'Thank God I escaped': Palestinian journalist becomes target for far-right Israeli mob

Saif Al Qawasmi had to be shielded from attackers in the streets of Jerusalem's Old City during the Flag March

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Palestinian journalist Saif Al Qawasmi became a story in his own right when dozens of far-right Israelis attacked him in full view of the world’s media.

Al Qawasmi was covering the ultranationalist Flag March, which sees tens of thousands of far-right Israelis, mostly teenagers, parade through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City on Wednesday.

A photo of Al Qawasmi being mobbed inside Damascus Gate by a swarm of teenagers quickly went viral online, and became a symbol of the danger the march poses to Palestinians, particularly journalists.

He was knocked to the ground and kicked repeatedly, sustaining a head injury.

“The settlers stole my phones, filming equipment and they beat me and insulted me,” he told The National on Thursday after his ordeal.

“The life of a Palestinian journalist, especially in Jerusalem, is very difficult. But after October 7, Palestinian journalists became, in the eyes of the police, a regular civilian, even a terrorist,” he said.

“Our lives became much harder, with arrests and beatings.”

After October 7, Palestinian journalists became, in the eyes of the police, a regular civilian, even a terrorist
Saif Al Qawasmi

Flag Day is one of the most tense days in the calendar for Palestinian residents of the area, who live next to Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam and the target of repeated incursions.

Violence flared during Wednesday's march as groups of young Israeli marchers attacked the press and Palestinians.

The National stumbled across him seconds after the attack as journalists sought safety from the mob in an alley.

The gravity of the situation first became clear when Palestinians, including elderly people, were heard running up the hill, screaming in terror as Israeli marchers ran towards them.

Palestinian journalist Saif Al Qawasmi assaulted at Flag Day march – in pictures

The mob then backed off – it was unclear why. Soon after, an Australian photographer, his voice shaking, could be heard calling out for help.

He was among the first to tend to Al Qawasmi, who ran into the same alley after being assaulted.

Carrying first aid kits, The National ran down the hill towards the commotion and found Al Qawasmi dazed, clutching his head and sweating profusely. He needed medical attention but it was impossible to get any because marchers blocked the streets and it was too dangerous to escort him out.

Our medical supplies, which are there to treat severe bleeding, were useless for head injuries.

“Thank God I managed to escape them, but I have injuries including a head injury and on parts of my body where I was beaten,” he said.

'Hatred, racism and violence'

He was easily identifiable as a journalist, wearing a blue flak jacket with “press” tags.

“Yobbish children were running riot through the Old City, damaging Palestinian shops and being violent against Palestinians and journalists who were trying to do their jobs,” said Charlie Faulkner, The National’s photographer.

“He was visibly shaken and in a lot of pain. We were just trying to comfort him and get him some medical attention.”

In another photo, Israeli journalist Nir Hasson is seen clutching Al Qawasmi to shield him from the attacking marchers. Hasson was himself pushed to the ground and kicked.

Writing about the incident in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Hasson said: “The Flag March on Jerusalem Day is an accurate thermometer of the condition of Israeli society.

“It measures the levels of hatred, racism and violence in the religious Zionist society and the tolerance of the police and the rest of society to these traits.”

“This year's diagnosis is terminal. Wednesday's march was one of the most violent and ugliest I have seen – and I have witnessed every single one over the past 16 years,” he said.

Journalists from The National, AFP, Reuters, Israeli outlet Ynet and several freelancers were also assaulted by the crowds.

Israeli police arrested 18 marchers and issued a stern statement: “We strongly condemn any attempt to harm journalists and any other individuals.”

Al Qawasmi, who appears to have been the most badly injured journalist, eventually escaped. Despite the risk of concussion, he carried on reporting for the rest of the day and could later be seen praying in the press pen.

“This is not the first time I have been assaulted, and an attack like this puts me in a very difficult psychological status,” he said.

“But my professional duty, especially in Jerusalem, will continue and we won't stop covering the story. There is fear, however. This week I won’t go and film because I am afraid and because I have injuries.”

Updated: June 06, 2024, 3:25 PM