June 7, 2024

07/06/2024 Standing against impunity: IFEX calls for justice in Palestine. SEEMO is IFEX member

As a network of organisations that promote and defend freedom of expression and information, IFEX is appalled by the unprecedented toll on journalists and deeply alarmed by the suppression of Palestinian solidarity and ceasefire protests in many places throughout the world.

The IFEX network understands the pernicious and devastating impact of impunity and therefore stands in solidarity with our members in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and calls for an end to Israel’s impunity in the mounting cases of violations of the free expression rights of all Palestinians, including journalists, artists, writers and human rights defenders. As a network of organisations that promote and defend freedom of expression and information, we are appalled by the unprecedented toll on journalists and are deeply alarmed by the suppression of Palestinian solidarity and ceasefire protests in many places throughout the world.

Pressure to end Israeli impunity is growing from international legal mechanisms. These efforts include South Africa’s genocide case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that saw provisional orders issued in January for Israel to prevent what the world court’s judges called a ‘plausible risk’ of genocide in Gaza. The ruling reiterated that all parties, including Hamas, remain bound by international humanitarian law and called for the release of the hostages. Most recently it was updated to include a demand to cease military operations in Rafah which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part and an order for Israel to facilitate unimpeded media access to Gaza. UN experts echoed these orders, stressing the critical role that civil society plays to give effect to the ruling. Additionally, the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigations into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity by Israel and Hamas, and the potential issuance of arrest warrants for its leaders, signal another vital step towards accountability. Complaints filed by Reporters Without Borders that have urged the ICC to also consider journalists killed by Israel in the Gaza Strip as part of its investigations would be especially crucial for addressing egregious press freedom violations.

Despite these developments, Israel’s offensive on southern Gaza has since escalated. By ignoring international legal norms, Israel is calling into question the very existence of a rules-based order. Without the enforcement of the decisions of these mechanisms and accountability for human rights violations, human rights abusers around the world are emboldened, endangering the work of IFEX members and all who rely on the functioning of these institutions for justice. Israel’s key allies, such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union, also have a responsibility to support these accountability processes and must apply much greater political pressure on Israel, while also ceasing actions and support that could constitute complicity in enabling abuses.

Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza Strip has seen its forces kill over 36,000 Palestinians trapped in the besieged enclave following Hamas’ attack on 7 October, including 7,797 children and 4,959 women as of 30 April. This unfolding tragedy is deeply rooted in decades of systemic Israeli oppression and violence against Palestinian civilians living in a context of illegal occupation and which UN experts and human rights organisations such as IFEX member, Human Rights Watch and others have characterised as apartheid. The brutal onslaught on Gaza has destroyed hospitals, residential areas, universities, places of worship and critical infrastructure, decimating any remaining civic space and leaving its population displaced once again in a context which has been described as systematic starvation and that could amount to ongoing ethnic cleansing.

In addition to the extreme dangers of reporting from areas under bombardment, journalists documenting these atrocities have faced targeted attacks. According to IFEX member the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), 146 journalists and media workers have been killed in Gaza alone since October 2023. IFEX member I’lam has also documented over 50 violations against Palestinian journalists in Israel, including confiscation of equipment, obstructing coverage, arrests, and physical attacks, leading to a climate of fear and self-censorship. However, Israel’s impunity for attacks on journalists long predates 7 October.

One high-profile example of this pernicious lack of accountability is the case of prominent Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Two years on, despite international outcry and compelling evidence of her deliberate targeting by Israeli forces, justice for her killing remains elusive. This flagrant disregard for accountability for the Israeli state’s crimes against journalists not only exacerbates the suffering of Palestinian journalists and media workers but also poses a grave threat to journalists globally, emboldening aggressors and setting a dangerous precedent for future attacks against journalists to be committed without punishment.

Israel’s efforts to restrict access to information, whether by limiting foreign media access, banning news outlets like Al Jazeera, increasing detentions and attacks against journalists in the West Bank by Israeli military and illegal settlers, or systematically censoring pro-Palestinian content online, often aided by the discriminatory policies and acquiescence of social media platforms, further intensify the suppression of dissenting voices and contribute to a climate where perpetrators act without fear of accountability and public scrutiny. Israel’s actions are fueling the suppression of free expression on a global scale. From the unchecked development of AI and surveillance technologies tested on Palestinians living under military occupation that are then exported globally to governments who use it to target dissidents and critics, to the violent tactics used to suppress peaceful Palestinian solidarity protests within the region and worldwide. For example, in Europe, the United States, Arab countries such as Egypt, and elsewhere, authorities have used excessive force to crack down on legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and targeted student calls for divestment from Israel with arrests and attacks. The evident ripple effects are profound, entrenching a culture of impunity that emboldens governments and erodes the fabric of democracy and freedom of expression.

Since 7 October, IFEX and its members have been calling for accountability for Israeli attacks on journalists and human rights defenders. IFEX joined MADA in urging UN Special Procedures to address Israel’s targeting of Palestinian journalists, and pressing the Media Freedom Coalition, along with 39 other organizations, to safeguard Gaza’s journalists. In collaboration with members The Arab Centre for the Advancement of Social Media (7amleh) and MADA, and with the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), IFEX helped organise a webinar in March titled “The Silencing Act: Journalism in Palestine” where participants emphasised the importance of holding Israel accountable through international mechanisms like the ICJ, despite pressures and challenges. Further, when IFEX members came together to meet in-person for our network-wide convening in Berlin, it was evident that the situation in Palestine was at the top of the network’s concerns.

As pressure mounts from international legal bodies to hold Israel accountable and to prevent further violations, the IFEX network stands in solidarity with our Palestinian members and renews our demands for an end to Israel’s impunity and accountability for crimes against journalists, civil society, and other violations of international law, in order to create a future both in Palestine and globally where the right to freedom of expression and access to information, as well as the institutions that uphold them, are valued and protected.