Attacks on the Press 2001: Israel and the Occupied Territories

Israel’s Hebrew-, Arabic-, and English-language media are extremely lively and, despite some military censorship, mostly free. Yet, journalists covering the second intifada, which began in September 2000 in Gaza and the West Bank, faced a variety of restrictions and hazards from the Israeli army and militant Jewish settlers, including bullets, tear gas, shrapnel, and physical assault.

Gunfire from Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was the most dangerous and immediate threat to journalists in Gaza and the West Bank. In February, French journalist Laurent van der Stock was shot in the leg, apparently by an Israeli bullet, while covering Palestinian demonstrators who were throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers near the West Bank city of Ramallah. A few weeks later, an IDF soldier in an armored personnel carrier opened fire without provocation in the direction of three Reuters journalists at the Netzarim Junction in Gaza.

An Israeli soldier struck Abu Dhabi TV correspondent Layla Odeh in the leg with a live round while she was filming in the Gaza Strip in April when no clashes were taking place in the area. And in mid-May, French correspondent of TF1 Bertrand Aguirre was wounded in the chest by another live round, apparently fired by an Israeli border policeman, in Ramallah. Video footage appeared to show the border policeman aiming in the direction of Aguirre and a group of journalists, even though the officer was not in a life-threatening situation.

In all, CPJ documented 16 cases in which journalists were wounded by live rounds or rubber-coated steel bullets between September 2000 and June 2001. The actual number of casualties appeared to be far greater; the Paris-based press freedom organization Reporters Sans Frontières reported more than 40 such cases.

Circumstantial evidence suggests that, in some cases, Israeli forces may have deliberately targeted journalists. Sometimes, journalists were shot in the legs, head, or even hands as they held cameras. In one case, a bullet hit a journalist’s camera lens. In many cases, reporters hit by gunfire were far removed from clashes and easily recognizable as journalists because of their conspicuous camera equipment.

At the very least, the IDF or security forces behaved recklessly in firing live rounds or rubber-coated steel bullets that injured journalists. A six-person CPJ delegation met with Israeli ambassador David Ivry in June at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. Ivry promised to relay CPJ’s concerns to the Israeli Foreign Ministry but vehemently denied that the IDF had intentionally targeted journalists.

On July 26, IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz “reiterated the standing orders concerning the safeguarding of journalists and called upon the army’s commanders to strengthen the awareness of those orders throughout the ranks.” On November 18, following months of pressure from the Jerusalem-based Foreign Press Association (FPA), CPJ, and other international press freedom groups, the IDF presented its findings on several cases in which journalists were wounded by gunfire.

Unfortunately, the IDF report failed to shed any light on the cases it reviewed. In fact, the findings rejected accusations of IDF responsibility in several of the shootings, despite strong evidence of deliberate targeting or recklessness. The FPA noted that, “the absence of concrete results in practically all of the cases does not suggest that the investigations were thorough and comprehensive.”

In addition to gunfire, journalists reporting on the intifada risked physical attack and beatings from the Israeli army, security forces, and militant Jewish settlers, all of whom acted with seeming impunity. Jewish settlers often attacked journalists in the presence of soldiers who showed little interest in stopping the assaults or apprehending the assailants.

Perhaps nowhere was the dual daily threat of the IDF and Jewish settlers to journalists more pronounced than in the West Bank city of Hebron. In November 2001, CPJ gave an International Press Freedom Award to Palestinian journalist Mazen Dana, a Reuters cameraman from Hebron who for years has braved bullets and beatings to cover political unrest in the city.

By year’s end, reported gunfire injuries to journalists had dropped sharply. The decline was probably due to a decrease in the number of street demonstrations, the use of armored press cars and other security precautions by journalists, and greater caution on the part of the IDF.

Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza (many of whom work for international media, including all the major wire services) continued to face significant bureaucratic obstacles. In order to enter Israel or East Jerusalem, Palestinians have for many years been required to obtain special permits, which are awarded sparingly and often for limited time periods. As a result, it remained nearly impossible for Palestinian journalists to travel between the West Bank and Gaza. Many Palestinian journalists also complained that Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO) denied them press accreditation, which facilitates passage through Israeli checkpoints and grants them entry to official government events and press conferences.

