Police Attack Journalists, Freedom of Press in Recent J’rslm Events

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) has sent two urgent letters to the Police, urging them to allow full freedom of movement to journalists covering recent events in and around Jerusalem’s Old City and to immediately end any policy and practice that harms journalists or prevents them from preforming their duties. ACRI warned in one if its letters that, if the Police continue to infringe upon the free movement of journalists, it will take the matter to the Supreme Court. Scores of journalists and photojournalists have been covering the violence in Jerusalem following the deadly shooting attack at al-Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount), which took place on July 14, 2017.

An Israeli police officer violently confronts a Palestinian resident in occupied East Jerusalem, July 21, 2017.

An Israeli police officer violently confronts a Palestinian resident in occupied East Jerusalem, July 21, 2017. (Photo: Activestills)

Over the past two weeks, several journalists have been wounded by riot-control gear or were physically assaulted by police officers. Among them are Afif Amira from the Palestinian agency WAFA who was hit in his abdomen by a sponge bullet; a Sky News crew that was attacked while filming in the Palestinian hospital al-Maqased in occupied East Jerusalem; and reporter Fatma al-Bakri who took a direct hit by a stun grenade.

Israeli police roughed up and detained Activestills photojournalist Faiz Abu Rmeleh Tuesday night, July 25, while he was covering a mass prayer at the Lions’ Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem. The incident is one of many in recent days in which Israeli, Palestinian and foreign press have accused police of restricting their access and in some cases assaulting them.

In one instance, police officers accused journalist Abu Rmeleh of attacking them and detained him until 4 a.m. the following day, eventually releasing him with a 15-day restraining order prohibiting him from approaching the al-Aqsa Mosque, the Lions’ Gate, and even the entire Old City of Jerusalem, despite the fact that he lives in the Old City. Abu Rmeleh along with multiple witnesses utterly reject Police accusations that he in any way acted violently towards officers.

In another incident, a reporter for the Israeli news website Ynet was attacked by police and required medical attention. Also, police forcefully removed an Haaretz reporter and other Israeli journalists from the Old City.

On multiple occasions Palestinian, Israeli and foreign journalists were prevented from entering the Old City, while tourists and non-journalist Israeli-Jews were allowed in. Journalists reported that police used violence against them to prevent their entry, and in some cases demanded to see the footage they had shot on video. A Police spokesperson told journalists last week that “the Police expect them to report from a designated area where their safety can be guaranteed, and not from where events are taking place.”

ACRI attorneys Nisreen Alyan and Roni Pelli stressed in their letters to the Police that such limitations on the work of journalists is an unprecedented and illegal measure, which gravely damages freedom of the press and the freedom of expression. “The public interest requires free access for journalists in the Old City … The Police have an obligation to enable freedom of the press, not to limit or suppress it.”

ACRI demanded from the Chief Legal Advisor of the Israeli Police to immediately instruct police forces to cease physically harming journalists and interfering with their vital work, and to investigate cases where policemen treated journalists in a violent or unlawful manner. “The police’s mission to safeguard security and public order cannot be carried out in the dark, hidden away from the public eye. The police may not abuse the powers given to it in order to act violently and to prevent journalists from reporting about its actions,” Alyan and Pelli concluded.

The Israeli Journalists Union (affiliated with the Histadrut) and the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) recorded at least 24 incidents of journalists being attacked, abused or prevented from reporting by Israeli police.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joined its affiliate PJS in condemning these abuses by police and is calling on the Israeli authorities to let journalists work freely and safely. “The IFJ has repeatedly criticized the Israeli government for their mistreatment of journalists including the disrespect of journalists’ rights to travel and report safely and without hindrance,” said IFJ President Phillipe Leruth. “The IFJ calls on the Israeli government to adhere to international conventions and treaties and cease its routine abuse and harassment of journalists.”

In a statement released on Sunday July 23, the Foreign Press Association of Israel condemned the treatment of journalists by Israeli police. “Not only have journalists been banned from access, they have been pushed and shoved into areas where their safety is at risk, and where they bear the brunt of the Israeli security response to rioting crowds including teargas, stun grenades and beatings resulting in several serious injuries,” the Foreign Press Association said.