The IDF has completed what it describes as “an accounting” of the outstanding cases in which journalists were shot in the territories.
We are pleased that the IDF has reaffirmed its commitment to the freedom of the press, the safety of journalists and their freedom of movement.
However, the report comes about 14 months after most of the injury cases took place, and with a single exception it turns up no guilty parties.
The FPA therefore protests the army’s handling of these incidents. It is inexcusable that investigations should be dragged out for more than a year. The absence of concrete results in practically all of the cases does not suggest that the investigations were thorough and comprehensive. The message this delivers to soldiers, whether the army intends this or not, is that preventing the shooting of journalists and punishing those to shoot them are not of utmost importance. This message certainly contributes to the perpetuation of the phenomenon. While in recent months we know of no major shooting injuries to journalists, there have been repeated shooting incidents, and it is only by virtue of good fortune and the better protective measures taken by journalists such as armored cars that tragedies have not occurred.
A study by Reporters Without Borders found that since Sept. 2000 there have been 40 cases of journalists injured by shooting while working for the foreign press in the territories, most of which occurred in the early weeks of the conflict.
To date the only case in which a guilty party was found was that of Yola Monakhov, an AP freelancer severely wounded on Nov. 11, 2000 in Bethlehem, and in this case the only punishment we know of was a reprimand to the commanding officer and not the shooter even though she was an unarmed civilian in an area where there was no confrontation at the time. The FPA has been pressing the IDF in particular regarding seven cases where the circumstances appeared to allow a thorough investigation.
A brief summary of the report:
• In the Oct. 2, 2000 shooting of Reuters photographer Mazen Dana in Hebron, the Oct. 17 shooting of his colleague Mahfouz Abu-Turk in Bethlehem, and the Oct. 18 shooting of AFP photographer Patrick Baz at Ayosh junction, the IDF report says only that there were violent demonstrations at the various scenes and that it had no reports of journalists injured at the time.
• In the Oct. 9 shooting of Newsweek photographer Luc Delahaye near Ramallah and the Feb. 9 shooting of Belgian photographer Laurent van der Stock at Ayosh junction, the report says no IDF responsibility could be established.
• The report says there was no line of sight between IDF troops and Paris Match reporter Jean Marie Bourget when he was shot at Ayosh junction on Oct. 21, and therefore he was probably hit by Palestinians.
• The case of Leila Odeh of Abu Dhabi TV remains open, but the report says her shooting occurred in the context of a proper dispersal of a riot, even though when she was shot she was not near any rioters at all.
The failure to find and punish a single guilty party beyond the Monakhov case does not suggest the “forthright effort” claimed by the IDF and cannot be explained away simply by the intensity and confusion of events. The report says that better results were unattainable because of “the passage of time,” and yet new incidents are not handled with any evident dispatch.
For example, the IDF says an Oct. 5, 2001 incident in which a photographer in an AP armored car was fired upon near IDF armored vehicle positions in Hebron is still under investigation and conclusions may be months away.
The report says that “the IDF views journalists as innocent civilians,” that “every effort must be made to protect them from harm,” and that “there are clear orders that journalists are to be allowed to do their work without interference or other impediment.” These are the right ideas yet beyond generally phrased promises we see little evidence of a truly energetic campaign to instill them in the soldiers. We call on the IDF to make its commitment to safeguard the lives of journalists in the field unequivocally and publicly clear, and to not suffice with reprimands or hide behind the misleading excuse that (in the words of the report) “when covering an armed conflict, journalists put themselves at certain risk.”
It is evident the IDF wishes to close the book on the previous journalist shootings and we leave it to the respective individuals and media organizations involved to decide how to proceed.
The report says any further incidents will be investigated by the “local brigade commander.” We believe they should be investigated by parties more removed and independent. The FPA would be willing to participate and follow closely such investigations.
The report calls on anyone involved in any new incidents to immediately alert the IDF Spokesman’s office, and we support that call. We also accept the IDF’s invitation for regular meetings to discuss the situation in the field.
We demand the IDF treat any such future incidents with greater seriousness than it has applied to date.
Any media interested in future comment on the subject should please call either vice chairperson Tami Allen Frost or Board member Elias Zananiri.
The Board of the Foreign Press Association
Dec. 18, 2001
The IDF Spokesman says the report will be available to anyone interested as of today.