Israelis obstruct media coverage of Al-Aqsa Mosque crisis
The Israeli security forces have used intimidation, denial of access, violence and at least one arrest to limit or prevent media coverage of the demonstrations and clashes sparked by the introduction of additional security measures around the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem.
At least ten Palestinian reporters and photographers have been injured during clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces in Jerusalem and Bethlehem since the crisis erupted on 14 July.
The cases monitored by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) include those of four journalists who were either hit directly by Israeli police or by stun or teargas grenades. Afeef Amera of the Wafa news agency was hit in the chest, while Fatima Al Bakri, a reporter for the Palestinian TV channel Al Quds sustained a slight injury to the head.
Faiz Abu Rmeleh, a photographer for the Turkish news agency Anadolu and the photographers’ collective Active StillsActive Stills, was beaten by Israeli security forces during a demonstration on 25 July. A video posted by Active Stills shows him being manhandled as he is being arrested.
The journalist Fatima al Bakri was beside him at the time. “The Israeli police beat him so that he would stop filming the crackdown on the demonstrators.”
Peter Beaumont of The Guardian newspaper told the +972 website: “Faiz was photographing. Several [officers] made a beeline for Faiz and grabbed him. The only reason appeared to be that he continued taking photographs.”
Rmeleh later told the website that he was beaten while being driven away in a police car, that he was manhandled and interrogated in a humiliating way for several hours, and that he was not released until 4 am.
“Media freedom must be preserved even when security measures are being stepped up,” RSF said. “A democratic country cannot deny journalists access to tense areas for fear of negative coverage. It must also differentiate between journalists, demonstrators and trouble-makers.”
The Foreign Press Association expressed outrage at the absurdity of the measures taken by the Israeli authorities.
“While tourists were given access to the Old City, journalists were held for questioning and relegated to distant positions totally useless for reporting or taking relevant photos,” the FPA said “While security issues may be understandable in volatile, high risk situations, it is unclear how these areas are today open to tourists while accredited journalists and photojournalists are deliberately being kept out. This appears to be a kind of innovative censorship that is surprising in a country that prides itself on press freedom.”
After the latest incidents, the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate called on Wednesday for the creation of an international committee to investigate the behaviour of the Israeli security forces, which, it said, was deliberately designed to prevent journalists from covering what is happening in Jerusalem.
Threat to close Al Jazeera bureau
Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu meanwhile took advantage of the clashes in the Old City to reiterate his desire to close Al Jazeera’s bureau in Jerusalem, accusing the Qatari TV broadcaster of continuing to “stir violence around the Temple Mount.”
On his Facebook page, Netanyahu wrote: “I have spoken several times to law-enforcement authorities demanding the closure of Al Jazeera’s offices in Jerusalem. If this does not happen because of legal interpretation, I will work to enact the required legislation to expel Al Jazeera from Israel.”
Israel is ranked 91st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.