Attacks on the Press   |   Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory

Attacks on the Press 2006: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory

ISRAEL and the OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORY

Israeli troops and armor re-entered the Gaza Strip in late June to stop Palestinians from firing crudely made rockets from the north into Israeli towns along the border. Nearly 370 Palestinians, half of them civilians, were killed in the ensuing six-month Israeli offensive, which intensified after the seizure of an Israeli soldier. Palestinian journalists covering the military operations alleged that they were targeted by Israeli forces in several instances. The allegation was supported in one case by the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) denied that it targeted journalists but said it would investigate the complaints.

Reporters also complained of intimidation and harassment by Palestinian authorities, political factions, and militia. Rivalry between the Hamas-led government elected in January and the Fatah movement of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) meant Palestinian journalists came under pressure to align themselves with particular groups. Political infighting prompted some groups to kidnap foreign journalists as a means of pressuring the authorities to accede to their demands.

In July, Israel launched an offensive in south Lebanon after a cross-border raid by the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. Journalists covering the four-week conflict said Israeli airpower prevented them from traveling in south Lebanon.

On June 24, Israel launched its first search-and-capture raid in Gaza since its August 2005 withdrawal from the Strip, seizing suspected Hamas militants Osama Muamar and Mustafa Muamar. The following day, armed Palestinians crossed Gaza’s southern border into Israel via an underground tunnel and attacked an Israeli army post, killing two Israeli soldiers, wounding four, and capturing Cpl. Gilad Shalit. On June 28, Israel launched Operation Summer Rain in an attempt to recover the corporal, destroy weapons-smuggling tunnels, and halt the launching into Israel of Qassam rockets, rudimentary steel tubes packed with explosives.

One month into the operation, an Israeli tank shell seriously wounded Palestine Television cameraman Ibrahim al-Atla during a lull in shooting between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces in the densely populated Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City. The head of Palestine Television, Mohammed al-Dahoudi, alleged that the tank fired deliberately at al-Atla and other journalists with him. “The tank undoubtedly targeted us,” witness Anas Rehan, a cameraman for the Cairo-based Ramattan News Agency, told CPJ. Al-Atla was wearing a vest clearly indicating that he was press.

In late August, an Israeli missile struck a Reuters armored car in the Shijaiyah neighborhood, seriously wounding Fadel Shana, a freelance cameraman for Reuters, and Sabbah Hmaida, a cameraman with a private Palestinian TV facilities house, Media Group. Reuters said the missile struck the letter P of the bright red “Press” sign on the car’s roof. Shana lost consciousness for several hours and both cameramen suffered serious shrapnel wounds. Shana had rushed out to film a suspected Israeli air strike. He was about 1,300 yards (1,190 meters) from the nearest Israeli soldiers when the vehicle was struck, Reuters reported.

The FPA called the attack an “outrageous targeting” and demanded a full investigation, adding, “There is a serious risk that relations between the FPA and the IDF will be significantly damaged.”

In the West Bank city of Nablus, members of two Arab television crews were wounded by rubber bullets during an Israeli army operation on July 19. Wael Tanous, a satellite technician with the Qatar-based channel Al-Jazeera, was hit in the left leg while standing near his uplink vehicle, Al-Jazeera reporter Guevara al-Budeiri told CPJ. Walid al-Omary, Jerusalem-based bureau chief for Al-Jazeera, told CPJ, “It was clear when they shot him that they knew he was press.” Al-Budeiri said that before the shooting, an Israeli army jeep had sped toward her and stopped only inches from her leg as she was preparing to broadcast live.

Later that day, Faten Elwan, a correspondent for the U.S.-funded Arabic television station Al-Hurra, was hit in the torso and left hand by rubber bullets, according to al-Budeiri, who witnessed the incident. She said Elwan was standing at what she considered a safe distance from the fighting. Elwan was treated at a local hospital and returned to work.

The IDF denied targeting journalists. “Israel doesn’t have a habit of hitting people not engaged in fighting,” an IDF spokesman told CPJ. In all these cases, the Israeli army said it would conduct thorough investigations, but no tangible results were produced. Israeli forces’ fire has killed several journalists and injured dozens since the upsurge in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began in September 2000.

