New York, November 9, 2000 — The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has documented more than two dozen cases of journalists injured or harassed while covering political violence in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since late September.
Thirteen of these cases involve journalists wounded by gunfire while covering clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops. Ten of these shootings have been determined to be the result of gunfire from Israeli forces. In the remaining three cases, the source of gunfire is unclear, though reporters on the scene blamed Israeli soldiers.
CPJ is particularly disturbed by seven cases in which journalists either charged that they were intentionally targeted by Israeli forces or where the circumstances of the shootings raise concerns that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) were at least guilty of extreme negligence.
CPJ’s concerns about the safety of journalists have been heightened by accounts of other observers that allege excessive or indiscriminate use of gunfire by Israeli troops against Palestinian demonstrators. In a recent report, the U.S.-based based Physicians for Human Rights concluded that the IDF had used “live ammunition and rubber bullets excessively and inappropriately to control demonstrators” and that based on the high number of documented injuries to the head and thighs, Israeli soldiers “appear to be shooting to inflict harm, rather than solely in self-defense.”
No conclusive evidence exists that the IDF has intentionally shot at journalists and it has rejected claims to this effect. The IDF has also stated that it is conducting investigations into a number of shootings. CPJ urges Israeli authorities to release any new information that might emerge in the course of these investigations, and to ensure that anyone found guilty of wrongdoing is quickly brought to justice.
In addition to journalists wounded by gunfire, CPJ has documented three cases in which working journalists were severely beaten by Israeli troops or undercover agents. Two journalists were arrested or summoned by Israeli authorities for questioning in response to their coverage of recent events.
CPJ has received several other unconfirmed reports of attacks on journalists in the occupied territories that include physical assaults by soldiers and Jewish settlers, as well as shootings.
In a recent development, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the Israeli Defense Ministry issued an order to stop issuing press credentials to Palestinians working with Western news organizations, citing their alleged bias. While press cards are not a guarantee of freedom of movement for Palestinian journalists, they often facilitate movement through Israeli checkpoints. More importantly, Palestinian journalists told CPJ, Israeli authorities have cancelled the travel permits that they need to enter Israeli-controlled areas.
Journalists have also faced harassment from Palestinian demonstrators and local authorities. At least three journalists were attacked by a mob of Palestinians in Ramallah following the lynching of two Israeli soldiers on October 12, according to CPJ research. The journalists had their film or cameras confiscated and were harassed or beaten by the mob. Several others were prevented from shooting the incident. In a separate incident, Palestinian police detained the publisher of a local newspaper in Hebron because of critical commentary against the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).
One Palestinian journalist working for a Western news agency told CPJ, on condition that his name not be used, that PNA security officials had summoned him for questioning in response to his coverage.
- Suleiman al-Shafei, Israel Channel 2 (October 31, 2000)
Israeli soldiers detained al-Shafei, a reporter and cameraman for the Israeli television station Channel 2, when the journalist tried to re-enter Israel from the Gaza Strip via the Erez checkpoint. The soldiers told al-Shafei that he was violating an order prohibiting Israeli citizens from entering the occupied territories.
After al-Shafei identified himself as a reporter for Channel 2 (and an Israeli citizen), the soldiers called in Israeli police, who took the journalist to a nearby police station and questioned him for four hours. He was asked why he had gone to Gaza, whom he had met with, and what he had seen. Al-Shafei refused to answer the questions and protested his detention.
The police officers then tried to make al-Shafei sign a written pledge that he would not enter Gaza for 90 days. He refused and was eventually released on NIS 5,000 (US$1,250) bail, but the soldiers confiscated his footage of the aftermath of Israel’s bombing of PNA offices in Gaza the night before.
In a virtually identical incident on November 2, Israeli soldiers again stopped al-Shafei at the Erez checkpoint for violating the ban on entry into the occupied territories, and transferred him to police custody. After another interrogation, he was released on bail of NIS15, 000 (US$3,750).
- Ben Wedeman, CNN (October 31,2000)
Wedeman, CNN’s Cairo bureau chief, was hit in the back (near his waist) by a live round at the Karni border crossing between Gaza and Israel. He is currently recovering from his injury. Wedeman told CPJ that he had gone to Karni crossing following reports of clashes there earlier in the day. He and his crew initially stationed themselves across the street from a group of Palestinians whom he presumed had been among the protestors earlier. “[They] were on one side of the street and a handful of journalists on the other side,” Wedeman said. He described the situation as tense but relatively stable at first, although there was sporadic gunfire. Journalists at the scene were wearing flak jackets and helmets. As Wedeman and CNN cameraman Muhammad Assad walked down the road toward an olive grove, a burst of gunfire erupted. “Within minutes there was shooting. Intense shooting,” he said. “I heard bullets over my head. We realized we were not in a good position.” He added that what appeared to be a shell landed 15 to 20 meters (16-22 yards) away. About five minutes later, while Wedeman was taking down his tripod and preparing to leave the area during a lull in the firing, he was struck in the back. The bullet passed through Wedeman’s flack jacket. He could not determine the source of the shot, but did say that his back was to the Israeli position, between 400 meters (437 yards) and one kilometer (0.62 miles) away. Agence France-Presse reported that journalists, including the CNN crew, were fired on by Israeli forces. An official at CNN told CPJ that there was “no reason to believe whoever fired upon Wedeman knew he was a journalist.”
