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Complaint filed with ICC over Israel's 'systematic' targeting of Palestinian journalists

The formal complaint details the targeting of four victims who were killed or maimed by Israeli snipers while covering Palestinian protests
After a demonstration against Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank village of Beita, a member of the Israeli army points a tear gas launcher and pushes away a Palestinian protester while a journalist is filming, on 18 June 2021 (AFP)

A formal complaint has been filed with the International Criminal Court (ICC), alleging that Israel’s “systematic targeting” of Palestinian journalists and its failure to investigate their killings amounts to war crimes. 

The complaint details the targeting of Palestinian journalists on behalf of four named victims – Ahmed Abu Hussein, Yaser Murtaja, Muath Amarneh, and Nedal Eshtayeh – who were killed or wounded by Israeli snipers while covering demonstrations in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. According to the complaint, all of them were wearing clearly marked “press” vests at the time they were shot. 

Abu Hussein and Murtaja were killed in 2018, while photographers Amarneh and Eshtayeh were maimed in 2019 and 2015, respectively, after being shot by snipers in the eye.

For Palestinian journalists, violent attacks by Israeli forces come with the job
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The complaint was filed in early April by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) and the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP). The ICC’s Prosecutor’s Office (OPT) formally acknowledged receipt of the complaint on 25 April.

“The targeting of journalists and media organisations in Palestine violates the right to life and freedom of expression,” IFJ general secretary Anthony Bellanger said. “These crimes must be fully investigated. This systematic targeting must stop.”

On 5 February 2021, the ICC pre-trial chamber accepted that it has jurisdiction over the situation in Gaza, the West Bank, and occupied East Jerusalem. Now, those who filed the complaint are hoping the ICC will investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of the crimes against the Palestinian journalists. 

“A free press is the cornerstone of a democracy. The targeting of journalists in conflict zones anywhere in the world is unacceptable and must bring severe consequences for those that try to hide their crimes and violations by killing or maiming journalists,” Tayab Ali, the director at ICJP, said. 

“There could not be a more important time than now for the ICC and international community to send a clear signal to States, that further their own interests through war crimes, that they will not have impunity but will instead be swiftly held to account for their violations”.

Unprecedented crackdown

Israeli authorities have led an unprecedented crackdown on local journalists attempting to cover violent developments on the ground since the outbreak of Palestinian protests in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and across Israel in May 2021. 

Police and armed forces have beaten and fired live ammunition on journalists covering the unfolding of events, particularly following attacks on al-Aqsa Mosque and Israel's deadly bombardment of Gaza. 

In the West Bank, photojournalists were targeted with steel bullets while doing their job at the northern entrance to the city of al-Bireh, near the settlement of Beit El, Middle East Eye reported last year. 

Israeli police were also seen intimidating members of the press covering the events, as well as disrupting reports and footage coming from the ground. 

Additionally, Israeli air strikes on Gaza destroyed al-Jalaa Tower, which housed a number of media offices used by outlets including Middle East Eye, Al Jazeera, the Associated Press and other local media organisations.

The Israeli airforce also destroyed al-Shorouk Tower, which housed seven media outlets; and al-Jawhara tower, which houses the offices of over a dozen media organisations, including the Palestine Newspaper, Al Kufiya Channel, Bawaba 24 and the Palestinian Media Forum.

“In the light of the continuing impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of these attacks, the victims now call upon the ICC Prosecutor to exercise his jurisdiction and authority to investigate and to act against impunity,” said Jennifer Robinson and Tatyana Eatwell of Doughty Street Chambers, the legal counsel for the group.

“And in doing so, to communicate to the international community at large that journalists working on the frontline in situations of armed conflict, crisis and political upheaval are not fair game. “

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