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Israeli Forces Blindfold & Handcuff Palestinian Reporter Who Filmed Settler Attack in Masafer Yatta

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Image Credit: Basel Adra/Twitter

On Saturday, Basel Adra, reporter for Local Call and +972 Magazine, was detained while covering an Israeli settler attack in the West Bank area of Masafer Yatta. After he refused to hand over his video footage, Israeli soldiers handcuffed and blindfolded him and then sat him in a chair in the blazing sun for hours. The Union of Journalists in Israel denounced Basel’s detention, describing it as a “serious violation of freedom of the press.” Adra joined the show to discuss the difficulty of witnessing the crimes of Israeli forces against Palestinians as a local journalist. “I’m a Palestinian journalist, and there is a hate from them toward me just because I … film them when they are doing these crimes,” says Adra, who calls for international groups to fight for freedom of the press for Palestinians. “They know that there is no consequences for their acts and their violence toward us.” This incident comes during a pattern of escalating violence against Palestinians, including attacks by settlers against residents of the occupied West Bank.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In addition to human rights lawyer Noura Erakat, we’re joined in the occupied West Bank by the Palestinian journalist Basel Adra, who writes for +972. He’s spent years documenting Israeli efforts to evict Palestinians living in Masafer Yatta, south of Hebron. He wrote the new cover story for The Nation magazine, headlined “The Destruction of This Palestinian Community Was Green-Lighted by Israel’s Supreme Court.”

On Saturday, he was detained while covering an Israeli settler attack at Masafer Yatta. After he refused to hand over his video footage, Israeli soldiers handcuffed and blindfolded him, then sat him in a chair in the blazing sun for hours. The Union of Journalists in Israel denounced Basel’s detention, describing it as a, quote, “serious violation of freedom of the press.”

Basel Adra joins us now from South Hebron.

Basel, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you describe exactly what took place on Saturday? I don’t hear you, if you’re speaking.

BASEL ADRA: Thank you. Sorry for this.

On Saturday, I got a call from a Palestinian shepherd and a neighbor that a settler is invading his field. There was armed settlers and with their sheep in a Palestinian special property grazing there, as this is the recent policy of the settlers, where they come over and attack Palestinians in their fields and taking of the private properties. And this is the policy of the Israeli state recently by supporting these settlers attacking more Palestinians and taking more land and creating more new outposts and farms in Palestinian fields, in the Palestinian agricultural fields. So I was filming there.

Later on arrived the police and the Israeli occupation army. They’re invading houses in my village. They tried to arrest people under the claim that the settlers say that the Palestinians were throwing stones at them, so soldiers went directly invading some houses, beating up people, and tried to arrest them.

And then an officer headed to me and said, “Give me your ID and your phone.” And they searched my body, and he told me, “You need to open your phone.” I told him, “This is illegal. There is rules for this. I’m a journalist. And here, my card.” There is the police, is just here, didn’t ask me anything for this. And he said, “No, you should open your phone now and be released, or there is another long way to get the videos from you.” And he didn’t, like, say what is the long way.

So, minutes after that, he called, like, another group of soldiers, who came in another Jeep, and asked them to take me away. So, directly, they took me behind their Jeep. The settlers were there and started — like, the settlers themselves, like, cursing me, while the soldiers were handcuffed me and covering my eyes, before put me inside the Jeep, and started driving away. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t know where I am going. And then, in the way, they stopped, and they transferred, like, me in another soldier’s car and also kept driving, until we arrived in a place which is their military base.

And, like, they took me down from their car, started pushing me hardly. I was trying to ask them where are they going with me, what they are doing. “I can’t see why you are pushing me like this. I don’t see where I am walking, where I’m putting my legs.” And they just keep telling me to shut up and cursing me that I’m a dog, and they knew who I am, because I film them, like, all the time when they come to destroy houses, when they are coming, like, to deck the settlers and when they also come to invade the villages in the night or in the day.

So, there is really — the scary thing for me, that there is hate. And I am a Palestinian journalist, and there is hate from them toward me just because I take my phone or my camera and go film them when they’re doing, like, these crimes, because they know that they’re doing something they don’t want it to be published outside.

So, they let me sit in a chair. I tried to ask them where I am, what is going on with me. They asked me about my phone, why my phone was with the officer, and my ID also. And they kept, like, telling me that I’m a liar and that I am bad and this, like, “Why you are not going to Jenin?” if I am writing to Al Jazeera. And then, like, I stayed there for hours, before the officer came again and put me in the Jeep and then take me to entrance of the village, released me with my phone.

