Freedom of the press in Ramallah
The pictures were the centerpiece: Photos of Palestinian journalists beaten, arrested, bleeding and screaming, journalists subjected to horror simply for practicing their craft. For doing their jobs.
The pictures hung on a metal structure created for the demonstration. West Bank journalists gathered in central Ramallah in support of a global call to action to end impunity for people who attack journalists.
The International Freedom of Expression Exchange, a global network of advocacy groups working for greater press freedom internationally, called for 23 actions across the globe in 23 days, leading up to the International Day to End Impunity on Nov. 23.
On each of the 23 days, the Day to End Impunity website highlighted a different person who has been attacked, tortured or arrested for sharing information. Nov. 8, was dedicated to Jaffar Ishtayeh, a Palestinian photojournalist who suffered frequent repression from the Israeli military. According to IFEX, Ishtayeh has been arrested, beaten with batons and hit in the back with a tear gas canister while covering demonstrations in Palestine. Reporters Without Borders ranks the Palestinian Territories as 153 in press freedom out of 179 countries measured. (America is No. 47.)
The demonstration in Ramallah was organized by the Palestinian Media Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA, for its acronym in Arabic), a group dedicated to greater press freedom in the Occupied Territories. Riham Abu Aita, the spokesperson for MADA, said the demonstration's goal was "to let the world know about Israeli violations against Palestinian journalists."
"For example, in the past 10 years, (the Israeli military) killed at least 20 journalists, in addition to other forms of violation, like gas bombs, pellets, beatings," she said.
Palestinian security forces are also guilty of human-rights violations against journalists, Aita said, although these violations are usually not as destructive, and Palestinian security forces are less likely to kill journalists. She said the severity of violations committed by Palestinian forces increased after the 2007 split between Gaza's elected government of Hamas and the West Bank's ruling Fatah party.
Clearly, one demonstration in Ramallah will not end attacks against journalists in the West Bank. And as the Day to End Impunity website makes clear, this is a global problem.
But the demonstration was one small step toward a world with true freedom of the press globally. And the pictures MADA hung in Ramallah made certain that, for one day at least, the sacrifices so many people have made in the cause of spreading information were not forgotten.
Andrew Beale, an Alibi contributor and native New Mexican, works as a freelance journalist in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Look for more of his work in the print edition on stands Dec. 6.