- Nasser Shiyoukhi, The Associated Press (October 23, 2000)
Israeli soldiers prevented Shiyoukhi, a reporter and photographer for The Associated Press, from entering the West Bank village of Sumoua, near Hebron. His Israeli government press card was also confiscated.
At the time of the incident, Shiyoukhi was returning to Sumoua after leaving in order to help a number of foreign reporters who were having difficulty gaining access to the town. When he arrived at the checkpoint, the soldiers told him he could not re-enter Sumoua, and then took his press card.
- Bruno Stephens, Liberation, Stern (October 21)
Stephens, a free-lance photographer working with the French newspaper Liberation and the German magazine Stern, was grazed in the throat by a live bullet while covering clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in Ramallah. Stephens was standing with several other journalists, well away from Palestinian demonstrators. He said the bullet, which he believed was fired by Israeli troops, passed over the head of a British free-lance photographer and then ricocheted off a wall before grazing his throat. He suffered a minor burn.
The incident took place just minutes after the shooting of Paris-Match‘s Bourget, who was part of the same group of journalists.
- Jacques-Marie Bourget, Paris-Match (October 21, 2000)
Bourget, a reporter for the French magazine Paris-Match, was struck in the chest by a live bullet and seriously injured while covering clashes between stone-throwing Palestinians and Israeli troops in Ramallah. He was hospitalized in Ramallah and then flown to Paris for treatment 24 hours later.
At the time of the incident, Bourget was standing along a wall with a group of journalists and other bystanders. They were near, but not among, a group of demonstrators, Paris- Match reported and other eyewitnesses confirmed. A bullet then struck Bourget in the chest, entering his lung. It was unclear exactly who fired the round, but Bourget’s colleagues accused Israeli forces.
“Of course, it was fired by an Israeli. Everybody knows it,” Paris-Match photographer Thierry Esch told Agence France-Presse. Esch was standing next to Bourget when he was hit.
A Paris-Match editor in Paris told CPJ that the magazine was not sure who fired the round that hit Bourget, and that the magazine did not believe he was targeted intentionally. However, another Paris-Match journalist had a different view.
“From where he was standing, only those in front of him could have hit him. And those in front of him were Israeli soldiers,” Paris-Match deputy editor Patrick Jarnoux told The Toronto Star. “He was nowhere near the clashes, standing alone with a photographer,” Jarnoux added. “And a 57-year old man can’t easily be mistaken for a 15-year-old rock thrower.”
An editor at Paris-Match said Bourget was recovering but that the bullet was still lodged in his chest.
- Patrick Baz, Agence France-Presse (October 18, 2000)
An Israeli soldier shot Baz in the finger with a rubber-coated metal bullet while the photographer was covering clashes between Israeli forces and stone-throwing Palestinian protesters in Ramallah. Baz was standing with another photographer at the time. “It was obvious [we were journalists]. We were wearing white helmets and flak jackets,” Baz told CPJ. “I got it on my finger while [the finger] was on my camera…I can’t say it was a stray bullet.”
“I would not complain if I was in the middle of the demonstration …[but] we were on the side between demonstrators and soldiers and in an empty field really,” he continued. “You could call it a no-mans land.”
Although Palestinian militiamen or police at the scene later engaged in gunfire with the Israeli forces, Baz said this happened later on in the clashes, after he was hit.
- Riccardo Cristiano, RAI (October 18, 2000)
Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO) revoked the accreditation of Cristiano, a journalist with the Italian state television network RAI, after a Palestinian newspaper published a controversial open letter in which he stated that RAI had not filmed the mob killing of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah on October 12. (The lynching was captured on film by another Italian TV station.)
The letter was published in the Palestinian newspaper Al-Hayat al-Jadida. Cristiano stated that RAI would not have filmed such an incident, given the opportunity. He also pledged that both he and RAI would abide by PNA regulations for the media. Many interpreted this to mean that he would avoid negative news coverage of the PNA.
Shortly after Israeli authorities revoked Cristiano’s accreditation, RAI recalled the journalist to Rome and closed down its Jerusalem bureau, citing security concerns.
- Mahfouz Abu Turk, Reuters (October 17, 2000)
Abu Turk, a photographer working with Reuters, was wounded in the hand by a rubber-coated metal bullet fired by Israeli troops. He had been covering clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces that erupted in Bethlehem after the funeral of a Palestinian boy.
