Reporters Without Borders today released the report of a visit it made to Gaza and Israel from 4 to 7 December to investigate the disturbing situation of journalists working in the Gaza Strip, to meet with the authorities and to propose ways of improving the security of the media.
Palestinian and foreign journalists working in the Palestinian territories are exposed to two different kinds of threats, one from the Israeli army, which has been responsible for many acts of violence against the press since 2000, and more recently from the various Palestinian factions that do not hesitate to target media that criticise them.
The Gaza Strip has become the scene of especially violent inter-Palestinian clashes this year. The tension between Hamas, the ruling Islamic party that won the elections at the start of the year, and Fatah, President Mahmoud Abbas’ party, has led to a political stalemate that has paralysed Palestinian institutions. The split within the government has inevitably had repercussions on the street, and journalists are no longer safe.
Representatives of all the Palestinian factions and the Israeli army profess a desire to respect press freedom and the work of journalists, but the statistics belie their claims. This year alone, the Israeli army attacked or threatened 16 journalists and wrecked the premises of three news media outlets, while Palestinian militants caused damage to seven news media outlets by setting them on fire or smashing equipment, and attacked at least four journalists.
Six foreign journalists have also been kidnapped by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Reporters Without Borders believes that the safety of journalists will never be taken seriously until the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli army decide to apply the law by bringing those responsible for crimes against journalists to justice. Systematic investigations must be carried out, the findings must be published and those found guilty must be punished.
Reporters Without Borders also proposes the creation of a distinctive sign so that journalists can be more easily identified. The organisation is normally opposed to the use of signs that could mark journalists out as targets. Identifying oneself as a journalist in Iraq or Afghanistan significantly increases the risks to which one is exposed. But in some cases it could provide additional protection in the Palestinian Territories, where journalists face a regular and professional army.
Reporters Without Borders therefore proposes to rapidly bring together Palestinian and Israeli journalists, politicians from both camps and Israeli military officials to discuss this question and find a solution that would reduce the risks to which journalists working in the Palestinian territories are exposed.
It is also vital that all Palestinian factions should quickly agree on a joint statement calling for both local and foreign journalists to be respected. The opening-up of the state-owned media — the news agency WAFA and the radio and TV broadcaster PBC — to all Palestinians regardless of their political affiliation are also essential conditions for improving press freedom.
Lastly, the creation of a regulatory body would help control the excesses of media used as propaganda outlets by certain factions. Professionalising the media and giving them a universally-recognised status would also help to combat the stigmatisation of journalists, who are often branded as “traitors to the nation” as soon as they try to stand back and put some distance between themselves and the political parties.