The global solidarity campaign following the blinding of a Palestinian photographer by Israeli security forces is a reminder that try it might, Israel won’t be able to stop Palestinian journalists from telling the story of the occupation.
By Omri Najad
Last Friday, Palestinian photographer Moath Amarnih headed out to document a protest by the residents of Surif in the occupied West Bank. It was the second time in two weeks that they tried to demonstrate against the theft of their land by settlers. Shortly after the nonviolent protest began, a few young men began throwing stones at Border Police officers in the area.
The officers responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, and Amarnih — who was photographing the clashes from a nearby hill — was struck by a bullet in his eye. A 0.22-inch Ruger bullet was likely aimed at one of the protesters or was fired at the ground before ricocheting into Amarnih’s head. He was, at the time, wearing a press flak jacket.
Ever since, dozens of Palestinian and Israeli journalists have joined a campaign in solidarity with Amarnih, photographing themselves with one eye covered.
Surif’s residents have, for the past two weeks, demonstrated against a fence that was built around a large tract of their agricultural land in order to expand the nearby settlement of Bay Ayin. Amarnih’s shooting exposes the criminal flippancy with which Israel’s security forces aim — and often shoot — their weapons at Palestinian photographers in the West Bank and Gaza.
In March 2019, an investigative committee of the UN’s Human Rights Council published a report on Israel’s killing of unarmed protesters at the Gaza fence in 2018. According to the report, Israeli forces shot two Gaza photographers dead, while another 39 journalists were wounded by snipers. These injuries were caused despite the likelihood that the snipers recognized them as journalists, due to their flak jackets. Israeli snipers continue to shoot and wound journalists who documented the protests.
The photographer and his or her camera are often viewed as the enemy by oppressive regimes across the world. In Israel-Palestine, security forces fired rubber bullets at journalists reporting for French media outlet AFP near Ramallah last year, while in places like Syria and Hong Kong, security forces use violence against journalists — particularly photographers.
The Israeli media wants to silence and hide such criticism during wartime. For example, in the latest “round of violence” in Gaza, television viewers were presented with a distorted reality that shows the strip as a place where only militants who launch missiles into live, without names or faces. Again and again, when talking about Gaza, we see videos of rockets being fired into Israel. As if Gaza itself has no people, no children, no life. Only rockets.
In this way, eight members of the A-Swarkeh family were killed in the city of Deir al-Balah. The IDF admitted it thought the building it bombed was empty, after the IDF’s Arabic-language spokesperson claimed the army was targeting the commander of an Islamic Jihad rocket unit. In practice, the army bombed a dilapidated building that served as a home to an impoverished family. A family that included children aged 12 and 13, as well as two toddlers.
Preventing photographers from doing their job is necessary for the continued repression of the Palestinians. The perpetual attacks and killings of innocents depend, among other things, on a lack of documentation, on creating an absence of humanity on the other side. The camera is seen by security forces as a target, so as not to allow the Israeli public to see who is there.
The attack on Amarnih reveals Israel’s tragic and symbolic need to hide the injustices it commits, to hide the boot on the neck of millions of Palestinians. But the damage caused to one photographer’s eye will not erase the injustice of the regime. Attacking photographers will never succeed in hiding the land expropriations, the expulsions, the killing, or an existence where the blood of some is worth more than that of others.
Omri Najad is a filmmaker and a political activist. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets. Read it here.