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Israeli arrests daunt Palestinian journalists in West Bank

Shortly after Hamas's October 7 assault, Israeli forces apprehended Palestinian photographer Moath Amarneh in the occupied West Bank and incarcerated him. In addition to Amarneh, the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has recorded 51 instances of Palestinian media personnel being detained by Israeli authorities in Gaza and the West Bank since the beginning of the conflict.

Anadolu Agency WORLD
Published July 09,2024

Within days of Hamas's October 7 attack, Palestinian photojournalist Moath Amarneh was arrested by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank and thrown into prison.

As the Israel-Hamas war raged in the Gaza Strip, Amarneh spent nearly nine months behind bars until his release on Tuesday, though he was never charged with an offence or put on trial.

Including Amarneh, the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has documented 51 Palestinian media workers detained in Gaza and the West Bank by Israeli authorities since the start of the war.

The 37-year-old freelancer was placed under "administrative detention", which allows for suspects to be held without charge for renewable periods of up to six months.

His initial term was reduced to five months, but then renewed for four months in March.

Mohammed Laham of the Palestinian Journalists' Union said "90 percent of the journalists arrested are in administrative detention", including five women detained since October 7.

On his release, Amarneh was transferred to hospital due to "poor health", according to the family.

Amarneh, who in 2019 was wounded while covering a protest against Israeli land confiscation, was arrested at his home in Bethlehem's Dheisheh refugee camp, his family said.

For five years, since being hit by a rubber bullet fired by Israeli troops, Amarneh has used a prosthetic eye.

But he did not have it with him in prison, and relatives were not allowed to visit him, his wife Walaa Amarneh told AFP in an interview before his release.

She said the family was only allowed to send Amarneh 500 Israeli shekels (about $135) to buy glasses, after a pair was "broken due to harassment by Israeli soldiers".

Contacted by AFP, the Israel Prison Service did not comment on Amarneh's case.

- Most dangerous conflict -

As the Gaza war went on, violence and tensions have soared in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967.

The October 7 attack on southern Israel that sparked the war resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Fighters also took 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 42 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory military offensive has killed at least 38,243 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to figures from the territory's health ministry.

Palestinian journalists in the besieged Gaza Strip have risked their lives to provide the world with a glimpse of the death and destruction in the conflict, while also trying to keep their loved ones safe.

The Israel-Hamas war has been the most dangerous conflict for journalists, according to the CPJ, which by July 8 counted 108 media workers killed and 32 wounded -- most of them Palestinians in Gaza.

Journalists in the West Bank have meanwhile faced the risks of covering increased Israeli raids into Palestinian communities that often lead to bloody clashes with militants.

According to Palestinian authorities, at least 572 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers since October 7.

Advocacy group the Palestinian Prisoners' Club said Israel has also arrested journalists "for alleged incitement via the media... and social networks".

"Tools of freedom of opinion and expression... have become tools of targeting journalists and Palestinians in general," it said.

- 'We think twice' -

In November, another West Bank freelance journalist, Somaya Jawabreh, was arrested for alleged incitement to violence in a series of online posts.

AFP was not able to review the posts as her Facebook profile has been shut down, but her husband, journalist Tariq Youssef, said the court took issue with her mention of the October 7 attack.

The journalist was released after a week, because she was seven months pregnant, and placed under house arrest.

She was also ordered to pay a 50,000-shekel bail, barred from speaking to the media, and forbidden from owning or using a mobile phone as well as the internet.

"She lost her job due to all these conditions," Youssef said. "Her professional future is over."

Moussab Shawar, a photojournalist who contributes to AFP, was detained in November with two colleagues in the southern West Bank for meeting with Palestinian prisoners released by Israel during a Gaza ceasefire.

At an Israeli checkpoint, "the vehicle was seized and searched, IDs checked, phones confiscated," said 33-year-old Shawar.

He said they were "handcuffed with zip ties", blindfolded and released seven hours later.

"With the war, everything has become frightening," he said.

"We think twice before deciding on our coverage."