In April, a London coroner’s court found an Israeli officer guilty of murdering a British cameraman in the Gaza Strip three years ago. James Miller, an award-winning filmmaker, was filming an HBO documentary about Palestinian children when he was hit by a single shot in the neck. Crew members said they were wearing jackets and helmets marked “TV,” and they held a white flag illuminated by a flashlight. An investigation by the private British security company Chiron Resources Limited, commissioned by Miller’s colleagues and family, found that IDF soldiers had “consciously and deliberately targeted” Miller and his crew. In April 2005, the army cleared an officer, identified only as Lieutenant H, of wrongdoing in Miller’s death, drawing an official protest from the British government.

Palestinian journalists believe that the Israeli army’s failure to investigate and prosecute soldiers for attacks on the press leaves them vulnerable throughout the Palestinian territories. In the West Bank, soldiers fired at a group of cameramen and photographers covering an Israeli army raid on a house in the Old City of Nablus on April 17. Nasser Ishtayeh and Abdal Ruhman Khabeisa of The Associated Press, Jaffar Ishtayeh of Agence France-Presse, and Abdel Rahim Qusini and Hassan Titi of Reuters said they were filming the raid and clashes between soldiers and stone-throwing youths from a distance of more than 1,500 feet (460 meters), beside an AP vehicle that was clearly marked “Press.” Titi placed a video camera on a stand three feet (one meter) from the car. Israeli soldiers fired at the camera, forcing the journalists back into the vehicle, which also came under fire.

Reuters cameraman Ashraf Abu Shaweesh was hit twice, in the leg and chest, by rubber bullets while filming clashes between Palestinian protesters and the Israeli army in Nablus on April 22. Abu Shaweesh, who was wearing a vest that identified him as a journalist, had earlier argued with an Israeli soldier. On April 25, AP’s Ishtayeh told CPJ that an Israeli army jeep nearly struck him and other Palestinian journalists who were trying to cover the eviction of families from a building during a military raid in Nablus’ Al-Makhfiyeh neighborhood.

In the southern West Bank city of Hebron, cameramen Hossam Abu Allan of the official Palestinian News Agency (WAFA), Nayef al-Hashlamoun of Reuters, and freelancer Najeh al-Hashlamoun were beaten by soldiers on September 5 while covering an Israeli military raid on a house, Abu Allan told CPJ. The three men entered the house to film the soldiers, who were allegedly beating the residents. The Israeli soldiers kicked the cameramen in the stomach and back, and ordered them to leave.

The West Bank village of Bilein, west of Ramallah, continued to be fraught with risk for journalists covering weekly demonstrations against Israel’s border security barrier. Israeli forces used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse hundreds of Palestinians peacefully demonstrating in Bilein, injuring civilians and journalists. AP cameraman Iyad Hamad told CPJ that he and other journalists were regularly beaten by soldiers, adding that his camera was destroyed by soldiers earlier this year.

On several occasions, Israeli forces singled out and prevented TV crews of the pan-Arab satellite channels Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera from covering rocket attacks on northern Israel from Lebanon by the Shiite militia Hezbollah. Walid al-Omary, Jerusalem-based bureau chief for Al-Jazeera, told CPJ that he was detained by Israeli police three times in two days for his reporting on the location of rocket attacks and held for several hours each time. On July 17, al-Omary was held for six hours and accused of assisting Hezbollah by reporting on rocket hits in the Galilee village of Kfar Yassif. “We have been covering the situation along with 10 to 12 other crews, foreign and Israeli,” al-Omary told CPJ. “We have not received any warnings from the Israeli military censor.” Israel has a system of military censorship for all media, and censors can intervene if they consider military security breached.

The IDF often banned Israeli citizens from entering the West Bank and Gaza, but journalists were allowed to cross the border if they signed waivers. The IDF announced on June 26 that Israeli passport holders and dual nationals would be prohibited from entering Gaza following an attack the previous day by Palestinian militants on an Israeli military post. “Due to the current security assessments, journalists with Israeli citizenship or those holding a dual citizenship cannot enter the Gaza Strip at the present time,” the statement said. The travel ban was lifted later that day after protests from foreign journalists and the FPA in Israel.



In the occupied Palestinian territories, journalists came under pressure
from the Palestinian authorities and various political factions and militias. The Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) dominated the Palestinian legislative elections in January, winning 74 seats in the 132-member legislative council and ousting the government of the PLO faction, Fatah. This led to a power struggle between Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. A by-product was factionalism in the Palestinian media. Journalists endured consistent harassment, threats, and beatings by Palestinian security forces and the various factions in retaliation for their coverage of Palestinian politics.

