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Israel Once Again Reveals Its Disdain for Freedom of the Press

When Akran Natsheh, a reporter for the Al Quds satellite channel, arrived at his office in Hebron in the morning of Thursday, July 13, he found that several of the doors had been pried open. Shards of wood were everywhere, and papers were strewn about on the floor. It certainly looked like an ordinary robbery, but then he found that several of his hard drives had been removed. His suspicions about the perpetrators were confirmed when one of his co-workers showed him the note he found posted on the front door by the Israeli army. It indicated that the offices had been stormed because “Al Quds serves an illegal organization.”

Natsheh looked at me with exasperation. “What does that even mean?” he complained. “When another news organization was raided, they were told it was because of incitement to violence.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regularly claims that Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East, but its commitment to one of democracy’s fundamental tenets – freedom of an independent press – leaves a great deal to be desired.

Mada, the Palestinian Center for Media and Development Freedoms, is an organization that monitors violations in the Palestinian Territories by both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. For example, it states in its annual 2017 report that while “2016 witnessed a relatively significant decrease in total number of violations monitored against media freedoms in Palestine compared to 2015,” there will still 383 violations, including “the murder of a media student at Al-Quds University … by Israeli Occupation Forces, [the] injuring and arresting of dozens of Palestinian journalists, [and the] raiding, confiscating and sabotaging [of] media outlets including the shutdown of 12 Palestinian media outlets and printing houses.”

When I asked Natsheh about the value of the items destroyed by the soldiers, he shrugged.

“Maybe $2000, but the money is not the important part. It is more about the psychological effect. I can buy new hard drives and new doors.” He paused to reflect.

This kind of attack causes self-censorship. Your work becomes something frightening. The challenge becomes bigger and bigger. They may storm this office next week and arrest me, or harass me in the field. Two years ago they shot at journalists during clashes, and so they became afraid to cover them.”

But Natsheh vowed to continue his work.

“We are journalists. We are not inciters. Our mission is to deliver the truth about what happens in Palestine to our audience. This is the mission of all journalists around the world. We all have the same mission, the same values, the same journalistic ethis. If they have anything against any organization, why don’t they go to court? They don’t. They go directly to destroy. If they had a strong narrative, they would not do that. But they don’t. We are just journalists. We just say what we see … You say something they don’t like, and they shut you down. This is the Occupation.”

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Richard Hardigan is a university professor based in California. He is the author of  The Other Side of the Wall. His website is richardhardigan.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @RichardHardigan.

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