July 25, 2002
His Excellency Ariel Sharon
Prime Minister of the State of Israel
Office of the Prime Minister
3 Kaplan Street
Via facsimile: 972-2-651-2631
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by the death of Palestinian free-lance photographer Imad Abu Zahra, who was killed by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) gunfire, and the subsequent failure to investigate the incident and safeguard journalists who cover the West Bank and Gaza.
According to sources in the West Bank town of Jenin, residents had gone into the city center on July 11 after Israeli forces lifted a curfew that had been in effect since June 21. Zahra’s colleague Said Dahla, a photographer for the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, told CPJ that at around 2 p.m., the sound of tanks coming toward the area led residents to flee or take cover inside nearby businesses or residences.
Dahla and Zahra went into the middle of Faisal Street to photograph an Israeli armored personnel carrier (APC) that had slammed into an electricity pole there. Dahla said that he and Zahra were alone in the street at this point, facing two Israeli tanks (near the APC) that he estimated to be about 40 meters (44 yards) in front of them.
Both men were holding cameras, and Dahla wore a flak jacket clearly marked “Press.”
According to Dahla, moments after the two began taking photographs, a hail of gunfire erupted from the tanks. Dahla, who was hit in the leg with shrapnel, said that he looked over and saw that Zahra had been injured in his thigh and was bleeding profusely.
Dahla said that as they tried to take shelter in a nearby building, the tanks continued to fire on them. Dahla told CPJ that the two journalists remained in the building entrance, unable to get to a hospital. He estimates that more than 25 minutes passed before Zahra was helped into a taxi and taken to Jenin Hospital, where he died on July 12.
According to an Israeli army spokesperson, after the APC hit the electricity pole on the afternoon of July 11, a mob attacked the personnel carrier with Molotov cocktails and rocks, and people in the crowd fired on the tanks. The spokesperson said the soldiers in the tanks responded by firing back at the source of the gunfire.
However, sources in Jenin who were at the city center at the time told CPJ that residents did not attack the tanks until after the two journalists were shot. The sources also said that residents pelted the tanks only with pieces of fruit, and not with rocks and Molotov cocktails.
In addition, photos of the stranded APC taken by Dahla before the shooting show no signs of clashes or hostile action near the carrier. Moreover, there were no other reports of people injured by gunfire in Jenin that day.
Since the start of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000, CPJ has documented an alarming number of incidents in which journalists have been injured by IDF gunfire or rubber bullets. In some cases, the fact that journalists were wearing clothing or equipment clearly identifying themselves as members of the press or were situated away from conflict zones when they were shot suggests that troops may have targeted them.
At the very least, the IDF appears to have acted recklessly in other cases where journalists were hit by gunfire. On numerous occasions during Operation Defensive Shield in March and April 2002, IDF soldiers opened fire at, or in the direction of, journalists who were clearly identified as press.
CPJ has repeatedly raised concerns with Israeli officials about these incidents, and yet the IDF has failed to conduct serious inquiries into the majority of cases. To our knowledge, in all but one case, soldiers have not been punished. We believe that the failure to investigate such incidents sends a message to IDF soldiers that they can injure journalists with impunity–an attitude that has and will continue to endanger lives. As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, CPJ calls on you to:
• ensure that the IDF launches immediate and thorough investigations into Imad Abu Zahra’s death and all other incidents where journalists are wounded by IDF fire and makes the findings public;
• publicly state your concern for and commitment to the protection and safety of journalists; and
• guarantee that the IDF command instructs its troops in the field to take all necessary precautions to safeguard journalists from gunfire.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your reply.