Israel bars press from Ramallah; several journalists wounded by gunfire

New York, April 1, 2002—CPJ is alarmed by the mounting press freedom crisis in the West Bank as Israeli forces widen their military offensive.

In the last few days, at least two journalists have been wounded by gunfire and Israel has tried to bar all reporters from the embattled city of Ramallah.

“Barring journalists from conflict areas constitutes censorship,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Although Ramallah is indeed a dangerous place, journalists are there because they have a duty to cover this important story.”

“We are deeply disturbed by Israel’s evident desire to prevent journalists from witnessing its current activities on the West Bank,” Cooper said. “CPJ calls on all parties to the conflict to permit media access to conflict areas and to fulfill their responsibility to safeguard journalists in the field.”

While the ban has been sporadically enforced since Friday, several journalists have been prevented from entering the city or moving freely within Ramallah, according to CPJ sources.

The Government Press Office has announced that no “foreign citizens (including members of the media) are allowed to be in the closed zone,” and that “anyone found in the closed zone henceforth will be removed. Members of the media are advised that their presence in the closed zone is at their own risk.”

Journalists were warned that violators could be arrested and stripped of their credentials, or have their offices closed down.

In one case on Saturday, Israeli forces barred reporters from the French television station France 2 from entering Ramallah. One of the France 2 reporters told CPJ that soldiers threatened them, hurled a bottle at them, and fired a shot in their direction.

Today, April 1, Israeli troops expelled a CBS News television crew from Ramallah, The Associated Press reported.

In the past week, at least two journalists have been wounded by gunfire on the West Bank. CPJ is currently investigating other reports of injured journalists.

U.S. reporter shot in Ramallah
On the afternoon of Sunday, March 31, Boston Globe reporter Anthony Shadid was wounded by a single gunshot in Ramallah.

Shadid told CPJ that he and his colleague, Boston Globe stringer Said Ghazali, were walking away from Palestinian National Authority chairman Yasser Arafat’s compound in Ramallah when a bullet entered Shadid’s left shoulder. The area was completely quiet at the time, and both journalists were wearing flak jackets marked “TV” in red tape.

Shadid told CPJ that he did not see who shot him, but added that the area was surrounded by Israeli tanks and soldiers. The journalist was taken to a Palestinian hospital after receiving first aid from a group of Israeli soldiers.

In other recent developments:

  • On March 29, Palestinian cameraman Carlos Handal, who works for Egyptian Nile TV and Abu Dhabi TV, was shot in the mouth after his car came under attack in Ramallah, according to international press reports. Handal is currently hospitalized in stable condition. It is unclear who fired the shot that hit him.
  • Also on March 29, the Tel Aviv-based Foreign Press Association reported that Israeli forces had commandeered a Ramallah building used by local and foreign journalists. Israeli troops forced all media representatives out of the building.

On March 31, Israeli authorities announced they would begin enforcing existing rules under which journalists must submit reports about defense matters to a military censor. They also said any Palestinians found working in Israel for foreign news organizations without proper documentation would risk arrest. Repeated violations could result in heavy fines and the closure of foreign media offices, authorities said. In Jerusalem, Israeli authorities threatened to fine any news organization US$15,000 if it was found harboring Palestinians “without the proper permits.”