When Israeli authorities proclaim a heightened threat of Palestinian violence, they seal off the Occupied Territories. No Palestinians, even those with permits, can enter Israel or East Jerusalem.

Within the Occupied Territories, Israeli checkpoints have been fortified with concrete roadblocks, dirt barriers, and ditches since the intifada began to keep Palestinians from leaving their towns and villages. Only Israeli bypass roads, which connect Israeli settlements, are consistently open, and Palestinians are banned from them. Authorities also divided the 360 square kilometer (about 144 square mile) Gaza Strip into three sections and cut off travel between them intermittently, sometimes for weeks at a time.

Even when the internal travel restrictions eased, cars were still delayed at checkpoints for hours. Not even foreigners and Israelis were exempt from such inconveniences. A normally one-hour drive from certain parts of the West Bank to Jerusalem could take hours.

On December 13, 2001, following a number of suicide bombings and armed attacks in Israel, Israel used missiles and bulldozers to destroy the Voice of Palestine (VOP) radio station’s broadcasting headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Israel has long charged the VOP, the Palestinian National Authority’s official radio station, with inciting violence. In October 2000, after a mob killed two Israeli reservists in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Israeli forces destroyed the station’s transmission towers. CPJ condemned the attacks, describing them as a violation of international humanitarian law.

An analysis of Voice of Palestine broadcasting by CPJ found that while the station reflected the political perspective of the Palestinian Authority, there was no evidence that the station was used for military purposes.

In March, Israeli authorities officially barred Israeli citizens from traveling to areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip under Palestinian control. Israeli journalists were exempted provided they signed a waiver that the government was not responsible for their safety. However, some Israeli journalists who traveled to Palestinian-controlled territory refused to sign such a document.

In Israel and East Jerusalem, the local and international press remain subject to Israeli military censorship when officials feel that a particular report will harm the country’s defense interests. Journalists, however, have the option of appealing to the High Court of Justice. Most Hebrew-, Arabic-, and English-language media are able to circumvent the restrictions by attributing sensitive stories to foreign news outlets. Foreign journalists generally find enforcement erratic.

In May, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the Shin Bet, the Israeli security service, had called in Arab-Israeli authors, journalists, and publishers for “clarification and explanatory conversations” about their writing. The paper reported that some were asked not to write anything, including poetry, that could be considered “incitement” to violence.

The London-based, Arabic-language newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported that in July, Israeli forces impersonated a journalist in order to attack a Hamas office in Nablus. According to the paper, a man identifying himself as a BBC reporter called the office and asked to speak with Hamas leader Jamal Mansour. Mansour and a Palestinian journalist who was in the office to interview the Hamas leader were killed in the missile attack, which the paper said began just after the callers confirmed that Mansour was in the building.

See also Palestinian Authority Territories.

February 9

Laurent van der Stock, Newsweek

Van der Stock, 36, a veteran photographer working for the GAMMA photo agency and Newsweek magazine, was struck in the left knee by a live bullet while covering clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli troops near the West Bank town of Ramallah. The bullet entered above his knee and exited through the back of his leg, severing an artery and causing nerve damage.

At the time of the incident, van der Stock and several other photojournalists had been covering clashes near the City Inn Hotel, along Ramallah’s border with its sister city, Al-Bireh, for about two hours. An Israeli army position composed of soldiers in jeeps was located about 100 meters away from the hotel. According to journalists at the scene, armed Israeli troops were also stationed in buildings situated on the high ground behind the jeeps, some 500 meters (546 yards) from the journalists.

According to the journalists, Palestinian demonstrators had launched several attacks on the Israeli jeeps, using stones, pipes, and slingshots. The soldiers responded by exiting their jeeps and opening fire with rubber bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades. Palestinian gunmen in buildings along the main road also fired sporadically on the Israeli positions in the course of the afternoon.