Later on, the army spokesperson said I was taken to the police to give a testimony, I was not detained, which is a really totally lie. They took my phone illegally. I don’t know what they did with it. And I was just sitting in the sun, being cursed by these occupation soldiers, who, for them, it’s really fun, like, to do that. I was asking them, “You would never” — I was telling them, “You would never, ever be brave to do this to an international or an Israeli journalist.” I don’t wish that, but this would never happen here. Just because I’m a Palestinian — it doesn’t matter journalist, Palestinian shepherd, Palestinian farmer, landowner, doesn’t matter. I am Palestinian in the end of the day, and there is a foreign army, which is the Israeli occupation forces, that controls our life and can do whatever they want, because they have the power to do it.

And this is not the first time for me personally to face this. Just last May, I was beaten up for like 40 minutes, really assaulted very hardly. It was filmed on a video when they were beating me up just because I reached my neighbor to film the four soldiers trying to take down his shelter. And they decided to arrest me in that moment. I was, like, protesting, telling them, “This is illegal. You don’t have excuse. I am a journalist, just come here for documentation.” And it was like just masked soldiers who with rifles and uniform, and beating me really hardly, grabbing me on the ground, like, putting my body on the ground, catching my legs and my hands, tried to grab me to their military Jeep. I was too scared for that, and I was, like, hospitalized after 40 minutes of them beating me up.

And also, like, if you want another example about me personally, like, on December 2021 at night, they invaded my home. They confiscated the cameras and the laptop and the car that I use alongside with other activists here for the documentation in Masafer Yatta. And the police and the army kept them for at least one month in their offices, before the court ordered them to bring this back.

But for now, like, four Palestinian journalists sitting in Israeli jail in administrative detention without any charge, without any accuse, just because they are Palestinians. We don’t see the European Union or the U.S. sending condemnations about these acts, that journalists sitting in jail without charge just because they are Palestinians. And where is the freedom of press?

Last month, just in June, my friend and close colleague, Ehab Alami, for example, from Beit Ummar, northern of Hebron, was shot in his leg by an Israeli soldier, when the soldiers were invading his town, and he was filming them. The camera was there, very clear that he’s journalist. He was wearing a vest, like, telling that it’s press, like he’s a journalist. And even though they shot him, no one talked about this. No one wrote about it. You don’t see the Western, like, embassies here in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv writing about it, that there was a journalist, like, was shot, unless, like, someone like Shireen Abu Akleh, that we love her so much, that was shot in Jenin, because she’s a woman, she has American passport. Then everyone talk about her.

But these daily harassments, and, like, this is just — I was, like, detained for two hours and set up under sun. But all the time I go out in the field, they try to push me back really hardly. They create flying checkpoints to stop us as journalists and taking our IDs, wasting our time to prevent us follow the forces that, for example, demolishing a home or cutting a water well in Masafer Yatta. So, this is we’ve been, like, really — we’re really tired and risk our life to go film these crimes. And they are really making it very hard for us to do this. And it doesn’t matter for them what price we will pay for this, because they know that there is no consequences for their acts and their violence toward us.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Basel Adra, I wanted to ask you — obviously, this crackdown of the government, continued crackdown, on Palestinian journalists is as a result of what the Israeli government is doing and what you are chronicling. Could you talk about the — you report that over a thousand people are at risk of immediate banishment, and the army has already started demolishing homes and schools to make way for more settlements. Could you talk about what you’ve seen in these demolitions?

BASEL ADRA: Yeah. So, for me, personally, since April until today, I witnessed and I document hundreds of demolitions of Palestinian houses and properties in Masafer Yatta. And it’s the most hard thing to see and to witness, and especially now, when I go to film this. I see families, children, like, and mothers stand aside and watching Israeli bulldozers demolishing their homes or their school or their water well, and they are just crying. And then they’re just filming, feeling really powerless and hopeless on this situation.

And just a few hundred meters away from my home and my community, there is the Israeli outpost and settlement that keep expanding. What I’ve seen since April until today, just the Israeli settlements are expanding. They’re getting water, clean water, and asphalt roads and homes. Every day they are building and expanding more and more on our land. And the bulldozers there for them just come to dig the land and to create more houses and farms, huge cow farms, chicken farms, vineyard and cherries. All kind of farms around these settlements are expanding toward our land, while I see and I witness weekly of Israeli bulldozers coming toward Masafer Yatta, to our communities, and demolishing houses, schools, water wells, water pipes, like, bulldozering roads in order to squeeze our communities and to drive us away from here.

So, what happened is, in the '80s, they designated 14 communities of Masafer Yatta out of 20 as a firing zone, which is military area. Like, they want to take this land for the Israeli occupation forces to do military exercises. But Israeli politician Ariel Sharon at that time wrote in his secret documents that he's designating Masafer Yatta as a firing zone area under a pretext to take this land for the Israeli settlements. This document, that he wrote in the '80s, when he make this first designation, was released a year ago from now. So, from the ’80s until last year, they were trying very hard by putting pressure on the Palestinians' of Masafer Yatta life in order to make them, like, leave this land. So they were cutting the water wells. They were, like, preventing access to electricity, demolishing houses, preventing to giving us permission for building homes. And under that, like, they want to drive the people away from their homes.

