‘I asked if he broke into my home to stop me from being a journalist’

Israeli forces arrested Abdul Mohsen Shalaldeh in his house at night, frightening his family, before interrogating him about his reporting.

Abdul Mohsen Shalaldeh, Palestinian journalist. (Courtesy)
Abdul Mohsen Shalaldeh, Palestinian journalist. (Courtesy)

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A group of Israeli soldiers raided the house of a Palestinian journalist under the cover of night on Jan. 18 in the occupied West Bank village of Sa’ir, detaining him for four days under Shin Bet interrogation before releasing him without charges. The journalist, Abdul Mohsen Shalaldeh, said that his sister, who suffers from a nervous disorder, fainted from fear during the raid — an incident that the Shin Bet interrogators referenced, Shalaldeh believes, in an attempt to intimidate him during questioning.

“At 2 a.m. soldiers broke into my home and said they had come to arrest me,” Shalaldeh, a reporter for the Palestinian media outlet J-Media, explained. “A man from the Shin Bet who introduced himself as ‘Captain Kerem’ entered the bedroom and told me to get dressed and go with him.”

The home invasion shocked Shalaldeh’s younger sister, 22-year-old Rula, with whom he lives along with other family members, who fell unconscious as the raid triggered her disorder. “Rula just collapsed when she woke up and saw the soldiers entering our house,” Shalaldeh recalled. The soldiers then covered his eyes and took him to a detention cell in Gush Etzion.

Before the start of his interrogation, the agents allowed Shalaldeh to call his sister. “I tried to calm her down, but she was in a hysteria and was hurt even more when she heard my voice,” he said. Then, during the interrogation, “Captain Kerem” brought up the issue of his sister’s health, seemingly in an attempt to make Shalaldeh fear for her welfare.

“He asked me, ‘Are you okay with what happened at your house? That your sister was hurt that way?’” Shaladeh recalled. “I told him, ‘What do you mean okay? I didn’t ask you to break into my house in the middle of the night. Why didn’t you call me by phone — I would have come in the morning.’”

The interrogator then spent most of his time questioning Shalaldeh about his work as a journalist. “He asked why I go and photograph prisoners and their families. I told him that’s my job. I asked if he wanted me to stop being a journalist, and if that was why he broke into my home. He said no, of course not. But the entire interrogation was about what I do as a journalist, and one of the police officers even called me an ‘instigator.’”

Israeli Border Police detain a Palestinian journalist during a protest in solidarity with his colleague Mo'ath Amarnah, who was shot in his eye, in Bethlehem, West Bank, November 17, 2019. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Israeli Border Police detain a Palestinian journalist during a protest in solidarity with his colleague Mo’ath Amarnah, who was shot in his eye, in Bethlehem, West Bank, November 17, 2019. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Last year, in a joint investigation by +972, Local Call, and The Intercept, we interviewed Palestinian journalists in the West Bank who described the ways that the Shin Bet carries out its questioning: interrogators regularly framed journalists’ reporting and documentation of prisoners, funerals, and demonstrations as “incitement” and grounds for arrest, mostly without legal basis. In a few instances, Shin Bet officers tried to recruit journalists as collaborators.

The investigation also found that from early 2020 until April 2022, Israel imprisoned at least 26 Palestinian journalists for periods ranging from a few weeks to a year and a half, in most cases with no legal basis and without charges, holding them in the legal limbo of administrative detention.

‘The goal is to deter me from my work’

Shalaldeh said that in 2019, the same Shin Bet officer had interrogated him about his work as a journalist and then put him into administrative detention. Then something unusual occurred: a court agreed to hear his appeal against his arrest, finding that the Shin Bet’s claims for detaining him were unfounded. He was released and sent home.

“Nothing here is new,” Shalaldeh said. “The interrogation was entirely about my work as a journalist. They don’t have anything to charge me with. The goal is to deter me from continuing my work, so they break into my house at night, and terrify my family and my sister. It’s also why they arrested me on a Thursday early morning — so that they could keep me in jail for the whole weekend, with the excuse that the courts are closed.”

According to Shalaldeh, the conditions at the Gush Etzion jail were very poor. “There are no mattresses. You get a blanket that you put on top of an iron spring bed frame. On Friday, the guards brought us pieces of uncooked chicken they had quickly boiled to eat. The prisoners gave the food back to them and asked them to cook it more thoroughly, but the guards just dumped it back in the water and brought it back, still raw. The prisoners sat hungry for a day and half, asking for proper food. The officer told us that they would address the cooking issue, but I don’t know if they ever did after I was released.”

Physical attacks on Palestinian journalists have increasingly garnered international attention after the Israeli army killed the prominent Al-Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, in May 2022. Like many of his colleagues, Shalaldeh was also shot at by soldiers over the past few years, and was even injured.

Abdul Mohsen Shalaldeh, Palestinian journalist. (Courtesy)
Abdul Mohsen Shalaldeh, Palestinian journalist. (Courtesy)

In 2020, during a demonstration at Hebron University, he was shot in the head with a rubber bullet, which cracked his skull, “even though I was wearing a press vest and the soldiers could see that I was a journalist.” Last year, he was injured in Hebron again, this time while photographing confrontations between young Palestinians and Israeli soldiers. “All the journalists stood next to a wall. The soldiers saw us and it was clear that we were journalists; we weren’t even close to the young people throwing stones. But [the soldiers] shot at us deliberately, and my hand was injured by a rubber bullet.”

In response to +972’s inquiries about Shalaldeh’s arrest, the IDF Spokesperson said: “The detention facilities in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] operate in accordance with all orders and procedures, and take care of the wellbeing and lifestyles of the detainees. Upon his arrival, the detainee received a mattress and a blanket, like every detainee at the facility, and there is nothing known to have been missing in his accommodation. The meals that the detainees receive on a regular basis are delivered from the kitchen of the facility. A complaint made by the detainee about his food was received, and he received a replacement portion of meat.” The Shin Bet declined to respond for comment.

A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.