Ramallah, occupied West Bank – It took 10 young Palestinian journalists several bank loans, months of hard work and a big leap of faith to get Sanabel Radio up and running.
But three years after the Hebron-based station’s launch, half of its cofounders were arrested and imprisoned by Israeli forces in late August, while the radio station itself was shut down.
These five are among more than two dozen Palestinian journalists currently imprisoned by Israeli forces, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society. All 26 Palestinian journalists being held are members of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, a journalists’ union with the International Federation of Journalists.
Last week, the five journalists from Sanabel Radio – Hamed al-Namoura, 25; Ahmad Darwish, 23; Muntaser Nassar, 23; Nidal Omar, 23; and Mohammad Omran, 23, were all placed under administrative detention after being held for nearly a month without charges.
“Almost all of the 26 journalists are being held under administrative detention, without any charges or trial,” Khalid al-Araj, who manages the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society’s Bethlehem branch, told Al Jazeera. “The tactic is used because they want to silence the journalists, but they don’t have any real charges to levy against them.”
Araj said that when his team of lawyers asks for information on such cases, they are most often told that the journalists were arrested for “incitement against Israel”.
An Israeli army spokesperson told Al Jazeera that the five Sanabel journalists were arrested “as part of ongoing efforts against incitement”, adding that the radio station “has repeatedly broadcasted inciting content, encouraging, celebrating and promoting violence and terrorism against Israelis”. The spokesperson declined to comment on the other 21 imprisoned journalists.
“Israel very easily arrests journalists under the guise of incitement. They plaster this word on any journalist and say they were working against the security of Israel, but generally, a journalist is held for six months or more without any charges,” Araj said. “If they actually committed a crime, there would be charges.”
No Palestinian journalist has any protection, no matter where they work, when it comes to Israel.
Alexandra el-Khazen, who heads the Reporters Without Borders Middle East desk, told Al Jazeera that Israel’s use of administrative detention makes it difficult for the media watchdog to defend such cases.
“We only defend journalists persecuted because of their work, or in link with their journalistic activities,” Khazen explained. “Israeli authorities, like many, usually do not accuse journalists of charges with links to their journalistic work, which makes our work more difficult.”
Khazen said that accusations of incitement can often be “unfounded and used arbitrarily to silence journalists”.
“Israeli authorities often use this accusation of ‘incitement against Israel’ against Palestinian media outlets and journalists,” she said. “This accusation has been used a lot since last year to shut down media outlets.”
The other five cofounders of Sanabel, all women, were not detained, but the doors to the station were welded shut by Israeli forces, and all of the equipment inside confiscated, preventing them from relaunching the station.
Aqeel Awawadi, a former director of audio engineering at Sanabel who quit six months before the Israeli military raid and subsequently moved to the larger Ramallah-based Radio FM 24 station, said that he felt his job was safer there.
“It’s a lot easier for them to close down the smaller stations,” Awawadi told Al Jazeera. “Sanabel was a startup; the oldest person involved was 25, and everyone put all of their money and efforts into it, so Israel knows that now that they’ve closed the office and confiscated the equipment, the station won’t go back up, even after my five colleagues are released.”
Larger media stations would not be attacked in this way because they could swiftly restart operations elsewhere, he added.
“Individual journalists are another story, though; no Palestinian journalist has any protection, no matter where they work, when it comes to Israel,” Awawadi said. “Even now, I am scared they might come for me. Journalism is a dangerous job for Palestinians.”
Awawadi, who has maintained a close relationship with his former colleagues, said that Sanabel never incited violence against Israel.
“They didn’t put in all that work to start a station from the ground up so that they could incite violence. They did it so they could report the news. All of them are journalists, not politicians or entertainers,” Awawadi said, noting that the station provided information meant to keep Palestinians safe, including announcements when Israeli soldiers were in an area or when tear gas had been deployed.
“Israel makes it out that they are reporting that as a way to encourage others to go out and throw stones, and that is just not the case.”
According to the Reporters Without Borders 2016 Press Freedom Index, Israel stands at number 101 out of 180 countries, a significant drop from its ranking of 50 out of 160 countries a decade earlier. Palestinian journalists are targeted more than their Israeli counterparts, according to the media watchdog.
“Palestinian journalists, especially in the West Bank and Gaza, are more vulnerable and exposed to defiance by the Israeli authorities if they publish stories that the government doesn’t like than Israeli journalists,” Khazen said.