Israel bans journalists from Al-Aqsa Masjid

  • By Zakiya Afzani

 Israel bans non journalist from Al-Aqsa Masjid in Palestine

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On 25 July 2017, Faiz Abu Rmeleh, a freelance photojournalist, was reporting on the Israeli army’s crackdown against Palestinian protesters near Bab al-Asbat (Lions Gate) at the entrance to al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

Later that evening, Abu Rmeleh, 25, was detained and interrogated by the Israeli secret police for several hours.

“The Israeli police came and started pushing us back down the steps and throwing sound bombs at us” he told Media in UAE “I tried to tell the police that there is no need to push, but soon I was grabbed and handcuffed by two policemen and I found myself detained.” he continued.

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According to Abu Rmeleh, the Israeli interrogator accused him of assaulting a soldier and obstructing police work. Abu Rmeleh denied the accusation saying that he had videos to prove he did not resist the police.

Abu Rmeleh was not alone. Several journalists covering the confrontations between Palestinians and the Israeli forces during that day testify to an escalation in Israeli police violations against the internationally protefted global press corps.

Rajae el-Khatib, a video journalist, explains how he was also assaulted by the Israeli police near Lions Gate during the crisis.

Khatib, 38, is now suffering from a knee injury as result of the “heavy beating” after he was “caught filming” the Israeli police as they were removing railings near Lions Gate in the early morning hours of July 27, the day Muslim worshippers re-entered al-Aqsa Mosque compound after more than two weeks of protesting the new measures of Israeli control.

“‘What did you film?’ the police asked me. I told them I was from the press. They beat me with sticks and kicked me on the knee and I was badly hurt.” The Israeli police officers also broke Khatib’s equipment including a camera lens, a neck mic and his mobile phone.

Abu Rmeleh described the Israeli police officer’s questions as “not professional,” adding “the Israeli interrogator asked me what your religion is. Are you Arab or Israeli? Are you a leftist?”

He was released the following day after he agreed to a police order banning him from entering al-Aqsa Mosque, Lions Gate and Herod’s gate for 15 days.

A few days later, a lawyer representing Abu Rmeleh annulled the police ban for lack of substantial evidence.

On July 23, the Israeli police blocked journalists from entering Bab al-Asbat. The police then ordered journalists to stay a distance of several hundred metres away from the gate, effectively restricting journalists from covering the story which was taking place just outside the compound.

In response, the Foreign Press Association, an NGO representing journalists based in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, tweeted: “FPA protests deplorable situation in Old City Jerusalem where tourists given access while accredited journalists and photojournalists not”.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, a human rights NGO, criticised the Israeli police’s conduct towards the press during the crisis. On July 30, ACRI filed a petition at Israel’s High Court demanding that the Israeli police “stop restricting press coverage in the Old City of Jerusalem and harming journalists’ ability to perform their public duties”.

The petition stated that the Israeli police conduct “raises concern that the police’s intention was to prevent the free flow of information through the media on the events taking place and on the police’s handling of those events”.

“The conduct of the police is worrisome and contrary to all the basic principles of democracy,” ACRI’s petition stated.

On Monday, Israel followed a long list of Arab countries as they moved to shut down Al Jazeera’s operations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly threatened to shut Al Jazeera’s operations in the country, accusing the network of inciting violence against Israel. His most recent comments on July 27 accused the network of “inciting violence”. A long list of Arab countries have also made condemning comments against the network with several imposing bands as Saudia Arabia and several GCC nations put pressure on Qatar to close the nerwork.

Two months ago, the Israeli Knesset cancelled the Press Ordinance of the British Mandate, which authorised the Minister of Interior to close newspapers, thanks to a petition submitted by ACRI to the High Court of Justice, according to the statement.

“Now, the new minister of communications wants to close media outlets. This joins a series of steps taken by the government against freedom of expression and against anybody that criticises [Israeli] government policy.”

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