On Friday 24th August 2018 Inminds human rights group held a vigil outside the headquarters of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in London to protest the NUJ's silence at Israel's targeting of Palestinian journalists, and to demand freedom for tortured Palestinian journalist Lama Khater. A letter was handed in to the NUJ asking the NUJ to support fellow journalists in Palestine that are under attack by the Israeli occupation.
Inminds chair Abbas Ali said "When we look at the NUJ's recent record we see it has overwhelmingly stayed silent when Palestinian journalists are targeted by Israel, their media outlets closed down, draconian laws passed stopping them from performing their duty, journalists arrested and tortured for their reporting, and even being targeted by Israeli snipers and killed. This is in sharp contrast to NUJ actions elsewhere - this month the NUJ is campaigning for the release of a journalist in Bangladesh, and last month for the release of a journalist in Egypt, and it has launched a huge poster campaign on behalf of the BBC Persian Service, a service which was funded by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, after it was criticised by one media outlet in Iran of acting against the interests of Iran.. but not one word for Palestinian journalists like Lama Khater, a mother of five, who has been caged by Israel since 24th July for her journalism, and is currently being tortured, up to 20 hours a day, to extract a false confession from her. We are here to ask the NUJ, why the double standards? Its time for the NUJ to defend the rights of Palestinian journalists, starting with a condemnation of the abduction, caging and torture of Lama Khater and a demand for her release."
Letter to National Union of Journalist (NUJ)
National Union of Journalists
24th August 2018
Dear Michelle Stanistreet
Israel is systematically targeting Palestinian media and journalists. This year Israeli occupation forces have so far shot 9 Palestinian journalists killing two of them, and has imprisoned a further 32 journalists, including 5 women, due to their reporting of the illegal occupation. This number does not include Palestinian writers and poets like Dareen Tatour who was sentenced to five months imprisonment simply for writing a poem.
When we look at the NUJ's recent record we see it has overwhelmingly stayed silent when Palestinian journalists are targeted by Israel, their media outlets closed down, draconian laws passed stopping them from performing their duty, journalists arrested and tortured for their reporting, and even being targeted by Israeli snipers and killed.
This is in sharp contrast to NUJ actions elsewhere - this month the NUJ is campaigning for the release of a journalist in Bangladesh, and last month for the release of a journalist in Egypt, and it has launched a huge poster campaign on behalf of BBC Persian Service after it was criticised by one media outlet in Iran of acting against the interests of Iran.. but not one word for Palestinian journalists like Lama Khater who has been caged by Israel since 24th July for her journalism, and is currently being tortured to extract a false confession from her. Why the double standards?
The only recent exception to NUJís silence has been their rightful condemnation of Israel's targeted killing of Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja, who was shot dead in cold blood by Israeli snipers on 6th April 2018 whilst covering the March of Return protests in Gaza. We commend that, but just a few days later when a second Palestinian journalist, Ahmad Abu Hussein, was shot dead and his murder condemned by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and other journalist bodies worldwide, there was silence from the NUJ.
Similarly when the shooting spree intensified with 13 journalists being injured by Israel on a single day on May 14th, with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) , the Federation of Arab Journalists (FAJ), and the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) all strongly condemning it, the NUJ was again silent.
And again when on 24th May 2018 the Israeli Knesset drafted a bill criminalizing journalists from filming Israel soldiers committing war crimes the NUJ was silent. In contrast the IFJ condemned it saying "It constitutes a serious breach of the freedom of the press, as it precisely criminalises the work of journalists.". The bill was passed by the Knesset in June 2018. The new law allows the army to abduct and imprison journalists who film their crimes for up to five years. If they are Palestinian then they can be imprisoned for 10 years. Again the NUJ was silent.
Social media is the leading platform for Palestinian citizen journalists to report what is happening in Palestine. On 17th July 2018 the Israeli Knesset passed the first reading of its so-called Facebook Bill which will allow the authorities to order Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google search and other internet platforms to remove content which could in anyway harm the state of Israel, including citizen reporting and economic harm like espousing a boycott of Israel. Again the NUJ was silent.
Over 500 Palestinians, including women and children, have been arrested, since Sept 2015, simply because Israel didn't approve of their social media posts. Again the NUJ has been silent.
Three weeks ago, on Tuesday 31st July 2018 Israel sentenced 36 years old Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour to five months imprisonment and a further six months suspended sentence for her poem titled "Resist, my people resist them" which she posted on social media. She has already served nearly three years under house arrest after police raided her home in October 2015 and dragged her away. She was banned from publishing her works and banned from accessing the internet altogether. The writer's association PEN condemned the verdict as "an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression.. a poem is not a crime". The group's international president, Jennifer Clement said "Dareen Tatour has been convicted for doing what writers do every day - we use our words to peacefully challenge injustice". But again the NUJ has been silent.
Palestinian journalist Lama Khater was abducted from her home in a pre-dawn raid on 24th July. Today on 23rd August 2018 she has had her detention without charge extended for a 7th time under the pretext that further interrogation needs to be conducted. The 42 years old mother of five has said she is being tortured by Israeli interrogators who are trying to get baseless confessions from her. She spends all the time in an interrogation cell sitting on a small chair, handcuffed and with her legs-chained. She is deprived of sleep and they continue to curse and shout at her. She is subjected to harsh and continuous interrogation, with interrogation sessions lasting more that 20 hours. This is happening today, right now, but the NUJ is again silent.
On 19th August 2018 imprisoned Palestinian journalist and director of Al-Quds TV Alaa Rimawi called for international solidarity to protect Palestinian journalists under occupation. He said the attacks and arrests carried out by the occupation forces against Palestinian media and journalists reflect a clear strategy to keep the situation in Palestine from being covered in the media.
Both Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch have condemned Israel's deliberate attacks on Palestinian journalists as amounting to "war crimes".
In March 2018 around 60 film-makers including Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and Peter Kosminsky, in an open letter, condemned Israel's targeting of Palestinian journalists. The letter read:
"On April 6, Palestinian cameraman Yaser Murtaja was killed by an Israeli sniper as he filmed the ďGreat March of ReturnĒ in Gaza. On the same day six other photojournalists wearing press jackets were injured by the Israeli military. Since then photographer Ahmed Abu Hussein has been shot dead. This is not an anomaly. Last year Israeli forces assaulted 139 journalists and detained a further 33. In 27 cases they destroyed or sabotaged equipment. They closed down 17 media outlets. Palestinian journalists and film-makers are thus victims of systematic persecution based on their ethnicity."
Isn't it time for the NUJ to break its silence and heed the call from Palestinian journalists for solidarity? Isnít it time for the NUJ to defend the rights of Palestinian journalists, starting with issuing a strong condemnation of the abduction and torture of Palestinian journalist Lama Khater?
We await your reply,
Chair, Inminds Human Rights Group
UPDATE: 21st September 2018
We have still not received a reply to the letter we hand delivered to NUJ over 3 weeks ago.
Two weeks after our protest, on 7th Sept 2018, the NUJ joined with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), in strongly condemning the Israeli army's attack on Palestinian journalists who held a protest near Ramallah on Tuesday 4 September 2018. The protest was an act of solidarity with Ali Dar Ali, a Palestine TV correspondent, who appeared on the same day before an Israeli military court.
CORRECTION: On 4th July 2018, The NUJ did host a public meeting in parliament where the president of the Palestinian Journalistsí Syndicate, Nasser Abu Bakar, was invited to talk about Palestinian journalists under attack.
We commend the NUJ on both these actions, but request that they also look at the case of Palestinian journalist Lama Khater, international condemnation from the NUJ could save her from further torture..