Al Jazeera journalist freed after 12-hour arrest by Israeli forces in Gaza

Media watchdogs decry Ismail al-Ghoul’s arrest from al-Shifa Hospital, where thousands of civilians are trapped.

Ismail al-Ghoul
Ismail al-Ghoul was beaten and verbally abused before being briefly detained by Israeli forces on March 18, 2024 [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent Ismail al-Ghoul has been released after being arrested for 12 hours and severely beaten by Israeli forces in Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital.

Al-Ghoul was there early on Monday with his crew and other reporters to cover the Israeli army’s fourth raid into the hospital, where thousands of civilians are trapped, including medical staff, patients and displaced families.

Witnesses said the Al Jazeera reporter was dragged away by Israeli forces, who also destroyed the broadcasting vehicles of news crews at the medical facility. He has since been freed after 12 hours in Israeli custody.

Al-Ghoul told Al Jazeera after his release that Israeli forces destroyed media equipment and arrested journalists gathered in a room used by media teams. He said the journalists were stripped of their clothes and forced to lie on their stomachs as they were blindfolded and their hands tied.

Israeli soldiers would open fire to scare them if there was any movement, al-Ghoul said. He added that he had heard that some of his colleagues were also released, but he did not have enough information about their whereabouts.

Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest in the Gaza Strip, has served as a base for journalists to report on Israel’s more than five-month war on the Palestinian enclave.

Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud, reporting from Rafah, said al-Ghoul was “tortured, beaten and detained by the Israeli military along with his crew member on the ground”.

Mahmoud, quoting witnesses, said many Palestinians were beaten and verbally abused, some blindfolded and their hands tied behind their backs. They were then put inside an Israeli military truck and taken to an unknown location, he said.

Gaza’s Ministry of Health said Israeli forces launched missiles and opened fire on one of the hospital’s buildings, killing and injuring Palestinians, and a section of the hospital’s courtyard was bulldozed.

According to Mahmoud, Israeli forces had also arrested more than 80 other Palestinians, including “women medical staff and [other] journalists”.

“The Israeli army made a list of allegations that they are looking for wanted people inside the complex but so far haven’t provided any substantial evidence … to justify what is happening inside al-Shifa,” Mahmoud said.

Israel has repeatedly said Hamas, the Palestinian armed group that governs the besieged Gaza Strip, has “regrouped” inside al-Shifa and is “using it to command attacks against Israel”.

Mansour Shouman, a citizen journalist who has reported from al-Shifa and Nasser Hospital in southern Gaza, described hospitals in the enclave as “small towns” where journalists are trying to “deliver news to the world”.

Hospitals are one of the very few areas that have generators, which are essential to provide internet service, Shouman told Al Jazeera.

Series of ‘systematic attacks’

Earlier on Monday, Al Jazeera Media Network demanded the immediate release of al-Ghoul and other journalists detained alongside him, it said in a statement.

The Qatar-based network said it held the Israeli army “fully responsible for their safety”.

“The Network emphasises that this targeting serves as an intimidation tactic against journalists to deter them from reporting the horrific crimes committed by the occupation forces against innocent civilians in Gaza,” the statement read.

It said the “targeting” of al-Ghoul is part of a series of “systematic attacks on Al Jazeera”, including the killings of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, Samer Abu Daqqa and Hamza Dahdouh, as well as the bombing of its office in Gaza.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Press Institute (IPI) also condemned al-Ghoul’s arrest.

“Journalists play an essential role in a war. They are the eyes and the ears that we need to document what’s happening, and with every journalist killed, with every journalist arrested, our ability to understand what’s happening in Gaza diminishes significantly,” Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive officer of the CPJ, told Al Jazeera.

“This is the worst conflict for journalists that the Committee to Protect Journalists has ever documented, and the situation is simply getting worse.”

Scott Griffen, the deputy director of the IPI, said the organisation was “deeply alarmed” by al-Ghoul’s arrest, and called for his “immediate release”.

Al-Ghoul’s detention, he said, “lays bare the risks that all journalists” face in Gaza after Israel has killed “scores” of them during the war with “almost no accountability”.

“This is not only threatening the lives of journalists who are on the ground trying to tell the story, but it is preventing audiences around the world from accessing the truth,” Griffen said.

As of Monday, at least 95 journalists and media workers – the overwhelming majority of them Palestinians – have been killed since the war started on October 7, according to the CPJ.

Source: Al Jazeera