel was blocked after French satellite operator Eutelsat suspended its broadcast.

This is not the first time that Israel has targeted media outlets and service providers. Previously in 2018, during the 38th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC), the MADA Center raised this issue through an oral intervention under agenda item 3 on the promotion and protection of all human rights, and civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development. MADA provided evidence of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) adopting an official policy not only to ban or prevent press coverage, but also to present a clear and systematic threat to the lives of Palestinian journalists that was clearly demonstrated during the return marches that began in Gaza on 30 March, 2018. In March 2019, the MADA Center further called for States to exert the necessary efforts to follow up on the Israeli violations committed against Palestinian journalists and to take legal measures that compel Israel as an occupying power to comply with and abide by international human rights law, in particular those relating to freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of the press, during the 40th regular session of the HRC under item 7 on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories.

In the ongoing war against Gaza, the IOF has arrested more than 12 journalists from the West Bank. Cases include the following:

  1. (15/10) Israeli occupation forces arrested the journalist Sabri Jibril (32 years old) after raiding his home in the town of Taqu, located south of Bethlehem, on Sunday morning. Tareq Jibril, the journalist’s brother, stated that occupation forces consisting of 5 military vehicles with 25 soldiers raided the home of Sabri at 3:00am, detained 4 family members in one room, thoroughly searched the house for about 20 minutes, and damaged its contents. After checking the journalist’s identification, they detained him and took him to an unknown location.
  2. (16/10) A force of 7 military vehicles from Israeli forces raided the home of 34-year-old correspondent for Al-Aqsa TV, Mustafa Abd Al-Razzaq Al-Khawaja, in Nilin, northwest of Ramallah. According to Hammad Al-Khawaja, the correspondent’s brother, soldiers surrounded the house and about 20 soldiers reached the outer gate, verified his identity, handcuffed him, confiscated his mobile phone, arrested him, and transferred him to an unknown location.
  3. (16/10) A force of 12 Israeli soldiers raided the home of Moaz Ibrahim Ata Amarna, a 32-year-old photojournalist for J-Media agency, in the Dheisheh refugee camp, south of Bethlehem. After requesting that he talk to an officer and informing him about his job, the journalist was beaten and abused. His glasses were broken, the soldiers did not allow him to wear his glass eye, confiscated his phone, arrested him, and moved him later to Megiddo prison without a trial. Amarna’s condition requires special health treatment as he uses glasses and requires diabetic medication and painkillers.
  4. (19/10) Israeli occupation forces stormed the office of 39-year-old journalist Imad Mahmoud Hammad Abu Awad at You Smart Center at around 3:00am. They detained him in one of the rooms and confiscated his phone and laptop, while other soldiers conducted a search of the centre, during which they damaged the centre’s contents, arrested the journalist, and transferred him to an unknown location.
  5. (19/10) Israeli occupation forces raided the house of 45-year-old journalist Alaa Hassan al-Rimawi in the Al-Irsal neighbourhood of Ramallah at around 3:00am and arrested his son, Mohammed, to pressure the journalist to turn himself into the Ofer Prison located in the west of Ramallah. Ala’a, who was present at the hospital for medical examinations at the time, directed himself to Ofer at 10:00am and was subsequently transferred to an unknown location.
  6. (20/10) Israeli occupation forces arrested 32-year-old Thaer Ziyad al-Fakhouri, the director of Space Media Foundation and the head of the media department at Hebron Municipality, from his home in Hebron at 1:00am. According to his father, Israeli forces surrounded and raided their two-floor house in the Basa neighbourhood, southern Hebron, and detained the journalist’s wife and children, along with other family members on the first floor. The soldiers detained Thaer and his brother Qusai in a room and subjected them to investigation, while the other soldiers searched the house and disrupted its contents. After they confiscated his phone and car keys, the journalist was arrested at 1:15am, blindfolded, handcuffed, and transferred to an unknown destination.
  7. (20/10) Israeli occupation forces arrested 30-year-old freelance journalist Musab Khamees Qfeisha and his brother Qassam from their home in a western neighbourhood of Hebron before transferreing them to an unknown location. Qassam Qfeisha, the journalist’s brother, stated that at around 1:30am on Friday, the IOF raided their four-story residential building and requested both brothers to leave the building. Upon exiting, they were handcuffed and transported to military vehicles, then taken to an unknown location. There have been no reports of any confiscation or house searches.
  8. (15/10) Israeli forces arrested 22-year-old Maan News Agency photojournalist Abdel Nasser Mohammad Al-Lahham from his family home in the Al-Duheisha refugee camp near Bethlehem on Sunday at 6:00am. The soldiers entered the house, and while Al-Lahham tried to communicate with the soldiers regarding the detention of his son and his wife on the first floor, 3 soldiers assaulted the journalist, physically beating him and pushing him to the ground before searching the house, confiscating the journalist’s phone, and threatening to open fire when he tried to retrieve it. Following this, they took the photographer outside the house and handcuffed and transported him to military vehicles. Later, a citizen found his phone discarded close to a pile of trash near the house.

