Palestinian man impersonating journalist stabs Israeli soldier

New York, October 16, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the stabbing of an Israeli soldier today by a Palestinian man impersonating a member of the press, a move that further imperils journalists on dangerous assignments and has potential to further restrict freedom of the media in the region.

“Journalists are civilians, and that status should shield them from danger and allow them to gather news in dangerous environments. Today’s stabbing has left a major dent in the shield,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour. “We call on all Israeli and Palestinian factions to unequivocally condemn this assault on the civilian status of journalists and take every reasonable precaution to ensure the safety of all journalists working in the field.”

According to news reports, a Palestinian man wearing a yellow vest and black shirt marked “PRESS” approached a group of Israeli soldiers on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Hebron. Widely disseminated images and video on social media show the assailant chasing and stabbing an Israeli soldier before being shot dead. The soldier survived the attack.

Palestinian media reported the identity of the attacker as Eyad Khalil Awawdeh, a local resident of Hebron. The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate said in a statement that the assailant was not a journalist. The syndicate warned against others disguising themselves as press, saying this could endanger the lives of journalists, and also warned the Israeli authorities from using the incident as a pretext to censor Palestinian journalists.

The attack comes as journalists covering the spiraling violence face risk of injury at the hands of Israeli security forces. On October 9, Metin Yuksel Kaya, a photographer working for the Turkish Anadolu Agency, was shot in the hand as Israeli forces dispersed a protest near the Gaza-Israeli border, the agency reported. The day before, a producer for the Palestinian Wattan TV, Ibrahim Badwan, was wounded when a rubber-coated steel bullet fired by Israeli security forces hit him in the head as he covered street clashes, the agency reported. Last month, the Israeli military suspended an officer involved in the assault of two Agence France-Presse journalists covering clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers near Nablus, the outlet reported.

This is not the first time Israeli soldiers have been attacked by assailants abusing the protection afforded to journalists. In 2007, armed Palestinians affiliated with Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade opened fire on the Gaza-Israel border while driving a jeep marked “TV,” according to news reports and Human Rights Watch. The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate condemned the incident, saying it “exposes journalists’ lives to danger, gives the Israeli occupation a pretext to target and kill journalists, and restricts their ability to perform their professional and national duties.”

At the same time, Israeli forces have not always abided by the civilian status of journalists working in the region. During last year’s Gaza conflict, at least five journalists and media workers were killed by Israeli fire while carrying out their duties. IDF investigators have claimed that the journalists were either transporting weapons or that IDF forces were responding to enemy fire and did not intend to kill journalists. The IDF has not publicly disclosed any evidence to support its claims.

Globally, CPJ has documented numerous incidents of governments and other actors posing as journalists and thereby threatening the civilian status of the press around the world. According to CPJ research, government and security officials in Colombia, Israel, Luxembourg, and the United States have impersonated journalists. In 2001, purported members of Al-Qaeda assassinated Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud in Afghanistan by posing as journalists and detonating explosives hidden in a camera and battery belt. Last year, a Russian actor was filmed wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet marked “PRESS” and firing a machine gun while visiting pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine.