Photo credit: DiasporaEngager (www.DiasporaEngager.com).

Violent protests erupted in parts of Jerusalem in mid-April, in response to the proposed eviction of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, according to multiple news reports. Combined with reports of heavy handed policing of Palestinians during the holy month of Ramadan–which began in mid-April–and the use of stun grenades and tear gas to control protest crowds inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, historic grievances have been reignited and since escalated into a larger conflict, news outlets reported.

Violent protests intensified in parts of Israel and the West Bank, and the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have fired over 1,000 rockets from Gaza into Israel so far, according to news reports. At least six people have been killed and hundreds injured in Israel as of May 12, according to Reuters. Protests have spread across Israel and the West Bank, and rockets have hit cities across Israel as far north as Haifa, according to reports. A state of emergency has been declared in the city of Lod, according to AFP.

The Israeli air force has in turn launched hundreds of air strikes at various targets in Gaza, hitting the cities of Gaza City, Khan Yunis, and Beit Hanoun so far, news media reported. At least 65 people have been killed and hundreds more injured as of May 12, according to news reports. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu stated May 10 that “the current conflict may last for some time.”

CPJ has documented at least eight cases of journalists injured covering the protests. In addition, the Al-Jawhara Tower in Gaza, which houses various media offices, was hit by an air strike, as was the Al-Shurouk Tower in Gaza, according to reports. The Al-Shorouk building housed at least seven media outlets, including the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV and Al-Quds Today and the Palestinian National Authority-affiliated Al-Hayat Al-Jadida newspaper, according to news reports, statements, and social media posts by the affected outlets and a person with knowledge of the attack who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity due to security concerns.

Media workers should be aware that the Erez land border crossing between Israel and Gaza is currently closed, according to Al-Jazeera, with foreign reporters prohibited from crossing, according to news reports citing a May 11 statement by Israel’s Ministry of Defense Crossing Points Authority. Approaching the border area should be considered high risk due to ongoing military activity and operations in the area, as reported by Al-Monitor. According to news reports, the Rafah border crossing with Egypt will be closed for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, from May 12 to May 16.

Physical safety during rocket attacks and air strikes

Media workers reporting from any location in Israel or Gaza should consider the dangers presented by air strikes and/or rocket attacks, as well as balloon-borne explosives. Such dangers can include (but are not limited to) falling debris, flying shrapnel, and shock waves from large explosions; dust inhalation; targeting of vehicles; and/or crowd stampedes.

  • Before traveling to any location, always check on the latest security situation with locals and/or other journalists who are/have been there. If possible, ask for updates at checkpoints along the way, and identify safe locations en route. Be aware of an ‘echo chamber’ effect that individuals spreading unsubstantiated information can create.
  • Identify likely/key targets in the area you are reporting from and keep a safe working distance from them. This could include government or military buildings, or residential tower blocks suspected of housing particular individuals.
  • Be aware of the dangers of reporting from the immediate aftermath of a rocket attack, air strike, or explosion, noting the dangers from a follow-up strike, secondary explosions from flammable materials, and/or collapsing buildings.
  • Study a map of the location you’re working in and locate the closest air raid shelter or bunker. Many buildings have some sort of basement and you will usually see locals running toward them. Otherwise you may need to use an alternative such as a subway station or tunnel. Be mindful of how far you are from shelter at any moment, especially when staying in an unfamiliar location overnight.
  • Consider how long it will take you to get to safety — noting that an air raid siren going off in Tel Aviv potentially affords you more time to seek shelter than an air raid siren going off in Ashkelon (due to geographic proximity to rocket launching sites in Gaza).
  • Avoid positioning yourself near windows or glass-fronted buildings, and note that walls could collapse or shock waves reverberate off them.
  • If caught out in the open with no hard cover close by during an air strike or rocket attack, find the lowest area of ground, such as a ditch or hollow, and lie down on your face. Protect your head with your arms, and adopt a protective fetal position.
  • Avoid hanging around key infrastructure targets (e.g. bridges) and/or crowded locations (e.g. transport hubs or popular restaurants).
  • Consider what personal protective equipment (PPE) is necessary to help protect you against blast shrapnel and debris, such as safety goggles, body vest, safety helmet, and a face mask (e.g. N95 or FFP2 grade) — noting the health risks associated with breathing in dust and other harmful particulates if buildings collapse. For more information see the CPJ’s PPE guide here.
  • Electricity supplies could be disrupted. Take a good quality flashlight and spare batteries with you, as well as a portable power bank to charge your equipment. Ensure that you charge your equipment at every opportunity.
  • Ensure you have some emergency provisions in a grab bag ready to go, such as drinking water, energy snacks, phone charger, and warm clothes.
  • Wear clothes that allow you to move swiftly. Footwear should have hard soles, laces, and some kind of ankle support, and clothes should not be loose/baggy in case they get caught on objects. Avoid wearing flammable materials such as nylon.
  • Ensure you have a check-in procedure with your base. If communications networks may be disrupted (either intentionally or as a result of conflict damage), consider a backup means of communication, such as a satellite phone. It’s important to note that the use of a satellite phone in Gaza may lead to suspicions of calling in an air strike, so they should only be used in an emergency or in an area where you are not being observed.
  • Some scenes you witness may be traumatic and upsetting. Consider the risk of emotional distress or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an issue that can affect even the most experienced and battle hardened war correspondents. For more information on understanding trauma, please refer to CPJ’s psychological safety note.