Just before the attack, Abu Turk was filming the clashes from behind a cement block. He was taken to hospital in Beit Jala where he received four stitches for the wound.
Abu Turk claimed that the camera he was holding clearly identified him as a journalist.
- Voice of Palestine (October 12, 2000)
At around 5 p.m., Israeli attack helicopters opened fire on two transmission towers and other technical facilities used by the Voice of Palestine in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The attack briefly knocked the radio station off the air, but it quickly resumed broadcasting on an FM frequency.
The Israeli army acknowledged that it deliberately targeted the radio towers. A military spokesman justified the attack by charging that the station had incited Palestinians to commit violence. Reuters quoted Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, head of the Israeli Army’s Operation Branch, as stating that Palestinian television broadcasts of Palestinians dragging an effigy of an Israeli solider had incited a mob attack in Ramallah, earlier that day, in which two Israeli soldiers were killed. On October 18, CPJ wrote to Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, protesting the attack.
- Several cameraman and photojournalists (October 12, 2000)
A Palestinian mob prevented several cameramen and photojournalists from filming the killing of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah. Some journalists were assaulted and had their film or cameras confiscated.
A cameraman from ABC News was kicked in the groin and stomach by the crowd and prevented from shooting the event.
British free-lance photographer Mark Seager was also assaulted and had his camera seized. “Instinctively, I reached for my camera,” Seager later wrote in the London Sunday Telegraph. “I was composing the picture when I was punched in the face by a Palestinian. Another Palestinian pointed right at me shouting Ôno picture, no picture!’ while another guy hit me in the face and said Ôgive me your film!’ I tried to get the film out but they were all grabbing me and one guy just pulled the camera off me and smashed it to the floor.”
Patrick Baz, a photographer for Agence France-Presse, had two of his cameras confiscated by the crowd, though he had not taken any photographs of the lynching. “I bumped into a crowd. They wanted my film,” he told CPJ, saying the mob apparently suspected him of belonging to an undercover Israeli unit. “I hadn’t taken any shots. I had nothing to give them. I was pushed and harassed. They started pulling at my camera.” He said he ended up getting one of the cameras back after imploring the crowd, but the other was destroyed.
One journalist working for a Western news organization who was at the scene said the angry crowd prevented several photojournalists who were on hand from filming the incident.
- Atta Oweisat, Zoom 77 (October 11, 2000)
Israeli police summoned Oweisat, a photographer for the Israeli press agency Zoom 77, for questioning in Jerusalem. He initially thought he had been called in about a complaint he filed about his beating at the hands of an undercover Israeli security unit in Jerusalem on October 4 (see case below). Instead, he was charged on several counts, including insulting the police, injuring an officer, and preventing the police from arresting demonstrators.
Oweisat vigorously denied the charges. “My presence as a photojournalist has been a nuisance for [Israeli undercover agents] who infiltrate among the local Palestinians during demonstrations and who are strongly opposed to their identities being exposed,” Oweisat alleged.
He was released on bail of NIS 5,000 (US$1250).
- Luc Delahaye, Magnum, Newsweek (October 9, 2000)
A rubber-coated metal bullet fired by Israeli forces hit the camera lens of Delahaye, a free-lance photographer with the Magnum photo agency and Newsweek magazine. He had been filming clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian demonstrators in Ramallah. Delahaye estimated that he was shot at a distance of 40 meters (44 yards). His camera was destroyed.
While working at the same location the next day, his head was grazed by another rubber bullet. One week later, he was hit on the forehead by a third rubber bullet while photographing a Palestinian protester who had just been hit in the head by a live round.
“In the three incidents I was definitely targeted by the soldiers, but I cannot say if I was targeted as a human being or as a journalist,” Delahaye told CPJ, adding that he was wearing only a T-shirt and not a flak jacket. “It is impossible to say.”
- Walid Suleiman Amayreh, Hebron Times (October 7, 2000)
Amayreh, publisher and editor of the biweekly Hebron Times, was detained by Palestinian police following his live appearance on the Gulf-based satellite news station Al-Shareqah. During the program, Amayreh criticized the PNA for its rampant corruption and its negotiations with Israel. He also called for the release of imprisoned Hamas activists.
The arrest reportedly took place following a complaint from the Palestinian Ministry of Information. Amayreh was questioned and released after 30 hours in custody. He was forced to sign a pledge affirming that he would abide by Palestinian information laws.
- Atta Oweisat, Zoom 77 (October 4, 2000)
Owiesat was assaulted by a group of undercover Israeli security agents while covering the funeral of a Palestinian in Jabel Moukaber, a neighborhood of Jerusalem.
