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Israel targets Palestinian journalists covering crackdown on protests

Using live ammunition and spraying with 'skunk water,' Israeli forces have hindered journalists from carrying out their work
Israeli forces have targeted and harassed journalists covering the rising tensions (AFP)
By Shatha Hammad in Occupied West Bank

Israeli authorities have led an unprecedented crackdown on local journalists attempting to cover the tense developments on the ground since the outbreak of Palestinian protests in Israel last week. 

The protesters have been voicing their rejection of an Israeli court's decision to imminently evict a number of Palestinian families in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. 

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In addition to the violent dispersal of protests, police and armed forces have beaten and fired live ammunition on journalists covering the unfolding of events, particularly following attacks on al-Aqsa Mosque and Israel's deadly bombardment of Gaza since Monday. 

In the West Bank, photojournalists have been hit with steel bullets while doing their job at the northern entrance to the city of al-Bireh, near the settlement of Beit El. Many journalists, including Hisham Abu Shakra, Mutasim Saqf al-Heit, Issam Al-Rimawi and Ramiz Awad, were heavily wounded as a result. 

Raed al-Sharif, from the West Bank, told Middle East Eye that he and other journalists, including Mahoor al-Wahwah and Jamil Salhab, were covering the confrontations in the city of Yatta on Friday when they were shot by snipers.

"We felt fear, and found ourselves being targeted directly, which prompted us to leave the place and stop our coverage," he said. 

Violent tactics have been used to quash the protests around the West Bank and other regions in recent weeks, including beatings, the use of teargas, sound grenades and rubber bullets. 

Many people have reported difficulties in breathing as a result of the continued use of teargas, with some needing medical attention. 

"Skunk water," which has been used by Israeli forces as a tactic to disperse crowds, has also targeted journalists, forcing them to evacuate areas and hindering their ability to carry out their job. Skunk water, a crowd-control weapon developed by an Israeli company, is described as a concoction of chemicals that causes intense nausea, obstructing normal breathing, causing violent gagging and vomiting

In Sheikh Jarrah, which has been a flashpoint of tension in recent days, large numbers of heavily armed police have been deployed in an effort to quell any gatherings of protesters. 

Israeli police have also been seen intimidating members of the press covering the events, as well as disrupting reports and footage coming from the ground. 

Anadolu Agency's Middle East news editor, Turgut Alp Boyraz, was shot twice by Israeli police while reporting. Two other journalists from the same agency were targeted in the Gaza Strip on Thursday.

On 12 May, Israeli air strikes destroyed the al-Jawhara tower, a multi-storey building in Gaza City that houses offices of over a dozen media organisations, including Palestine Newspaper, Al Kufiya Channel, Bawaba 24 and the Palestinian Media Forum. 

Another building, the al Shorouk Tower, which housed seven media outlets, was also destroyed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza on the same day.

According to the Palestinian Prisoners Society, 90 people have been arrested in the West Bank since tensions escalated earlier this week.

The Palestinian Authority's Commission of Detainees Affairs also said that over the past three weeks Israeli authorities have carried out a mass campaign of arrests against Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The Palestinian government agency estimates that Israel has carried out around 600 arrests in the past few weeks, with the majority of them being in the Israeli town of Lod, known to Palestinians as Lydd, as well as in Jerusalem and Ramleh.

'Disproportionate' force 

Israel has been widely condemned for its intense crackdown on journalists covering the escalations on the ground over the past week.

In a statement on Thursday, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounced the "disproportionate" use of force against local journalists.

The head of RSF’s Middle East desk, Sabrina Bennoui, urged the Israeli authorities to halt the use of force, including stun grenades and teargas, against Palestinian reporters. 

"Palestinian journalists, who were already struggling to work in the conditions imposed by the Israeli authorities, are once again on the front line when tension erupts," she said.

"We urge the Israeli authorities to desist from this disproportionate use of force against Palestinian reporters, who should on no account be treated as if they were parties to the conflict."

Israel ranks 86 out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom index.

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