At about 3:15 p.m., van der Stock ventured into the middle of the road during clashes in order to photograph Palestinian youths retreating from an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) counterattack. “I understood the demonstrators would run back, so I ran [out] about 20 seconds ahead of time and photographed people running [retreating] toward me,” van der Stock told CPJ. “I was shot in the [left] knee.”

Van der Stock described the situation just prior to the incident as chaotic but added that anyone firing live ammunition into the crowd should have known that he was a photographer, since he carried two cameras around his neck.

In a telephone interview, IDF spokesman Olivier Rafowicz told CPJ that IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen were engaged in a fierce gun battle at the time van der Stock was shot. Because of the general confusion and because the bullet that entered the photographer’s leg was never retrieved, the army was unable to determine who fired the shot, Rafowicz claimed.

Nonetheless, van der Stock and eyewitnesses interviewed by CPJ maintained that the shot was likely fired by an Israeli soldier stationed either on the ground or in a nearby building. “The way the bullet came and hit him straight in the knee, there was no doubt it came from straight ahead [i.e., the Israeli positions],” one photographer at the scene told CPJ. “The Palestinian gunmen who were firing earlier were in the buildings…100 meters [109 yards] to the left and right but behind Laurent. His back would have been to the Palestinian gunmen…From what I saw…it would have to be a ballistic miracle for him to have been hit by Palestinian fire.” Moreover, journalists on the scene added that gunfire from the Palestinian side had ceased for some time before van der Stock was shot.

On March 13, CPJ wrote the IDF spokesman’s office to urge the IDF to launch a serious and thorough investigation to determine if one of its soldiers in fact fired the round that injured Laurent van der Stock, and for what reason. CPJ also requested that the IDF release the findings of this investigation, along with any additional information that might shed light on the incident. The IDF responded that it was looking into the incident and promised to reply in detail to CPJ’s concerns.

On December 17, 2001, CPJ received a faxed document from Israel’s Government Press Office, titled “Report on Injury of Foreign Journalists Covering the Violence in the West Bank and Gaza and Operational Procedures Implemented by the IDF.”

The report claimed that it was impossible to establish that van der Stock was hit by IDF fire, adding that several attempts were made to have the photographer speak directly to the brigade commander so a more thorough investigation could be conducted, but that these attempts were unsuccessful.

February 11

Luay Abu Haikal, Reuters
Hussam Abu Alan, Agence France-Presse

Abu Haikal and Abu Alan, photographers for Reuters and Agence France-Presse, respectively, were attacked by two Jewish settlers while covering clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Abu Haikal told CPJ that when he tried to defend himself from attack by pushing the settlers back, an Israeli soldier struck him in the neck with a rifle butt.

The soldier then aimed the rifle at Abu Allan’s head and threatened to shoot him, according to the journalists.

The soldier temporarily confiscated the journalists’ identification cards, which were returned after their respective news agencies were contacted.

February 16

Al-Hayat al-Jadida

From February 16 to 20, Israeli authorities barred editions of three Palestinian daily newspapers from entering the Gaza Strip. The measure was part of a closure of the Gaza Strip imposed by Israel in response to an attack on Israeli soldiers by Palestinian militants.

March 8

Christine Hauser, Reuters
Ahmed Bahadou, Reuters
Suhaib Salem, Reuters

An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier in an armored carrier opened fire in the direction of three Reuters journalists at the Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip. Reporter Hauser, cameraman Bahadou, and free-lance photographer Salem were about 50 meters (160 feet) from the armored carrier when the soldier started firing a heavy machine gun in their direction. The journalists quickly took cover.

Reuters reported that when the shooting occurred, Bahadou and Salem were pointing their cameras in the opposite direction from the carrier, and that Hauser had taken out her notebook. The journalists believed they had made eye contact with the IDF soldiers in order to assure them that they were press. The Netzarim Junction was described as quiet at the time.

