NUJ boss offers support and solidarity in Ramallah
Michelle Stanistreet - © PJS
2 May 2019
Michelle Stanistreet was the guest speaker at a meeting organised by the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) in Ramallah this week and spoke at the May Day rally organised by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU).
The PJS event was focused on world press freedom and gathered a hundred journalists, press freedom advocates, academics, representatives of civil society organisations and government.
Michelle Stanistreet told the audience:
"As general secretary of the NUJ, I am proud to lead a union that enjoys such close ties with our sister union, the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate. I am here as part of a trade union delegation of 16 women, from all parts of industry, representing workers including teachers, government workers, train drivers, healthcare workers, prison officers, lecturers and, of course, journalists.
"It is shocking and sobering to hear of the brutal reality of life as a journalist reporting within a society that is under occupation: to hear how many journalists face being targeted, intimidated, shot and harassed – all to prevent you from doing your jobs.
"It was international workers memorial day this week – our delegation paused to pay tribute to all those workers in the world who have died in the line of duty. For the NUJ, that was a particularly sad moment. Last week, I attended the funeral of one of my members, Lyra McKee, who was shot dead by dissident forces while reporting on riots in Derry, Northern Ireland. Lyra was a 29-year-old woman with everything to live for, a talented journalist and writer. To be killed in this way is shocking and underlines the need for meaningful political change in Northern Ireland.
"It is also, for me, a personal insight into the difficulties the PJS leadership faces in advocating for journalism and journalists in Palestine – with all of the added complexities that brings in your defence of your members. Lyra’s death was not a targeted shooting, but I know that journalists here are targeted routinely to prevent you from reporting on life here, and stop you from opening up a window to the world about the realities of the Israeli occupation.
"We continue to do what we can to highlight the conditions you face – the restrictions on movement; the refusal by the Israeli authorities to acknowledge press cards, including the international press card issued by the International Federation of Journalists – in breach of international covenants and the right to report; the seizure and often destruction of equipment; detentions of journalists; the use of lethal and targeted force – resulting in killings and many more wounded.
"We will continue to demand and fight for transparent investigations into these killings, which constitute a war crime under international law. We will continue to challenge the blatant lies told by the Israeli government to justify these killings and the targeting of media workers. The treatment of journalists and media workers as terrorists is an outrage that has to stop.
"The NUJ has been impressed with what your union is doing to record these violations, to document the abuses – a vital tool in the attempt to hold the Israeli government to account.
"We must always remember that every one of these violations recorded also represents a human tragedy – journalists injured, journalists imprisoned, journalists beaten, journalists prevented from working, and journalists fined. They represent a serious escalation in an already serious situation. The actions of the authorities represent one of the gravest examples of the violation of the rights of professional journalists anywhere in the world.
"To see journalists targeted with bullets, rubber-coated metal bullets, tear-gas bombs, sonic bombs, pepper gas, in physical assaults that can be deadly is appalling.
"The actions of the American government since Trump’s election gives us ever greater concern about the direction of travel.
"It is the determined efforts of the Israeli state to silence journalists that motivates the NUJ and the broader international journalistic community to redouble our efforts to help provide ways for your collective voice to be heard and for these abuses to end.
"The NUJ’s international work has always been a very important part of our union’s spirit and ethos, and our relationship with the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate has always been an enduring and special connection and an example of how we try to put our solidarity into practical action and partnership – whether that is support with training, legal assistance or campaigning together.
"Our vision for the future of the media in Palestine is very simple – it’s for one where journalists can get on with their jobs freely, safely and without interference. It’s a vision where press freedom and plurality create a vibrant journalistic landscape, ensuring citizens are properly informed and that opportunities for journalists are meaningful and well resourced.
"It’s of a Palestine freed from the constraints of occupation, in an environment where mutual respect, tolerance and workers rights are prized. It’s for a life where parents have hope that their children will flourish and the next generation are guaranteed a better life than the previous one. It’s for lasting peace and prosperity.
"For now it’s a vision; one that in a world where journalism and press freedom is under ever greater threats, and where the political atmosphere is febrile and charged, seems ever more remote, and no more so than here in Palestine.
"But however remote, it is incumbent on all of us as trade unionists, as journalists and truth-seekers, to do all we can to make that dream become a reality. It is a journey on which the NUJ will continue to support our friends and colleagues in the PJS."
Come and hear Michelle talk about her visit to Palestine on Friday 10 May in London to mark World Press Freedom Day - get your ticket for the event online.