Stand with Palestinian journalists against Israeli state forces’ attacks – John McDonnell

“[Shireen Abu Akleh’s] case is not isolated but illustrative of the broader way that Palestinian journalists are often treated and targeted by Israeli state forces”

By John McDonnell MP

One year ago, journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered by Israeli state forces, and the anniversary is being remembered around the world, with calls for justice renewed. Last year I attended a heartfelt commemoration of Shireen’s life. It was deeply moving. Shireen was a talented, courageous, journalist, admired for her professionalism as a journalist.

Shireen, who was at that time an Al-Jazeera correspondent, was shot dead while she was reporting in Jenin. Shireen fulfilled her duty as a journalist until her last moment. She was wearing her blue protective vest and helmet, and she was preparing to report on the Israeli raid on the West Bank city of Jenin when an Israeli sniper fired a bullet into her face and killed her instantly.

Sadly, this case is not isolated but illustrative of the broader way that Palestinian journalists are often treated and targeted by Israeli state forces, including through the killing of Palestinian journalists by Israeli state forces, alongside harassment, intimidation and physical abuse.

I am the secretary of the National Union of Journalists parliamentary group – a cross-party group that campaigns for the freedom of journalists to undertake their profession free from censorship, intimidation and, risk to their lives – which has consistently expressed over several years the NUJ’s and the International Federation of Journalists’ grave concerns about this situation.

Since Shireen’s murder, Reporters Without Borders has compiled video and audio evidence about at least 11 other journalists who have been targeted or aggressed by Israeli security forces in the West Bank.

What has also been occurring in recent years is that – as the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms has reported – the number of infractions against Palestinian journalists has increased over the last decade. Some 368 Israeli offences against Palestinian journalists have been recorded in this period.

It has also been reported that Palestinian journalistic organisations have been subject to closure or complete destruction by Israel, resulting not just in the loss of jobs, but in some instances in the loss of life. Some 31 news organisations were either closed or destroyed by Israel in 2021 alone.

A report from the International Federation of Journalists, which has world standing and respect, has referred to the violations as “a clear attempt by Israel to silence media reporting on the ground” and has said that “no one has been held to account.”

Additionally this year, was also amongst those international bodies which condemned Israel’s decision to close the production company that retransmitted the Palestinian Authority’s public TV channel and radio station in East Jerusalem, regarding it “as a dangerous escalation in the attacks against Palestinian media.” Reporters Without Borders added this “is part of a growing crackdown on the Palestinian media and amounts to indirect but very effective censorship of the Palestinian Authority’s media outlets.”

We now also know that at least 30 journalists have been killed by Israeli security personnel over the last few decades. Amongst these, in 2018, two deaths of journalists along with many injuries were reported by Reporters Without Borders to the International Criminal Court, and these were reported as what were regarded as war crimes.

Then, in 2022, a group of organisations came together and submitted further reports to the International Criminal Court. Those organisations were the International Federation of Journalists, the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate and the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians. They were working with human rights lawyers—Bindmans, Doughty Street Chambers—all of which have a reputation for upholding human rights, and they put a formal complaint into the ICC.

That complaint detailed the systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists. It was on behalf of four named victims in particular—Ahmed Abu Hussein, Yaser Murtaja, Muath Amarneh and Nedel Eshtayeh—who were killed or maimed by Israeli snipers while fulfilling their duties as journalists covering the demonstrations in Gaza. The name of Shireen has also now been submitted, so her case will be investigated as well. As of the current moment, the ICC’s Prosecutor’s Office has formally acknowledged receipt of the complaint, and that complaint alleging war crimes will have to be investigated.

To achieve justice, we now need to be internationally putting pressure on the ICC’s Prosecutor’s Office to bring these investigations to an early conclusion, which can also send a message to the Israeli state that it can no longer act with impunity when it harasses, intimidates, and indeed murders journalists who are trying to fulfil their profession of reporting freely and willingly on the circumstances for the Palestinian people.

There are many reasons to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and their rights at this time of increasing aggression against them and many different areas where human rights abuses of Palestinians by the Israeli state need highlighting. The attacks from Israeli state forces on journalists is a vital one of them.

Featured image: Graffiti of murdered journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Nazareth. Photo credit: Davide Mauro under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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