His Excellency Ariel Sharon
Prime Minister of the State of Israel
Office of the Prime Minister
3 Kaplan Street
VIA FAX: 972-2-651-2631
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to protest the wounding of journalist Layla Odeh by IDF gunfire last Friday in the Gaza Strip.
At about 1 p.m. on April 20, Odeh, a correspondent for the United Arab Emirates-based Abu Dhabi TV, was shot by Israeli troops while she and two colleagues were on assignment in the town of Rafah. At the time of the shooting, the journalists told CPJ, they were interviewing and filming local residents whose homes had been destroyed by Israeli forces.
Without warning, two shots were fired in their direction from a nearby IDF position. When the crew attempted to flee the scene, a third shot was fired, striking Odeh in the back of her thigh. She was taken to the Shifa hospital where she underwent surgery to remove the bullet.
IDF spokesman Olivier Rafowicz expressed regret for the incident and said that an IDF investigation was underway. He told CPJ that "there was no intention to hit the journalists" and added that the Abu Dhabi crew had been in a dangerous "area of violence."
The IDF has stated that "several violent incidents" took place between Palestinians and IDF soldiers in Rafah that day. But according to Odeh and her colleagues, there were no clashes taking place in their vicinity at the time. Odeh and her colleagues were clearly identifiable as journalists due to their conspicuous camera equipment. In short, their account raises serious questions about why the IDF would open fire on a television crew in the first place.
This incident conforms to a disturbing, long-standing pattern of similar cases documented by CPJ. Along with numerous examples of beatings of journalists by the IDF and Jewish settlers, CPJ has documented the cases of at least 13 journalists who have been wounded by live IDF gunfire or rubber bullets since the Palestinian uprising began last September.
In several of these incidents, the injured journalists were shot in the legs or head, or even in their hand as it rested on their camera. In at least one case, a journalist's camera lens was hit by gunfire. On March 8, most recently, an IDF soldier in an armored carrier opened fire in the direction of three Reuters journalists at the Netzarim Junction in Gaza.
We urge you to ensure that Israeli authorities launch a thorough investigation into the recent attack on Layla Odeh, as well as other similar attacks on the press involving the Israeli army and security forces, which we have repeatedly brought to the Israeli government's attention.
Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to a reply at your earliest convenience.
Ann K. Cooper