And it didn’t work, all of this pressure. The Palestinians doesn’t have any other, like, place to go. And they would go to the old caves and invade them, set up new tents and stay at their homes, until last year, last May, an Israeli, like, high court decided to give a green light for the Israeli occupation forces to physically transfer the residents of Masafer Yatta and destroy their homes in order to take this land. And the one that wrote this judgment, the political judgment, is himself a settler, live in the West Bank near Ramallah, himself is violating the international law by living in the West Bank, but he’s being a judge, a settler judge, that wrote the future of 1,300 residents of Masafer Yatta and to give the green light for the Israeli occupation forces to drive these people away and to make them homeless in order to take this land. Since that decision in last May until now, it tells you, over than 50 houses were wiped out by the Israeli occupation forces, which is very crazy.

And last November, I stand and document in a village of Isfey here in Masafer Yatta in early morning, a normal morning, while students were having their class, their lessons in their classrooms as normally, a heavily occupation forces arrived at the school with a bulldozer. The soldiers ran directly to the classrooms, slammed the doors and start to pushing us back as journalists and parents. And the first moment one soldier opened the first, like, stun grenade and throw it at us, when it explode, the students from the class start to open the windows, crying, taking their books and running away from the school crying, in a very traumatic-like scene. I’ve never been in that scene before. It was really horrifying. And then the soldiers just make like a wall around the school. A group of soldiers went inside the school, steal the bags of the kids with the balloons, with their chairs, with their tables, and going out, confiscate them and putting them in the Israeli military trucks, before a bulldozer, was owned and driven by a settler who lived in the outpost nearby, in a minute just bulldozered this school and drove away.

These students watched their dream being damaged in front of their eyes. There was just a school that they can be educated in it. And their parents didn’t have that chance to have a school and to be educated, and none of them, like, educated. And they had this chance for a while to be educated in this school, and they were planning to improve it and to have more classrooms, because it was for a primary school, and they wanted to improve it. But the Israeli occupation forces arrived and wiped it out. The students or the parents built another tent, and the army arrived and take it and confiscate it. Another tent, it was also confiscated by the Israeli occupation forces. So, now they continue the year in a room by one of the villagers that donated to the teacher, and in old cattle farm, that water leak in the winter, and the sun heat it up in the summer. So, since May until now — 

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Basel, I just wanted to bring in Noura Erakat, because we only have a little bit of time left. Noura, I wanted to ask you the role of the Palestinian Authority. While all of this is going on, on the West Bank, when so many more Palestinians are being displaced and their homes demolished, what has been the role of the Palestinian Authority?

NOURA ERAKAT: Well, unfortunately, Basel can, I’m sure, discuss this, as well, their complete absence in Masafer Yatta to prevent, or to protect Palestinians. To the extent that they have been armed, they use those arms in order to protect the illegal Israeli settlers in order to demonstrate that they are the “good natives” that the U.S. and Israel can trust. Since the establishment of the Oslo peace agreement, which is an autonomy arrangement of perpetual subjugation, the Palestinian Authority has become an arm and an extension of the occupation in its policing, in its suppression of freedom of speech, in actually tearing apart the fabric of Palestinian social, national, political life, in order to do what most people in power do, which is to preserve that power.

They’ve not even endorsed BDS as articulated by the 2005 BDS call, because, to them, that would undermine their authority to lead their own state. To the extent that they have been — you know, where are they in the discussion about insisting that Israel is an apartheid state, they also have been falling behind and using it very — in self-interested ways in order to advance themselves and their irrelevance, and yet they are not relevant.

To the extent that we’ve seen them, we’ve seen them actually extrajudicially assassinate a Palestinian journalist, Nizar Banat, and then come down hard on the Palestinian people who protested that assassination at the height — at the height — of Palestinian grassroots and social power internationally in May 2021 during the protest against the impending takeover of Sheikh Jarrah.

And so, the Palestinian Authority is part of the problem. And it makes the Palestinian condition even more hard. But even more spectacular, that despite all of these obstacles, Palestinians are able, through their grassroots initiatives, through popular media, through film, through art, through organizing across the globe, to be able to continue to get this story out, to be able to continue to articulate a unified vision for the future, a decolonial future, one based on the freedom, dignity and justice for all people, and not just for a few.

AMY GOODMAN: Noura Erakat, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Palestinian human rights attorney, associate professor at Rutgers University, author of Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine, speaking to us from Portugal, and Basel Adra, reporter from Masafer Yatta for Local Call and +972 Magazine. We’ll link to your new pieces, “I was handcuffed and blindfolded for reporting on settler violence” and your new piece for The Nation magazine, “The Destruction of This Palestinian Community Was Green-Lighted by Israel’s Supreme Court.”

Coming up, professor John Womack joins us, the legendary historian of the Mexican Revolution, on how to seize and build labor power and solidarity. Stay with us.

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