Media and Development Conference III: The Shattered Shield of Journalism



 

Faten Elwan: " Don't touch my cameraman!"

By Faten Elwan

 

I’m a Palestinian, and not just any Palestinian, I’m a journalist. When I started at the age of 17, peace was still slightly alive. I thought we enjoyed the most press freedom in the Arab world with no regulations on what you could or could not say. Free to criticise even the president himself with no consequences but a phone call that usually ended up with a talk over a cup of coffee with high ranking officials. The new intifada in 2000 changed everything. Eventually three enemies of the press emerged.

 

The Israeli Army

The invasion of the West Bank restricted freedom of movement severely. The Israeli government decided to withdraw all press cards given to Palestinians. Without a card you can’t cover any stories in an Israeli military zone. Each journalist was on his own, playing hide and seek with the Israeli army, until we decided to move together to face arrest collectively. It worked for a long time, until the Israeli government opted for direct attacks with sound bombs, rubber and even live bullets. The Israeli army became the first enemy of the press. Every accusation was deflected with the same argument: it’s a war zone and the army is protecting its country.

 

Me and my crew were told the same thing on the 7th of June when we tried to cover the invasion and curfew of Naleen village. When we refused to leave, soldiers chased us and sound bombs rained down on us, sound bombs that shake your whole body and keep you deaf for days. I decided to stand up to a soldier who tried to stop me doing an interview with an eyewitness. I was arrested and convicted for assaulting the soldier and trying to steal his weapon…

 

Mr. Anonymous

 A new style of restraining freedom of the press appeared in 2006 when Mahmud Abbas allowed Hamas to compete in the elections. They won. The international community didn’t like this victory, nor did the Fatah leadership. Journalists reported that Fatah lost because of corruption. They were punished by “Mr. Anonymous”. Disguised Palestinian gunmen attacked the journalists and their offices.

 

 Fighting Brothers

Finally, the worst violations were committed by Palestinians, when journalists got stuck in the middle of the fight between the brothers Fatah and Hamas. In Gaza journalists covering Hamas actions were kidnapped, arrested and beaten up. Offices were shut down and the three major newspapers in Palestine were not allowed to enter Gaza. The Palestinian Authority on the West Bank responded by arresting journalists regarded as Islamic and by shutting down radio stations. Criticising the Palestinian government became a high-risk mission. In Gaza many journalists had to leave or die! Most of them left, the rest decided to apply selfcensorship. The truth was controlled by fear.

 

Shattered Shield

 After ten years I realised that the shield I always held proudly, the shield of journalism, was only a nice memory from the past. It was shattered by the three enemies of the press: the Israeli army, Mr. Anonymous and the brothers who turned against each other. Fact is that press is not a byword for immunity anymore. Faten Elwan is a well-known Palestinian journalist. After hosting her own talk show, she became correspondent for Al-Hurra TV.