Army spokesman Olivier Rafowicz later characterized the gunfire as “warning shots,” claiming the journalists had violating IDF policy by approaching the outpost. Due to the “tense security situation in Gaza,” Rafowicz told Reuters, “civilians are not allowed to approach…outposts because of a present threat of terror activity.” He added that the journalists failed to inform the IDF ahead of time of their presence in the area.

However, Reuters pointed out that the IDF requires no such notification from journalists working there. Hauser later said that contrary to what the Israeli army reported, the journalists were walking away from the IDF post when the shooting occurred.

In a March 13 letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, CPJ urged him to ensure that the IDF launched an immediate and thorough investigation into the incident and made its findings public. CPJ received no response from the Israeli government or the IDF.

In a June 19 response to CPJ’s research, Israel’s embassy in Washington, D.C., wrote that an “investigation was launched the day of the incident. The investigation found that the soldiers involved acted within IDF guidelines. An official statement from the IDF Spokesman was issued.”

March 10

Mazen Dana, Reuters
Nael Shiyoukhi, Reuters
Hussam Abu Alan, Agence France-Presse

Reuters cameramen Dana and Shiyoukhi and Agence France-Presse photographer Abu Alan were attacked at around 4 p.m. by Jewish settlers in the West Bank town of Hebron.

The journalists were filming settlers throwing stones and empty bottles at local Palestinian residents near the Jewish settlement neighborhood of Tel Rumeida.

Dana was struck in the leg by a bottle and in the face by a stone, which cut his lip and broke three teeth. The settlers also threatened to smash the journalists’ cameras. Shiyoukhi, meanwhile, was kicked in the leg and hit in the neck with a stone before fleeing.

Israeli soldiers finally intervened and escorted Dana and Abu Alan away from the scene of the attack. However, the journalists were again attacked by a separate group of Jewish settlers, who broke Abu Alan’s camera. All three photographers were taken to a hospital for treatment.

CPJ protested the attacks in a March 13 letter to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, urging that the settlers responsible for the assault be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

March 26

Amer al-Jaberi, ABC News
Nael Shiyoukhi, Reuters
Hussam Abu Alan, Agence France-Presse

Israeli soldiers attacked Jabari, a cameraman for ABC News; Shiyoukhi, a cameraman for Reuters; and Abu Alan, a photographer for Agence France-Presse, while they were covering a Palestinian demonstration in the West Bank village of Halhoul.

According to Shiyoukhi, an officer approached the journalists and ordered them to evacuate the area in exactly one minute or face arrest. He gave no reason for the order.

When the journalists did not leave, soldiers began to push them, and one punched Jabari in the nose. Shiyoukhi was pushed against a military jeep. He also reported that an officer would have arrested him had a group of women not intervened.

Abu Alan, who was watching the incident, was struck with a rifle butt.

The Israeli army alleged that the cameramen were preventing the soldiers from performing their work, and that one had attacked a commander. The cameramen denied these allegations

April 20

Layla Odeh, Abu Dhabi TV

Odeh, a correspondent for the United Arab Emirates-based Abu Dhabi TV, was shot by Israeli troops at about 1 p.m. while she and two colleagues were interviewing residents in the town of Rafah whose homes had been destroyed by Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the journalist told CPJ.

Without warning, two shots were fired in the journalists’ 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.

Odeh and her colleagues reported that no clashes were taking place in their vicinity at the time of the shooting. They also maintained they were clearly identifiable as journalists due to their conspicuous camera equipment. Video footage appeared to confirm their account.

IDF spokesman Olivier Rafowicz expressed regret for the incident and said that an IDF investigation was under way. He told CPJ that “there was no intention to hit the journalists” and added that the TV crew had been in a dangerous “area of violence.”

On April 25, CPJ protested the attack in a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and urged him to ensure that Israeli authorities launched a thorough investigation into this incident, as well as other similar cases involving journalists wounded by Israeli gunfire.

In a June 7 letter to CPJ, Prime Minister Sharon’s spokesman Raanan Gissin wrote that the Odeh incident was “under official IDF investigation,” but said he “cannot release any of the findings yet.” He added that “the Prime Minister and the IDF are serious about examining this matter thoroughly.”