He had been standing with a group of Israeli journalists when chaos erupted after a number of undercover Israeli security agents arrived suddenly and began arresting Palestinian youths.
“When I began to take pictures, seven of them [Israeli agents] attacked me, threw me to the ground and started beating me and stepping on me, trying hard to pull the cameras away from me,” Oweisat recalled. “I was holding the camera which was hanging from my neck tight. Then a Border Patrol soldier came and held me by the neck and one of the [agents] stepped on my stomach.”
Oweisat was knocked unconscious and woke up in the hospital. His bulletproof vest prevented serious injuries, he said.
A week earlier, Oweisat filmed a group of Israeli undercover agents in Jerusalem’s Shufat refugee camp. He believes this might have motivated the attack.
- Loay Abu Haykel, Reuters (October 2, 2000)
Abu Haykel, a Reuters photojournalist, was hit in the leg by a rubber bullet while covering clashes between Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank city of Hebron. His injury was described as not serious.
- Mazen Dana, Reuters (October 2, 2000)
Dana, a Hebron-based cameraman who was covering clashes on Hebron’s Shalalah Street for Reuters, was hit in the left foot and leg by live rounds fired by Israeli forces. A day earlier, Dana had been wounded in the same leg by a rubber bullet.
- Amer Jaabari, ABC News (October 1, 2000)
Jaabari, a Hebron-based cameraman for ABC News, was wounded in the head by an unidentified projectile, thought to be either a rock thrown by a Palestinian demonstrator or a rubber bullet. At the time of the incident, he was covering clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli troops in Hebron.
- Khaled Abu Aker, France 2, The New York Times (September 29, 2000)
Abu Aker, a correspondent with the French television station France 2 and the West Bank stringer for The New York Times, was beaten by Israeli police at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque. The attack occurred after Abu Aker refused to comply with a police officer who demanded that the journalist hand over a rubber bullet that he had picked up off the ground. Abu Aker was hit in the shoulder with a truncheon and punched in the face. His shirt was ripped and his eyeglasses stomped on in the ensuing melee, which another officer joined.
- Mahfouz Abu Turk, Reuters (September 29, 2000)
Abu Turk was hit in the left thigh with a rubber-coated metal bullet fired by Israeli troops. He had been covering the clashes at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque and was taking cover behind a large stone column. Wounded, he fled the scene but still kept filming while heading in the direction of the mosque. Shortly thereafter, he was hit in the right foot by another rubber bullet. He was taken to Al-Makased Hospital for treatment and released the same day.
- Khaled Zeghari, Reuters (September 29, 2000)
Zeghari, a cameraman stringing for Reuters, was beaten by Israeli soldiers and shot in the leg by a rubber-coated metal bullet while covering clashes at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. The attack took place about five minutes after Hazem Bader, a cameraman for the Associated Press, was shot.
“I was filming the crowd during Friday prayers and when the clashes took place by the Magharbeh Gate I took refuge behind a large rock [stone column] in the courtyard of the Islamic Museum,” Zeghari said. “I witnessed how the wounded youth were falling on the ground as the shooting intensified.”
He said after ten minutes or so, a group of Israeli soldiers stormed the courtyard, opening fire.
“At that time I was filming the event while lying down on the ground. All of a sudden the soldiers approached me and began beating me with bats and sticks on my head and shoulders,” Zeghari said. “Trying to protect my head against their fierce beating I ran toward Magharbeh Gate and from there I was [taken], bleeding from my head and right leg, to Hadassah Hospital in Ein Karem for treatment.”
Zeghari did not realize until doctors examined him at the hospital that he had been hit in the leg by a rubber-coated metal bullet. The bullet, which left a gash measuring 2 cm by 2cm by 4cm (.8 by .8 by 1.6 inches) and lodged in Zeghari’s leg, was apparently fired at close range. Zeghari said the shooting might have occurred in the initial moments of the soldiers’ attack.
In addition to the bullet wound, Zeghari suffered a cut and several bruises on his head as well as bruises on his back, right shoulder and left hand. He lost his camera during the melee.
- Hazem Bader, The Associated Press (September 29, 2000)
Bader, a cameraman stringing for The Associated Press, was wounded in his right hand by a rubber-coated metal bullet while covering clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian demonstrators at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque. The bullet was fired by an Israeli soldier from an estimated range of 15 meters (16 yards), according to Bader and another eyewitness.
Bader said he and a small group of photographers and cameramen had been filming soldiers shooting at demonstrators near Magharbeh Gate (overlooking the Western Wall). The journalists were stationed behind a stone column about 15 meters (16 yards) away from the soldiers. Bader claimed he was hit on purpose. “It was a clear shot at us,” he said. “We were far from the demonstrators.”
The bullet broke three bones in Bader’s hand. The journalist has since had two metal plates inserted. He told CPJ that he still has no movement in two of his fingers and has been unable to work since the attack.