Dear Minister Barak,
The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by a recent spate of press freedom violations in the West Bank, including detentions, censorship, harassment, and physical attacks by Israeli soldiers. We ask that you ensure that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) examine the cases outlined below and discipline any individuals who are found to have committed violations.
Since the beginning of February, CPJ has documented seven cases and spoken directly to the journalists involved. A request for comment from the IDF on the cases was not immediately returned.
Israeli forces fired rubber bullets at Xinhua News Agency photographer Nidal Ishtieh in the village of Oraq Burin, near Nablus on February 6. Ishtieh was covering a confrontation between Israeli settlers and people from the village. Members of the IDF ordered him to stop, Ishtieh told CPJ. When he insisted on continuing his work, he said, the soldier shot him with rubber bullets in his foot.
The same day, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms reported that the Israeli military held a bus carrying 50 journalists at the Container Checkpoint outside Bethlehem. The journalists were returning from Ramallah to Hebron after voting in the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate election. Raed al-Atrash, a producer and presenter for Baladna Radio in Hebron, told CPJ that Israeli soldiers ordered them to disembark and confiscated their identity cards, which identified them as journalists. Al-Atrash then argued with one of the soldiers who pushed, cuffed, and locked him in a room. The remaining journalists refused to leave without their colleague and remained at the checkpoint until al-Atrash was released an hour and a half later. He was made to sign a document stating that he had not been tortured, al-Atrash told CPJ.
Al-Jazeera reported that several journalists covering an Israeli military operation in the Shu’fat refugee camp, just outside East Jerusalem, were injured when Israeli soldiers fired teargas grenades, stun grenades, and rubber bullets into a crowd containing journalists on February 8 and 9. Diala Jweihan, a photographer for Qudsnet, a news Web site, was injured in the stomach as the result of an IDF-fired stun grenade. Jweihan told CPJ that she was covering the clashes from a distance when a soldier fired the grenade in her direction. While covering the same clashes on the afternoon of February 8, Palestine TV cameraman Nader Pepers, CNN cameraman Karim Khadr, and Reuters photographers Sinan Abu Mizer and Amar Awad were also injured by teargas grenades and rubber bullets fired by Israeli soldiers, according to Al-Jazeera. Three other photographers, Atta Awissat and Mahmoud Alyan of Al-Quds newspaper, and Ahmad al-Gharably of Agence France-Presse, were injured on February 9 while covering a second day of clashes between camp dwellers and Israeli soldiers. Al-Gharably told CPJ that soldiers deliberately targeted them and tried to take their equipment.
On February 23, Associated Press photographer Nasser al-Shuokhi was arrested by Israeli forces outside the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. Al-Shuokhi was taking pictures of the mosque when an Israeli soldier approached him, confiscated his camera, and called him a “terrorist,” he told CPJ. He was then taken to an interrogation room in the Kiryat Arba’ settlement and informed that he was being sued by a settler for assault. Al-Shuokhi denied the charge and was released on a bail of 1,000 NIS (US$266). He said he is due to appear in court on September 28.
On March 7, Associated Press photographer Mahfouz Abu Turk and Al-Quds newspaper photographer Mahmoud Alian were injured by Israeli forces while covering clashes between the soldiers and Palestinians in the courtyard of Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, according to news reports. Abu Turk told CPJ that he sustained an injury to his right leg when it was hit with a rubber bullet and that a soldier tried to confiscate his camera.
On the same day, European Press Photo Agency photographer Abdel-Hafiz Hashlamoun, Palmedia news Web site cameraman Abdul Ghani Natshe, Quds TV correspondent Akram Natshe, and Palestinian TV cameraman Mohamed Hmeidat were injured by Israeli forces. The journalists were covering clashes near the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. Hashlamoun told CPJ that two Israeli soldiers pushed him into a wall and broke his camera. Hmeidat and Akram Natshe both told CPJ that they were beaten and bruised by Israeli soldiers and were forced to leave the scene.
We ask that you take decisive action to end the harassment of journalists and bring the IDF’s practices in line with international standards of press freedom, allowing journalists to conduct their work safely and without deliberate interference.
Thank you in advance for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to your response.