Physical safety at protest locations

Media workers reporting from any protest location should anticipate and be prepared for significant levels of violence on the ground, which could come from the security forces (e.g. the police or Israeli Defense Forces), protesters, ‘lone wolf’ attackers, and/or vigilante groups. Dangers may include (but are not limited to) the following:

Pre-assignment planning

  • Plan all journeys in advance — but be prepared to adapt your plans at short notice. Travel is likely to be affected with little or no warning due to security checkpoints and unrest, as witnessed in parts of Jerusalem.
  • Find out about any movement restrictions in place where you are reporting from, noting potential curfews and/or a state of emergency being declared, as seen in the city of Lod.
  • If staying at a hotel overnight, select a property a safe distance from potential flashpoints.
  • The use of protective safety goggles/glasses, helmets, body vests, and tear gas respirators should be considered at any violent protest location. For more information see the CPJ’s PPE guide here.
  • If there is a risk of live ammunition being used, Level III A and above body armor should be considered. Note that ballistic-grade body armor is heavy and can reduce mobility and endurance.
  • Individuals should not be expected to work alone at protest locations. Try to work with a colleague and set up a regular check-in procedure with your base, family or friends. Working after dark is riskier and should be avoided if possible. For more information please see CPJ’s advice for journalists reporting alone.
  • Plan an advance escape strategy in case circumstances become hostile. Do so by examining maps of the location and identifying all available exit routes. Go through the plan again on arrival, which may need to be modified based upon local circumstances (e.g. road blockades).
  • Plan an emergency rendezvous point if you are working with others and unable to get to your means of transportation.
  • Ensure that you have the correct accreditation or press identification, and have it on display if safe to do so. For freelancers, a letter from the commissioning employer is helpful.
  • Identify and record where the closest point of medical assistance is located.
  • Have in place emergency protocols in case of injury or arrest. Identify the best people for your emergency contact to reach out to – for example your fixer or a local journalist who may be able to help, and/or your embassy (if applicable).

Clothing, equipment & transportation

  • Be conscious that cameras or hand devices could potentially be confused for weapons from a distance. Consider putting high visibility tape on devices to reduce the risk of targeting.
  • Do not rely on public transport, as services could be suspended with little or no warning.
  • Ensure your phone is fully charged up before departure, and consider the risk of communication networks being disrupted.
  • It is recommended to avoid wearing lanyards around the neck to prevent strangulation or being pulled over. Consider a Velcro pouch on the bicep instead, and wear a PRESS badge if safe to do so.
  • Wear clothing that helps you ‘blend in,’ that doesn’t look too ‘tactical’ or ‘military,’ and that allows you to move swiftly. Try and avoid loose clothing, political slogans, media branding, military colors/patterns, any politically sensitive colors, and flammable materials (e.g. nylon).
  • Wear footwear with hard soles, laces and some kind of ankle support.
  • Tie long hair up to prevent individuals from pulling you from behind.
  • Always park your vehicle in a well-lit secure location, and facing the direction of escape. Otherwise ensure you have an alternative guaranteed and secure mode of transport.
  • Take the minimum amount of equipment necessary with you, and avoid wearing expensive jewelry and/or watches. Do not leave valuable equipment in vehicles, which could be broken into. After dark, the criminal risk increases.
  • Take a medical kit with you. Please refer to CPJ’s personal gear checklist and CPJ’s PPE guide for more information.

