[News] Palestinian women journalists speak out against 'deliberate' attacks by PA forces

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jul 2 13:29:40 EDT 2021

women journalists speak out against 'deliberate' attacks by PA forces
By Aziza Nofal in Ramallah - July 2, 2021

For several days now, Palestinian journalist Najlaa Zaitoun has been trying
to convince her children, 11-year-old Haytham and 8-year-old Zein, to leave
the house.

'A person wearing plain clothes threatened me, to my face, that he would
rape me, and then defame my reputation'

*- Najlaa Zaitoun, journalist*

“I’m afraid the person who beat you will come and beat me,” Zein said to
her, as she urged them to keep up their training at the sports club they
usually go to every day.

On 26 June, the 35-year-old was assaulted by plainclothes security forces
while she was covering protests called following the death of popular
Palestinian activist Nizar Banat while in Palestinian Security Forces
custody two days earlier.

The security forces chased Zaitoun, seized her phone, which she was using
to film the protest, and violently attacked her with a truncheon. She was
also threatened with rape.

"A person wearing plain clothes threatened me, to my face, that he would
rape me, and then defame my reputation," she tells Middle East Eye.

[image: Palestinian female journalists attacked by PA forces]
Bruises Najlaa Zaitoun sustained while covering the protests can be seen on
her arm (Supplied)

Zaitoun has been living in a state of fear ever since and the violent
beating she received has left visible marks on her body.

"I don't feel safe, not even in my own home," she says. Since the attack,
Zaitoun has been staying at her parents’ house.

Meanwhile, the assault on the journalist has moved online, with a smear
campaign targeting her on social media accounts affiliated with the
Palestinian Authority (PA) and accusing her of being the “one who attacked
the security forces.”
Targeted attacks

The attack on Zaitoun is one of several instances of violence against
women journalists in the course of their work covering the protests. The
incidents indicate that Palestinian security forces are specifically
targeting women journalists, as reflected in the escalating levels of
hostility and violence towars them compared to their male counterparts.

Attacks on women journalists have included physical violence, as was the
case with Zaitoun and four others; confiscation of electronic devices used
to cover the events; intimidation and harassment; chasing journalists in
the street; arrest attempts and a ban on reporting.

The assaults have continued even after the protests were over, with many
female journalists receiving veiled threats that they will be discredited
and defamed.

Saja al-Alamy is one of those attacked while reporting on the protests. On
24 June, Alamy was subjected to several attempts by security forces to
prevent her from doing her job, and had to show her Palestinian Journalists
Syndicate membership card each time.

[image: Palestinian female journalists attacked by PA forces]
'My press armour helped the perpetrators to identify me as a journalist,
and attack me', Saja Alamy says (Supplied)

Two days later, expecting journalist to go on being obstructed, Alamy wore
her bulletproof press body armour and affixed her press card on the back of
her phone, which she was using to film the events.

None of this stopped her from being attacked. Instead, she believes the
measures did her more harm than good.

“My press armour helped the perpetrators to identify me as a journalist,
and attack me,” she says, adding that she was only able to escape the scene
after she had taken off her press vest and concealed her identity as a

“There was a direct attack on us. One of the security officers in
plainclothes was pointing at my female journalist colleague and me, asking
his partner to take a photo of us so that he can identify us later,” she

Security forces had first attacked a group of journalists, including Alamy,
with tear gas, but upon noticing her filming an attack on protesters, she
was directly targeted. Alamy resisted the officers’ violent attempt to
confiscate her phone, and refused to hand it over. She then managed to flee
the scene to a nearby building and hide in a women’s toilet.

Alamy tried for more than an hour to reach her colleagues for help, but all
entrances were being watched by security officers, including those who had
chased her. She was eventually able to escape, after shedding her press
armour, and pretended to be out shopping.
Life threatening

MEE reporter Shatha Hammad was also among the women journalists who were
targeted in the attacks of 26 June.

She sustained a shrapnel wound to her face from a tear gas canister that a
security officer shot directly at her after failing to confiscate her

Hammad says that security officers in plainclothes had focused their
attention on women reporters, singling them out by pointing at them, even
before the clashes erupted, which, she believes, suggests that the assault
was planned and deliberate.

According to Hammad, the unprecedented violence against women journalists
made her feel insecure and trapped.

“What happened is life threatening,” she says, demanding immediate action
from local and international organisations to provide the necessary
protection for them.

[image: Palestinian female journalists attacked by PA forces]
Shatha Hammad sustained wounds to face after being directly targeted with a
tear gas cannister

The detailed testimonies of women journalists were shocking to many,
especially the Palestinian Authority’s use of cultural norms to shame and
intimidate women, exercising social pressure against them as an attempt to
silence and prevent them from performing their work.

According to Ghazi Bani Odeh, head of the monitoring and documentation unit
at the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (Mada), these
exponential attacks against women journalists are unprecedented and

“The assaults on female journalists have two levels. The first is the
direct physical violence in the streets; then comes the online attacks
designed to incite people to exert social pressure on them,” Bani Odeh
tells MEE, in reference to the smear campaigns that use hate speech that
could fuel violence against them.
Smear campaigns

One of the journalists targeted by a defamation campaign was Fayhaa
Khanfar, who was beaten up in the street on 26 June, with her phone stolen
from her as she covered the protest.

'When I regained consciousness, I went to security officers crying and
asking for help. But no one moved a muscle'

- *Fayhaa Khanfar, journalist*

Security officers in plain clothes had chased Khanfar to confiscate her
device and knocked her to the ground, causing her to briefly lose

No one had intervened to help her. The attack resulted in a hairline
fracture to her shoulder and bruises all over her body.

“I was attacked by security officers wearing plain clothes. They pushed me
to the ground and stole my phone,” Khanfar tells MEE.

“When I regained consciousness, I went to security officers crying and
asking for help. But no one moved a muscle.”

Orchestrated online attacks targeted Khanfar, who wears the hijab, aimed to
discredit her in a conservative society by circulating images of a girl in
beachwear, who looks very similar to Khanfar, and falsely identifying her
as the journalist.

Khanfar was later summoned for interrogation at the intelligence
headquarters in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, and told that she had
to appear if she wanted to collect her phone, a move she considered an
attempt to lure her in and arrest her.

Wafa Abdulrahman, the director of Filistiniat, a civil society
organisation, sees the attacks on journalists as a chilling attempt to
silence the women who have been spearheading the protests.

[image: Palestinian female journalists attacked by PA forces]
Fayhaa Khanfar suffered a hairline fracture to her shoulder and bruises all
over her body (Supplied)

Abdulrahman says that the systematic targeting of women journalists is
intended to first send them a threatening message, and second, to warn the
society that women reporters will not be spared and that the power of the
security forces is unbreakable.

As attacks on women journalists continue through online defamation
campaigns and veiled threats, they find themselves living in constant
danger and feeling personally insecure.

According to Majid Arori, a media freedom activist and a human rights
specialist, there has to be individual and collective legal actions to
deter such attacks in the future.

“The attacked women journalists must file legal complaints, providing the
necessary documentation via local and international legal organisations to
exert pressure on those who perpetrated the assaults,” he says, adding that
these attacks are attempts to suppress critical voices and any protests
against corruption.
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