NABI SALAH, Occupied West Bank - Palestinian activists are being jailed, Israeli activists are
under surveillance, and
the Israeli military is increasingly targeting journalists who cover
The Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel issued a statement recently
condemning what it sees as a change in Israel Defense Forces (IDF) policy in
their treatment of journalists covering the growing number of West Bank
protests against Israel's separation barrier, illegal settlements and land
"We would appreciate it were the authorities to remind the various forces
involved, that open, unhindered coverage of news events is a widely
acknowledged part of the essence of democracy.
"Generally speaking this would not include smashing the face of a clearly
marked photographer working for a known and accredited news organization
with a stick, or for that matter aiming a stun grenade at the head of a clearly
marked news photographer or summarily arresting cameramen,
photographers and/or journalists," said the FPA.
The release of the statement followed an attack on three journalists as they
covered a protest march near an Israeli settlement built illegally on land
belonging to the Palestinian village Beir Ummar in the southern West Bank.
Several weeks ago in the village Nabi Salah, north of Ramallah, two Israeli
activists were roughed up and arrested after criticizing Israeli soldiers for
shooting at Palestinian boys throwing stones.
One of the Israelis, Yonatan Shapira, 38, an ex-Israeli Air Force (AIF) pilot and
member of Combatants for Peace, (a group comprising former Palestinian and
Israeli fighters) earned the wrath of the Israeli authorities when he authored a
"pilot's letter" in 2003 signed by 27 AIF pilots.
The pilots refused to fly over the Palestinian occupied territories and take part
in the deliberate targeting of Palestinian civilians, particularly in Gaza.
Shapira was recently interrogated by Israel's domestic intelligence agency Shin
Bet over his participation in anti-occupation protests and his support for the
In what appeared to be a veiled threat the Israeli activist was warned that his
presence at anti-wall demonstrations was in defiance of the areas being
declared closed military-zones on Fridays.
Shapira believes his phone has been tapped. "Nothing we are doing is illegal
and I'm not afraid, but I'm uncomfortable about my country turning into a
fascist state," said Shapira.
"The Israeli authorities are trying to intimidate Israelis who engage in political
dissent. We present no security threat. But the line between political activism
and security is becoming increasingly blurred by the authorities who are
trying to criminalize dissent," Shapira told IPS.
"Sometimes when we come to demonstrations we have been stopped en route
by the IDF who have taken down our details and appear to have prior
knowledge of our movements," Israeli activist Shy Halatzi, 23, a physics and
astronomy student at Tel Aviv University who served in the Israeli military told
Israel has become alarmed at growing international support for a boycott
campaign against the country as its right-wing government increasingly
tramples on civil liberties.
Hundreds of Israeli college professors signed a petition recently denouncing
the threat by Israeli education minister Gideon Saar (a member of Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party) to punish any lecturer or
institution which supports a boycott of Israel.
Saar supports Im Tirtzu, a right-wing nationalist movement, which demands
that Israeli education professionals be required to prove their commitment to
Neve Gordon, professor of politics at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva,
received death threats after he wrote an editorial last year in the Los Angeles
Times explaining why he supported a boycott on Israel.
Meanwhile, Palestinian grassroots activists involved in non-military popular
committees, which organize non-violent activity against the occupation,
continue to be arrested and jailed on what they say are trumped-up charges
involving forced confessions under duress.
The IDF carries out nightly raids in West Bank villages where demonstrations
take place regularly on a Friday and where villagers have been particularly
Wael Al-Faqia from Nablus in the northern West Bank was recently sentenced
to a year's prison for "belonging to an illegal organization." Al-Faqia was
arrested with eight other activists in December last year.
Musa Salama, an activist with the Labor Committee of Medical Relief Workers
and associate of Al-Faqia, was sentenced last December to a year's
imprisonment on identical charges.
Abdullah Abu Rahme from the head of the Popular Committee Against the
Wall in Bili'in village near Ramallah continues to languish in detention
following his arrest in December last year.
Some of the allegations against him include incitement for planning the
peaceful protests and "being in possession of arms." The latter referred to his
collection of used teargas canisters and spent bullet cartridges, fired by Israeli
troops at unarmed protesters, into a peace sign.
"What we as Israeli activists endure is a fraction of what Palestinians are
subjected to. They are subjected to harsher and much more brutal treatment
than we are," Shapira told IPS.