Destroyed Media Buildings Calls into Question Future of Press Freedom in Israel and Palestine

 

On May 15, the bombing of a Gaza City building housing offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera made headlines around the world. As one of three similar incidents in which the Israeli Defense Forces destroyed the offices of regional and international media outlets in Gaza, the attack represents the growing danger of being an independent journalist in the region.

The targeting of media outlets and journalists by the Israeli Defense Forces sets a dangerous precedent, experts said. They said the future of independent news coming out of the region could be under threat of violence and will result in the continued clash between the two states. 

Last month, Palestine and Israel launched an 11-day conflict where 240 people were killed in bombings. Most of the victims were Palestinian. A ceasefire has since been signed, but after a number of press violations committed throughout the conflict, journalists are still trying to put together the Palestinian story. 

Many stories about Palestine have been written from Israel,” Jeremy Dear, the deputy general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, said in an email. “Most of the correspondents covering the situation for the major media are based in Israel and have therefore been more exposed to a narrative coming from the Israeli side.”

Dear added that the international community’s coverage of the conflict is often skewed in favor of Israel. He said “they try to draw a moral equivalence between the occupied and occupier and between a well-resourced army and protestors.”

Palestinian journalists still face difficulties when reporting from Palestine, Dear said. Hamas, a pro-Palestinian militant group labeled as a terrorist organization by the U.S. controls the Gaza strip. Dear said journalists operating within Gaza have difficulty operating independently under the pressure of Hamas influence.

On May 15, the Israeli military launched a missile attack on a media office in the Gaza strip. The office housed members of AP News and the English-language news channel, Al Jazeera, as well as families of Palestinians who lived in residential apartments in the building. 

Dear said the destroyed building and attacks on media set a dangerous precedent moving forward for citizens in Israel and Palestine. He said if journalists are unable to operate with independence and freedom then there is a danger of increased disinformation, which will prolong the conflict and intensify animosity between the two states. 

Ignacio Delgado Culebras, the Middle East and North Africa correspondent for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the IDF alleged that the building was housing Hamas operatives, but there has been no evidence to support this claim. He said the CPJ has called on the IDF to investigate why a media building was targeted if there was no evidence of Hamas presence.

“We don’t know if Israel is investigating these incidents. They have these narratives that these buildings were being used for military purposes. But without any evidence, these are just words,” he said. “We would like to see more solid evidence of the use of these buildings by Hamas.” 

Culebras added that the destroyed buildings did not come as a surprise as Israel has targeted Palestinian media buildings in prior conflicts. In the eleven-day conflict, the IDF also destroyed two other media buildings, all of which they claim to have been housing Hamas operatives. 

In 2020, the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate reported 608 cases of media rights violations. About 80% of the violations were committed by the Israeli army and security forces, and 185 journalists were detained while covering events.  

Culebras said that while working for the CPJ he has seen multiple violent free press violations against Palestinian journalists committed by Israeli security forces. 

“When there’s protest or unrest it’s mostly Palestinian journalists who are hit by rubber bullets, prevented from covering certain events, beaten by security forces or arrested by security forces,” he said. 

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The signed ceasefire has held steady, and few incidents of violence have broken out between the two parties as both sides try to recover. Culebras said Palestinian journalists are grateful the ceasefire has held but fear that they will once again be put under threat of violence if conflict were to resume because of limited protection against the IDF’s repetitive oppressive behavior.. 

Culebras said that accessing local Palestinian media has been difficult, with some news outlets being banned from the West Bank for their affiliation with Hamas.

Culebras said journalists must adapt to cover stories out of the region and he hopes that journalists in the region will be able to report on the Israel-Palestine conflict safely. 

“For journalists in Gaza this is suddenly common,” he said. “We hope that the Israeli authorities can ensure them more protection and allow them to do their job more freely and safely.”

Image Courtesy of Israel Police

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