Following a rise in the number of complaints of attacks by the police on journalists and photographers covering unrest in Israel in recent weeks, particularly in Jerusalem, a group of Arab journalists have signed onto letter of protest directed to the police.
They also plan to demonstrate on Friday in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which along with the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, has been major flash point in the city, particularly prior to this month's military confrontation between Israel and Hamas. One of the more serious incidents involved photographer Ahmad Gharabli of the Agence France-Presse news agency.
Gharabli is a veteran photographer with experience covering confrontations on the Temple Mount, but last Friday he was attacked by a policeman while at work. Video footage of the incident shows a police officer hitting Gharabli with a baton and ignoring his protest that “we are journalists.”
“I’ve been assaulted many times in the past, but not like this,” he told Haaretz. “All of the photographers and reporters who were there were attacked, even though we identified ourselves. It didn’t interest the police officer and he followed me and continued to hit me with the baton and his weapon. Another border policeman also arrived who choked me and pushed me to the ground.”
“I don’t feel safe covering things nowadays,” said Ynet news website reporter Hassan Shaalan, who is a member of an association for the advancement of Arab journalists. “Arab journalists are attacked by the police, and despite contacts with the responsible police officials and complaints filed against policemen, nothing has been done. The attacks and insults continue and our press card is worthless,” he said.
Shaalan said that in addition to his organization's letter of protest to the police, the decision was made to organize a demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah "because most of the recent attacks on journalists have taken place there and at Al-Aqsa. We decided to demand that the police stop harming journalists. If we remain silent, the police will continue to be violent. We must unite to convey the message.”
The Union of Journalists in Israel is aware of the issue. According to sources with the organization, there has been a rise in the number of complaints from both Jewish and Arab journalists.
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“Recently we have witnessed a worrisome increase in the number and frequency of violent attacks on journalists and various reporting teams, both by the security forces and civilians. Reporters and photographers sent by their newsrooms to cover and report find themselves the targets of violence directed at them, often involving actual physical harm. The organization has demanded that the police ensure the safety of journalists covering the disturbances. There must be clear, firm orders to the forces in the field to allow media teams to do their work and to protect journalistic freedom.”
In response for this article, the police said that they have reinforced the police presence around the country to prevent disturbances of the peace and "despite the complexity" to protect the public and enable reporters and photographers at the scene of the disturbances to work freely. "Accordingly, every complaint that the police receive raising the suspicion of the commission of a criminal offense is examined and investigated professionally and thoroughly with the aim of getting to the truth and bringing those involved in the act to justice."
In another development, a group of Israeli media outlets have called for "decisive action" from Facebook and Twitter against rising online threats and incitement to violence against journalists. Facebook said it had established a special operations center that includes Hebrew and Arabic speakers to respond to activity across its platform in real time and encouraged users to report any harmful content.
Twitter said it supports journalists and enforces a clear policy banning people from issuing violent threats against others, alongside policies on abusive behavior and hateful conduct. “Where we identify clear violations, we will take robust enforcement action."
Reuters contributed to this report.