We at the MADA Center are concerned about the systematic targeting of journalists by Israeli authorities and the policy of intimidation and threats, whether by Israeli state officials, settlers, or the IOF. We further express our concern towards the deliberate targeting of journalists, not only physically but also psychologically, which, in turn, increases the practice of self-censorship among journalists and could force them to abandon their careers. To date, tens of journalists have already lost their careers due to the continued threats and direct risks they face in the course of their work under occupation. Through journalist testimonies, it has become clear that the goal is to silence and break the Palestinian media through a policy of attrition by targeting journalists with metal and rubber bullets, sound bombs, gas bombs, and other types of violations and arrests.

Moreover, we are certain that targeting Palestinian media is now a systematic policy practiced by Israel that involves, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Unofficial agreements or understandings with social media companies on removing posts and blocking news pages, content, and accounts relating to Palestine, which is a discriminatory measure and a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression and opinion. Moreover, Israel’s insistence in undermining international law by drafting a recent law to prevent civilians, including journalists, from covering events involving soldiers and the military performing their duties, raises concerns regarding the suppression of witnesses of Israeli violations against Palestinians.
  • Direct attacks against journalists and media outlets inside the occupied Palestinian Territory (West Bank and East Jerusalem/ Gaza Strip) that include shutting down media outlets andTV and radio stations, thereby forcing hundreds of journalists to abandon their careers.
  • Prohibiting media service providing companies from operating and shutting them down with military orders, as was the case with the Al-Jazeera channel office and J-Media Company, which pose an alarming threat to the existence of Palestinian media.
  • Confiscation of equipment, including cameras, mobile phones and laptops, and the destruction of expensive broadcast equipment and other devices without any compensation reparation.
  • Mass prevention of coverage, especially while several events and violations were taking place on the ground, with the IOF banning and preventing Palestinian journalists from covering or accessing certain areas inside the West Bank.
  • Banning journalists from travel and impeding their rights to movement across the West Bank as a discriminatory measure against journalists.
  • Excessive use of force against Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip, which, to date, has killed 26 journalists, resulted in the disappearance of 2 journalists, and injured tens of journalists, with live ammunition and direct targeting through air strikes that have been proven to have chemical components, such as white phosphorus, which violates international humanitarian law requirements. Journalists have been clearly identifiable by their press vests, located only a few hundreds of metres away from places threatened by bombing, and did not impose any imminent threat against Israeli snipers.

These measures aim to silence Palestinian voices through shutting down media outlets and service provider companies and physically assaulting and threatening Palestinian journalists. To escape international accountability, the occupation has tried to fabricate accusations of political affiliation through the course of our work in media, but Palestinian journalists have remained steadfast in rejecting Israel’s brutal policies and persecution of Palestinian media. In the face of the occupation’s policies, the MADA Center is taking broader steps in solidarity and to ensure the safety of journalists and protection of Palestinian media.

The MADA Center calls upon the Security Council, through Arab representatives, to hold a special session to discuss the freedom of the Palestinian media under occupation. We also call on the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to formulate a clear strategy to deal with these violations. And to our Palestinian people, we say: coverage will continue, injustice will fade.

The MADA Center calls on the relevant United Nations special procedure mandates to issue an urgent press release to:

  • Condemn the Israeli Occupying Forces’ premeditated conduct since 7 October 2023 in the Gaza Strip that has led, to date, to the killing of 26 Palestinian journalists and the injury of a number of journalists, as a violation of Israel’s legal obligations under international law;
  • Call on Israel to abide by its legal obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law in the Gaza Strip, and the Occupied Palestinian Territory at large, especially in relation to the right to life, the prohibition of collective punishment, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to peaceful assembly;
  • Call on Israel to stop pressuring social media giants such as Facebook and YouTube to remove Palestinian content and ensure respect for Palestinian digital rights and the rights to freedom of opinion and expression on the ground and on social media;
  • Call on Israel to immediately end discriminatory and punitive measures against Palestinian journalists in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (including East Jerusalem) both legally and in practice, including ending administrative and arbitrary detention, deportation outside the Occupied Palestinian Territories and ill treatment, as well as conducting an independent investigation into all such cases;
  • Call for Israel to commit, as an occupying power, to allow access to the Special Rapporteurs and cooperate with their teams; and
  • Call on Israel to ensure legal remedies as an occupying power for those victims of Israeli violations of freedom of opinion and expression and access to information, ensure reparations for the loss of media outlets, service provider companies, and journalists, and put an end to the culture of impunity enjoyed by Israel.