Working around the wall: the life of a Palestinian journalist

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I will start my story from where I have lived my whole life, along with my fellow Palestinians living under the Israeli occupation. This greatly influenced my career choice of becoming a journalist.

Bil’in is a small Palestinian village located in the central West Bank, seven miles west of Ramallah. Its population does not exceed 1,500 inhabitants. It is primarily an agricultural community, where most people live on what they earn from farming and olive trees.

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A photojournalist in Bil’in. (Photo: Hamde Abu Rahme)

In 2004, the Israeli government started to build the Separation Wall on the lands of this village, causing the loss of around 70 percent of its territory and an increase in unemployment and poverty. Farmers could not longer access their lands for harvest, that is if the plants and trees survived the destruction caused by the construction of the Wall.

Since then, the citizens of Bil’in and members of international solidarity groups have been relentless in demonstrating peacefully against the Wall and the neighboring Israeli settlement of Modi’in Illit. For six months, these non-violent protests were held daily. Currently, they are organized on a weekly basis. They have led to worldwide solidarity, bringing together Israelis and Palestinians, and gaining the support and approval of international activists such as Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Ela Bhatt, Gro Brundtland and Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

My duty as a journalist is to cover the daily events in Bil’in and to transmit a truthful image to the world. I never expected that such a task would be so difficult.
There are several problems in being a journalist in Palestine. It starts at the preprofessional stage of getting an adequate journalism education. Not only are the resources scarce, but journalism students, among others, face the daily hassle of passing through checkpoints that restrict their movement. Getting to class on time becomes a daily struggle.

Second, once one is a journalist in Palestine, he or she comes to realize that there is lack of freedom that is necessary for a journalist to accurately cover events and transmit them to the rest of the world. My story is an example of this.
When I was covering the Bil’in demonstrations, I was directly attacked with rubber bullets and tear gas fired by the Israeli army. On top of such physical assaults, the psychological effects of beatings, continuous insults, humiliation, and abuse are hardest to recover from.

In one instance, I was arrested while covering the nightly incursions carried out by the Israeli army to arrest anti-Wall protestors. The Israeli army detained me for 12 hours and accused me of blocking the army’s mission while I was doing my job. Also, I was detained and questioned for a continuous six hours by Israeli Security upon returning from a trip to Europe, where I exhibited my photographs depicting the situation in Bil’in.

Despite ongoing pressure and harassment, journalism in Palestine continues to evolve. Palestinian journalists are continuously attempting to refute Israeli propaganda claims that describe Palestinians as people who practice violence and terrorism. In addition, the Palestinian press is growing in depth and magnitude, despite the internal and external difficulties.

Israeli attacks against Palestinian media and violations of the freedom of the press have been on the rise in the past few years. Television stations, both government-run and private, have been shelled repeatedly. Journalists have been arrested and attacked. Even international journalists and foreign bureaus working in the Palestinian territories have been targeted and their work impeded by Israeli forces. Such actions render the transmission of a one-sided view of the situation, while silencing the Palestinian voice.

For more than 60 years of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory, the Israeli viewpoint has forcefully and deliberately dominated domestic and global media outlets. In doing so, the Israeli side obscures the truth about Palestine. Israel has focused on the United States and European countries that have an influence with regards to the ongoing conflict.

Nevertheless, the emergence of the Internet—and all it offers from the speedy delivery of the news to different forms of communication—has made the world a smaller village. A Palestinian journalist can experience freedom of expression on the web. Truth about the situation can no longer be halted. On the contrary, the transparency that the Internet provides may lead to more voices representing the Palestinian side.

To practice journalism here, one must be whole-heartedly dedicated to the profession despite the constant threat to one’s life. Journalism is one of the most important professions of our time. Therefore, it must be protected by all means. International laws should be enforced to allow journalists to freely practice their profession without any restrictions.

This article has also appeared on the website Global Journalist, a project of the Missouri School of Journalism.

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