Jerusalem24 – A Palestinian journalist was assaulted by Israeli settlers and found himself staring down the barrel of a soldier’s gun at a military checkpoint in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday evening.
Quds News Network correspondent Mutasim Saqf El-Hayt was chased by settlers and pelted with stones as he crossed Zatara checkpoint near Nablus.
He had been covering a military siege on the city of Jericho and was on his way to the house of Sameh Aqtash, a 37-year-old Palestinian Red Crescent volunteer who was shot and killed by Israeli gunfire during a settler rampage on Huwara on Sunday night.
Saqf Al-Hayt says that as he was driving slowly through the checkpoint, Israeli settlers began to chase him. He then accelerated and bumped into another settler’s car ahead of him, and a soldier stationed at the checkpoint immediately targeted him.
“The soldier drew his gun immediately,” Saqf Al-Hayt tells 24FM, Jerusalem24’s sister station. He feared the soldier assumed he was carrying out a car-ramming attack. “I turned the car lights on, raised my hands, and said Al-Shahada [the prayer recited before death].”
“The gun was pointed at my face, I saw death.”
Palestinian journalists “systematically targeted”
The techniques Saqf Al-Hayt has developed in his seven years of experience in order to minimize risks in the field testify to the routine dangers journalists are exposed to in Palestine.
“Field work is very hard and dangerous,” he says. “The first thing I do when I go to cover events is I grab a handful of soil and I throw it in the air, to see where the wind is heading. That way when the [tear] gas bombs hit, I know where to stand.”
In addition to being exposed to tear gas inhalation, physical assaults, arrests, and confiscation of equipment (both by Israeli soldiers and settlers), 52 Palestinian journalists were intentionally targeted by Israeli gunfire in 2022, according to the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate.
“They don’t need any reason in order to kill you,” says Saqf Al-Hayt.
A total of 900 Israeli violations against Palestinian journalists were recorded in 2022 – including 162 violations in the month of May alone, when Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper while covering a military raid on Jenin refugee camp.
In April 2022, weeks before Abu Akleh’s killing, a coalition of the International Federation of Journalists, the Palestinian Press Syndicate, and leading human rights lawyers had submitted their first complaint to the ICC over the “systematic targeting” of Palestinian journalists.
“We’re dealing with organized gangs”
In addition to the risks Saqf Al-Hayt personally faces as a field reporter, the weight of his work as a journalist in Palestine weighs on him.
He says talking about the settler assaults he witnessed in Huwara is “very hard”.
The attacks were thoroughly documented on social media thanks to mobile phone footage of residents and reporters on the ground. But, he says, “away from the pictures and videos that were published, there are specific feelings that you can’t deliver through videos and pictures, such as the fear on children’s faces and the feeling of insecurity in areas close to settlements and settler attacks, or when a father is not able to protect his own child.”
Saqf Al-Hayt is adamant that what he witnessed and documented that day in Huwara is state-sanctioned and state-abetted violence.
“The army was helping the settlers in Huwara by opening the gates for them, so they were able to come in to burn and destroy everything.”
“Currently, we’re not dealing with a state, or a so-called state,” he says. “We are dealing with gangs, organized gangs operating in the West Bank and the occupied lands.”