On June 11, a CPJ delegation met with the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., David Ivry, and presented him with the Odeh case and those of 15 other journalists wounded by live rounds or rubber-coated steel bullets since violence erupted in the occupied territories in late September 2001.

In response to CPJ’s research, the embassy wrote on June 19: “There was an investigation into this incident. The investigation revealed that Ms. Odeh was hit by a rubber bullet fired from a raised lookout position. The severity of her injuries was due to the use of rubber bullets from this position. Because use of rubber bullets in this situation were found to be dangerous, their use has been forbidden in such cases.”

The ambassador also promised to send a detailed report to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and to the IDF asking for their immediate attention to the specific incidents highlighted by CPJ. In December, the IDF said the case was still under review.

May 15

Bertrand Aguirre, TF1

Aguirre, a reporter for the French television channel TF1, was wounded in the chest by a live round while covering clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian demonstrators near the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Aguirre had just finished a stand-up report when an Israeli border policeman opened fire from about 150 to 200 meters (218 yards) away. A single round struck the journalist in the chest. Aguirre’s bulletproof vest most likely saved his life.

Aguirre was standing about 50 to 100 meters (54 to 109 yards) behind stone-throwing Palestinian demonstrators who were between him and the border policeman. The incident occurred during a lull in the clashes, according to eyewitnesses.

While it is uncertain whether the soldier was aiming at Aguirre, video footage shows the soldier opening fire in the direction of unarmed demonstrators and journalists. The footage shows that he was not in a life-threatening situation and had violated the IDF’s rules of engagement.

“It’s clear that the soldier opened fire with live ammunition on an unarmed crowd and that he was shooting to kill. Was he aiming at me or not? I can’t tell that,” Aguirre told CPJ. The journalist contended that he was easily recognizable as a reporter since he was holding a microphone and wearing a conspicuous white flak jacket as he stood alongside his camera crew.

On June 21, Danny Seaman, director of the Government Press Office’s Foreign Press Department, told CPJ that an internal police investigation into Aguirre’s shooting was under way. Investigators had received video footage of the incident, Seaman said, along with the bullet that wounded the journalist.

The investigation, Seaman said, was taking place under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice. He reported that if any evidence of wrongdoing was found, the Justice Ministry might initiate a criminal prosecution. Seaman said the results of the investigation were expected to be released in late June.

In September, the Justice Ministry dismissed the case for what it said was lack of evidence. A report of the investigation dated November 20 contained a lengthy account of the Justice Ministry’s investigation of the Aguirre case. After interviewing the Israeli soldier who fired the shot, other soldiers, and journalists on the scene, the investigator concluded that “it is impossible to make the connection with certainty between the shot fired by the suspect and the wounding of the journalist because the whole picture is not present…. In my opinion, it is appropriate to close the case due to lack of evidence.”

June 26

Hazem Bader, Associated Press Television News

Bader, a free-lance cameraman working with The Associated Press Television News, came under heavy machine gun fire while riding in his car in the West Bank city of Hebron.

At around dusk, Bader was driving home from an assignment when his car was attacked in the Palestinian-controlled Bab al-Zawiyah section of the city. Bader said the gunfire came from an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) outpost near the Jewish settlement of Tel Rumeida, about 500 meters away.

The first round of shots hit a wall just a few meters from his car, forcing him to exit the vehicle and take cover. Ten seconds later, Bader said, another round struck a nearby streetlight. A few minutes later, five or six rounds were fired directly at his car, three of which struck the vehicle.

Bader told CPJ that the street where the attack occurred was empty and peaceful. “It was an open and clear area,” Bader said. “No one was moving in the area.” He added that his car was plastered with Arabic, Hebrew, and English stickers that clearly identified it as a press vehicle.

IDF spokesman Olivier Rafowicz told CPJ that he had no information about the incident but added that the IDF had received a letter of inquiry from the AP and was “looking into it.” Israeli authorities had taken no action on the case by year’s end.

