Israeli Handling of the Media Increasingly Brutal
NABI SALAH, Occupied West Bank, Jul 23 (IPS) - Palestinian activists are being jailed, Israeli activists are under surveillance, and the Israeli military is increasingly targeting journalists who cover West Bank protests.
The Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel issued a statement recently condemning what it sees as a change in Israel Defence Forces (IDF) policy in their treatment of journalists covering the growing number of West Bank protests against Israel's separation barrier, illegal settlements and land expropriation.
"We would appreciate it were the authorities to remind the various forces involved, that open, unhindered coverage of news events is a widely acknowledged part of the essence of democracy.
"Generally speaking this would not include smashing the face of a clearly marked photographer working for a known and accredited news organisation with a stick, or for that matter aiming a stun grenade at the head of a clearly marked news photographer or summarily arresting cameramen, photographers and/or journalists," said the FPA.
The release of the statement followed an attack on three journalists as they covered a protest march near an Israeli settlement built illegally on land belonging to the Palestinian village Beir Ummar in the southern West Bank.
Several weeks ago in the village Nabi Salah, north of Ramallah, two Israeli activists were roughed up and arrested after criticising Israeli soldiers for shooting at Palestinian boys throwing stones.
One of the Israelis, Yonatan Shapira, 38, an ex-Israeli Air Force (AIF) pilot and member of Combatants for Peace, (a group comprising former Palestinian and Israeli fighters) earned the wrath of the Israeli authorities when he authored a "pilot's letter" in 2003 signed by 27 AIF pilots.
The pilots refused to fly over the Palestinian occupied territories and take part in the deliberate targeting of Palestinian civilians, particularly in Gaza.
Shapira was recently interrogated by Israel's domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet over his participation in anti-occupation protests and his support for the BDS movement.
In what appeared to be a veiled threat the Israeli activist was warned that his presence at anti-wall demonstrations was in defiance of the areas being declared closed military-zones on Fridays.
Shapira believes his phone has been tapped. "Nothing we are doing is illegal and I'm not afraid, but I'm uncomfortable about my country turning into a fascist state," said Shapira.
"The Israeli authorities are trying to intimidate Israelis who engage in political dissent. We present no security threat. But the line between political activism and security is becoming increasingly blurred by the authorities who are trying to criminalise dissent," Shapira told IPS.
"Sometimes when we come to demonstrations we have been stopped en route by the IDF who have taken down our details and appear to have prior knowledge of our movements," Israeli activist Shy Halatzi, 23, a physics and astronomy student at Tel Aviv University who served in the Israeli military told IPS.
Israel has become alarmed at growing international support for a boycott campaign against the country as its right-wing government increasingly tramples on civil liberties. Hundreds of Israeli college professors signed a petition recently denouncing the threat by Israeli education minister Gideon Saar (a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party) to punish any lecturer or institution which supports a boycott of Israel.
Saar supports Im Tirtzu, a right-wing nationalist movement, which demands that Israeli education professionals be required to prove their commitment to Zionism.
Neve Gordon, professor of politics at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva, received death threats after he wrote an editorial last year in the Los Angeles Times explaining why he supported a boycott on Israel.
Meanwhile, Palestinian grassroots activists involved in non-military popular committees, which organise non-violent activity against the occupation, continue to be arrested and jailed on what they say are trumped-up charges involving forced confessions under duress.
The IDF carries out nightly raids in West Bank villages where demonstrations take place regularly on a Friday and where villagers have been particularly active.
Wael Al-Faqia from Nablus in the northern West Bank was recently sentenced to a year's prison for "belonging to an illegal organization." Al-Faqia was arrested with eight other activists in December last year.
Musa Salama, an activist with the Labour Committee of Medical Relief Workers and associate of Al-Faqia, was sentenced last December to a year's imprisonment on identical charges.
Abdullah Abu Rahme from the head of the Popular Committee Against the Wall in Bili'in village near Ramallah continues to languish in detention following his arrest in December last year.
Some of the allegations against him include incitement for planning the peaceful protests and "being in possession of arms." The latter referred to his collection of used teargas canisters and spent bullet cartridges, fired by Israeli troops at unarmed protestors, into a peace sign.
"What we as Israeli activists endure is a fraction of what Palestinians are subjected to. They are subjected to harsher and much more brutal treatment than we are," Shapira told IPS.