Situational awareness

With the authorities

  • Be conscious of incoming fire from all directions, be it from rubber bullets, water cannon, or tear gas — noting that a Turkish journalist was hit in the back by the police, as documented by CPJ. Maintain situational awareness at all times, and stay in close proximity to hard shelter such as a building or structure with a roof.
  • Police on horseback may charge at protesters to disperse crowds. Ensure you have a safe path to a fall back location available under such circumstances.
  • Always use discretion when filming, especially around the security forces and sensitive state sites and infrastructure.
  • Extra police may be called in to a location and may not know the geography of the area. In the event of unrest, be aware that lack of communication between different police forces could result in a poorer level of command and control.
  • Continuously observe and read the mood and demeanor of the security forces in relation to the crowd dynamic, who can become more aggressive if the crowd is agitated (or vice versa). Visual cues such as the appearance of police dressed in riot gear, shield walls, or throwing of projectiles are potential indicators that aggression can be expected. Pull back to a safe location, or plan a quick extraction when such “red flags” are evident.

With protesters

  • Note the possibility of ‘lone wolf attacks,’ whereby individual protesters or counter protesters could be armed with knives or firearms. If weapons are visible, fall back or move to hard cover and assess the situation.
  • Stay to the periphery of any crowd, noting the risk of potential stampedes, especially if/when tear gas is deployed. Avoid lingering in natural exit routes in case the crowd panics and a stampede might ensue.
  • Gauge the mood of protesters toward journalists before entering any crowd. Constantly monitor for aggressive individuals who may be shouting, drunk, emotional, and/or causing trouble. Always try and maintain a safe distance from such individuals.
  • If individuals or the crowd in general becomes hostile, it may help to deliberately avoid eye contact and to stop taking pictures/filming. You will need to balance the risk versus reward, but engagement of any sort can be perceived as a challenge.

Positioning

  • Keep a safe distance from steps and steep banks, such as outside the old city walls in Jerusalem, noting the danger of being pushed, tripping, or becoming disoriented during tear gas being deployed.
  • Avoid getting close to vehicles under attack from protesters, noting the potentially dangerous reaction of the driver. Be aware that a car was driven into a crowd of protesters in Jerusalem after being attacked, as reported by The Guardian.
  • Remain vigilant to vehicles approaching you or parked up close by, considering the danger of drive by shootings, as highlighted by France24.
  • Maintain a safe distance from buildings being targeted by protesters, such as synagogues, noting the dangers associated with looting, vandalism, and arson (e.g. falling debris, smashed glass, and fire).
  • If feasible, try and report from a higher vantage point such as a building rooftop, upper floor window, or balcony — which should reduce your exposure to danger and violence.
  • Media workers should be conscious of not outstaying their welcome around a crowd. Minimize your time to what is absolutely necessary. Always try to keep to the outside and not get sucked into the middle where it is hard to escape.
  • Photojournalists generally work in the thick of the action and by default are at greater risk. They should therefore consider having someone watching their back. Remember to look up from the viewfinder every few seconds, and do not wear the camera strap around your neck to avoid the risk of strangulation. Get your shots and get out.

Dealing with tear gas

The use of tear gas can result in sneezing, coughing, spitting, crying, and the production of mucus that obstructs breathing. In some cases, individuals may vomit, and breathing may become labored. Such symptoms could potentially increase media workers’ level of exposure to coronavirus infection via airborne virus droplets. Individuals who suffer from respiratory issues like asthma, who are listed in the COVID-19 vulnerable category, should therefore avoid covering crowd events and protests if tear gas is likely to be deployed. 

In addition, evidence suggests that tear gas can actually increase an individual’s susceptibility to pathogens such as coronavirus, as highlighted by NPR. For further guidance about dealing with exposure to and the effects of tear gas please refer to CPJ’s civil disorder advisory. 

COVID-19 safety

Although the COVID-19 vaccination rate in Israel is among the highest in the world, there is still a risk of coronavirus transmission at any crowd event. Maintaining physical distancing at any protest location is challenging, and members of the public may not wear face coverings/masks at all. Such confinement could potentially expose them to virus droplets, as well as verbal or physical attack from hostile members of the public — who could deliberately cough or sneeze over them.

Be aware that people shouting or chanting can result in the spread of virus droplets, therefore increasing media workers’ level of exposure to coronavirus infection.

  • Be aware of individuals getting close to you who could cough or sneeze over you — either accidentally or deliberately.
  • The use of a N95 / FFP2 standard face mask is essential at any crowded event or protest.
  • Ensure you wash your hands regularly, properly and thoroughly throughout the assignment. Use hand alcohol-based sanitizer regularly if you can’t wash your hands, but do not make this a substitute for a regular hand washing routine.
  • All equipment should be thoroughly cleaned post-assignment.
  • All clothing and shoes should be removed before re-entering your home and washed / cleaned with hot water and detergent.

For much more detailed COVID-19 guidance, please refer to CPJ’s safety advisory on covering the coronavirus pandemic.

Source of original article: Middle East & North Africa – Committee to Protect Journalists (cpj.org).
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