July 9

Hussam Abu Alan, Agence France-Presse
Mazen Dana, Reuters
Nael Shiyoukhi, Reuters
Imad al-Said, Associated Press Television News

Jewish settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron attacked Dana and Shiyoukhi, cameramen for Reuters; Abu Alan, a photographer for Agence France Presse; and al-Said, a cameraman for Associated Press Television News.

The journalists were covering settlers attacking a Palestinian wedding party in the Al-Raf section of the city, across from the large Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba.

After they arrived at the scene, the photographers began filming the violence from 20 to 30 meters away, until Israeli border police ordered them to leave the area. They moved to a different location and resumed filming the settlers, who were throwing stones at cars and homes. Some of the settlers turned on the journalists and threw stones at them.

One settler pointed his machine gun at the cameras of Shyioukhi and al-Said. Abu Alan was beaten by another settler. None of the journalists were seriously injured, although Abu Alan sustained slight injuries to his face and neck.

According to the journalists, the soldiers and police who were present did nothing to stop the attacks.

July 29

Amar Awad, Reuters
Mahfouz Abu Turk, Reuters
Atta Oweisat, Zoom 77
Mona Al-Kawatmi, free-lancer
Rashid Safadi, Al Jazeera

Israeli soldiers attacked a number of journalists in the compound of the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, where the journalists were covering clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters.

Some 15 to 20 journalists were covering events in the Al-Aqsa compound. Among them were Awad and Abu Turk of Reuters, Oweisat of Zoom 77, free-lancer Al-Kawatmi, and Safadi of Al Jazeera. The journalists said they were standing together in a group and that because of their position and equipment, they could not have been mistaken for Palestinian demonstrators.

Abu Turk told CPJ that Israeli soldiers first tried to deny journalists entry to the compound by blocking all seven doors. He said that most of the journalists barred from entering the compound eventually gained access, including himself.

Once the clashes began, the journalists said, Israeli forces started firing rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd. (The army denied using rubber bullets.) The journalists said that the attacks against journalists started during the “second wave” of Israeli attacks against demonstrators.

Individual journalists were abused, threatened, and forcefully removed from the compound. Awad sustained a broken tooth when he was kicked in the face by an Israeli soldier. Awad said that at about 3:15 p.m., as he was photographing the clashes, a soldier charged him and kicked him in the mouth.

Bleeding, Awad ran away. A few moments later he was again attacked by the same soldier, who kicked him several more times.

August 13

Tarek Abdel Jaber, Egyptian Television
Abdel Nasser Abdoun, Egyptian Television

Abdel Jaber and Abdoun, a reporter and cameraman, respectively, for the state-run Egyptian Television network, were assaulted by an unidentified Israeli soldier at the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah while they were filming in the area.

Abdoun told CPJ that the soldier approached him and Abdel Jaber when they left their car to gather film footage. Abdoun said the soldier ordered him in English to move back, and that he obeyed. The soldier then tried to kick him in the shin.

He then approached Abdel Jaber and slapped him across the face. The soldier proceeded to kick Abdoun in the groin, and he fell to the ground.

According to Abdoun and Abdel Jaber, the other soldiers at the checkpoint did nothing to stop the attack. Abdoun captured the incident on video.

Abdoun was taken to Makased hospital in Jerusalem, where he was treated and released after three hours.

In an August 12 statement, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman’s office called the incident “wrong and completely unacceptable” but accused the journalists of refusing to leave the scene and of “provoking the soldiers guarding the checkpoint.”

The IDF said that the soldier involved in the attack was “tried by the battalion commander and received a [suspended] 21-day prison sentence…and was suspended from commanding positions.”

December 6

Awad Awad, Agence France-Presse

Israeli authorities barred Awad, a photographer for Agence France-Presse (AFP), from entering Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s office. Awad, who had covered news events at the office on several previous occasions, was there to photograph a meeting between Sharon and the Norwegian foreign minister.

Awad was denied entry despite having the necessary Israeli Government Press Office press card, which grants journalists access to official events.

Israeli authorities later told AFP, without further explanation, that Awad would not be allowed in the prime minister’s office for 15 days.