Masked gunmen believed to be from Fatah destroyed the offices of the private Bethlehem television station Al-Roa on March 23. The station was forced off the air. It reopened at the end of May after receiving equipment donated by a TV station in Jericho. Two days before the attack, the station ran stories criticizing the Palestinian Authority, including former Fatah interior minister Nasser Yusef.

In Ramallah, masked arsonists burned three cars belonging to Al-Jazeera on May 20. According to AP, both Hamas and Fatah accused Al-Jazeera of bias. Fatah supporters were angry that the station did not cover an anti-Hamas demonstration in Ramallah earlier that day, news reports said.

In April, several Palestinian journalists received death threats for their critical coverage of Hamas, Reuters reported. Among them was Muwafaq Matar, a reporter for the pro-Fatah Al-Hurriya radio station in Gaza, who received several threats via cell phone and e-mail. Several other station employees were also threatened. Reuters reported that the Palestinian Journalists Union received complaints of threats from seven journalists in the Gaza Strip.

On June 5, nearly 50 armed militants stormed a studio of Fatah-affiliated Palestine Television in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip. The attackers, who wore Hamas headbands, ordered staff to leave and beat several cameramen and technicians, according to Palestine Television’s Mohammed al-Dahoudi. They fired automatic weapons at the equipment and in the direction of employees, al-Dahoudi told CPJ. Damage to broadcasting equipment, archives, computers, and furniture totaled more than US$1 million, making the studio unusable.

Palestine Television, along with WAFA, Wafa Radio, and Voice of Palestine radio, is part of the Palestinian Broadcast Cooperation, which is under the control of President Abbas. The Hamas-led government accused the broadcasters of bias toward Fatah.

Several militants believed to be from Fatah attacked the Ramallah offices of Hamas’ Manbar al-Islah newspaper on June 12, according to the Palestinian Journalist Block, a journalist-run committee. The gunmen assaulted editor Yazid Khader and designer Wajdi al-Aroury, threatened to set the offices on fire, and destroyed computers, equipment, and furnishings, the group said.

Western sanctions aimed at forcing Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist have bankrupted the Palestinian government, rendering it unable to pay the wages of 165,000 public-sector employees. Government workers, the majority of whom are affiliated with Fatah, went on strike on September 2—a move seen by Hamas as undermining its rule. On September 19, Hamas thugs burned a tent set up by the striking workers in Gaza City, CPJ sources said. Several journalists covering the incident—including AP reporter Diaa Hadid, Palestine Television cameraman Khaled Boulboul, and Matar on assignment for the daily Al-Hayat al-Jadida—were chased and attacked by the militants, journalists told CPJ.

The weakening of the Palestinian Authority, the interim administrative body nominally governing the West Bank and Gaza, resulted in the complete destabilization of internal Palestinian security. Amid the chaos, small armed groups consisting of militants from the various factions proliferated. Often formed with personal goals in mind, such as the release of imprisoned relatives or the securing of government jobs, these groups increasingly resorted to abducting foreigners, including journalists, for use as bargaining chips. Since 2004, 13 journalists have been abducted, in addition to two failed attempts, CPJ research shows. All were released unharmed.

A wave of violence erupted in Gaza and elsewhere in the West Bank on March 14, after Israeli forces stormed a prison in the West Bank town of Jericho to arrest militants from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) believed responsible for the 2001 assassination of an Israeli minister. British and U.S. monitors who had supervised the detention pulled out of the prison just before the Israeli raid. In retaliation, PFLP members abducted several foreigners. Caroline Laurent, a reporter for the French women’s weekly Elle; Alfred Yaghobzadeh, a photographer from the photo agency SIPA; and Yong Tae-young, a correspondent for South Korea’s public broadcaster, KBS, were abducted by gunmen from their hotel in Gaza. All three were released unharmed 22 hours later.

Fox News Channel correspondent Steve Centanni, a U.S. citizen, and freelance cameraman Olaf Wiig, a New Zealand citizen, were kidnapped in Gaza City on August 14 by a previously unknown group called the Holy Jihad Brigades. The group demanded the release of Muslim prisoners held by the United States. According to CPJ sources, the journalists were released unharmed on August 27 after efforts were made on their behalf by the Palestinian security services. Emilio Morenatti, a Spanish photojournalist for the AP, was abducted October 24 in Gaza City by gunmen who released him unharmed 16 hours later. Many Palestinians condemned the kidnappings. Hamas called them morally reprehensible. Despite this, the abductions have had a chilling effect on foreign journalists covering the conflict in Gaza.





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