New York, January 15, 2013–Israeli soldiers prevented journalists from covering the eviction of a Palestinian campsite in the West Bank on Sunday, according to news reports and local press freedom organizations. The journalists worked for international news outlets including The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, CNN, and Al-Jazeera, as well as local media including Raya FM radio station and Palestine TV, according to the same sources.
The Bab Al Shams camp was set up on a hill overlooking privately owned Palestinian land by Palestinian activists to protest and obstruct Israeli settlement of the area. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the eviction despite a Supreme Court injunction against demolishing the camp, according to news reports. During the eviction, hundreds of Israeli soldiers blocked journalists’ access to the site, pushed them into a low-lying area, and used spotlights to interfere with shooting video and photos, according to Al-Jazeera and local press freedom group the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom (MADA).
AP reporter Ayad Hamad told MADA that Israeli soldiers pushed about 20 journalists away from the camp into a tunnel-like area to prevent them from seeing or recording the scene. Haroun Omayra, news reporter for Palestine TV, reported that Israeli soldiers told him the area was a military zone and stopped his live broadcast by cutting his cable three times. Another witness, cameraman Samer Nazal of Raya FM, told MADA that three soldiers concentrated lights at the journalists to prevent them from taking pictures or video.
Other journalists told the SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, a regional press freedom watchdog based in Lebanon, that Israeli soldiers threatened to confiscate their cars and strand them in the remote area if they didn’t leave immediately. Al-Jazeera reporter Waleed al-Amry reported that Al-Jazeera’s team and other journalists were beaten during the eviction, but did not give specifics.
CPJ could not reach the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokeswoman Col. Avital Leibovich. Major Zohar Halevi of the public affairs department would not comment on Sunday’s eviction but told CPJ that the IDF takes such reports seriously and would have investigation results within a month.
“The eviction of a Palestinian protest camp in the West Bank is of local and international interest, and Israel, by obstructing the media, appears to be acknowledging that its actions would not stand up to scrutiny,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We urge the Israel Defense Forces to undertake a serious investigation into reports of soldiers’ mistreatment of journalists and to make public its findings.”
In December, CPJ wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeking an explanation for November attacks in the Gaza Strip that struck two buildings housing news media and injured nine journalists, and for missile attacks that resulted in the deaths of at least two journalists there. Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu, told Agence France-Presse on December 3 that the government would respond to CPJ. The government has yet to do so.
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