“To be a journalist and cameraman in a city of lost hope like Hebron requires great sacrifices,” Palestinian cameraman Mazen Dana said as he accepted an International Press Freedom Award two years ago for his efforts to report the news. “Gunfire, humiliation, beatings, prison, rocks and the destruction of journalists’ equipment are just some of the hardships.” On August 17, Dana was killed by American occupation troops in Iraq. He was filming the Abou Ghraib prison in a suburb of Baghdad. US officials said the soldier mistook his camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Dana had worked for the British news agency Reuters for ten years. Almost every journalist who covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict knew him. When he won the Press Freedom Award, Dana said that he had been shot in the leg, hit by rubber coated metal bullets and beaten by Israeli soldiers scores of times and had his hand broken twice. “It’s not easy to have a picture,” he said, “and a picture maybe will cost you your life.”
Looking back at journalists in danger in 2003, the words of Dana are unfortunately still true. Two journalists, a Palestinian cameraman and a British documentary filmmaker were killed by the Israeli army. Media watchdogs counted attacks and harrassment of journalists and the increasing restrictions imposed on foreign and Palestinian journalists.
On April 19, while filming clashes between Palestinian youngsters and Israeli armed forces in Nablus, Nazeh Darwazeh, a cameraman for APTN, was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. Palestinian journalists witnessed the events and their eyewitness accounts are supported by video footage of the killing. Darwazeh had been filming an Israeli tank stranded at the corner of an alleyway. A few minutes before Darwazeh was killed, Reuters cameraman Hassan Titi filmed a group of Palestinian youths running down the alley away from the stranded tank. Titi and Reuters photographer Abed Qusini, who were standing near Darwazeh, said that an Israeli soldier took a position near the tank and fired a single shot at the journalists. The shot shattered Darwazeh’s camera, entering his head above the eye. He was killed instantly. Darwazeh was wearing a fluorescent jacket marked “Press,” and before the shooting, the journalists said they shouted loudly in both English and Hebrew indicating that they were with the media.
On May 2, British cameraman James Miller, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, was fatally shot by Israeli forces in Rafah. Miller and his crew were in a Palestinian home filming the demolition of Palestinian homes in the area. As the crew was leaving the home, Miller, his producer Saira Shah, and translator Abdul Rahman Abdullah attempted to identify themselves to Israeli soldiers in armored personnel carriers. They were about 150 meters away from the home where they had been filming. All the journalists were wearing jackets marked “TV,” as well as helmets. Abdul Rahman Abdullah waved a white flag while Miller used a flashlight to illuminate their marked jackets and the flag. As they approached the soldiers, the journalists shouted in English and Arabic that they were members of the press. Three shots were fired in their direction, followed by a burst of gunfire. Miller was hit once in the neck. APTN footage showed the crew waving a white flag and yelling that they were British journalists as they approached an armored bulldozer conducting the operation.
In 2003, Israeli forces attacked and harassed a number of Palestinian journalists. On January 21, AP photographer Nasser Ishtayeh and AFP photographer Jaafar Ishtayeh were attacked by Israeli border police after they tried to take a picture of their army jeep. They were trying to photograph two Palestinian youths who were on the hood of the moving jeep and who the journalists believed were being used as human shields as the troops advanced on Palestinians throwing stones in the area. The Israeli army jeep drove in their direction, stopped, and three Israeli soldiers approached them. The soldiers immediately began to punch the two photographers and insulted them. Both journalists said that their clothing and camera equipment were clearly marked “Press.” Afterwards they were dragged a few meters by their camera straps to the army jeep’s driver, who had remained in the car while the beatings occurred. The driver inspected the cameras, which, because they were digital, allowed him to view recent images. He then threatened the journalists and told them that if he saw any of their pictures in the newspaper, he would kill them. Nasser Ishtayeh suffered light wounds on his face, and Jaafar Ishtayeh was injured slightly on his hand.
On March 6, Shams Odeh, a Reuters cameraman, and Ahmad Jadallah, a Reuters photographer, were injured in Gaza during an Israeli army raid on the Jabalya refugee camp. They were both injured by shrapnel from an explosion in the camp. Israeli forces were leaving the refugee camp at the end of the raid when an Israeli tank fired two rounds. The first round set a building on fire, and crowds of people poured into the streets to watch firefighters douse the blaze. The journalists, who were among the people in the street, were covering the aftermath of the raid. Witnesses claim that the tank’s second round was fired at the group who had gathered, injuring the two journalists. Both of Jadallah’s legs were broken, and one artery in his leg was severed after being hit by shrapnel. He underwent surgery in a Gaza hospital before being moved to an Israeli hospital in Jerusalem. Odeh suffered moderate injuries to his foot. He underwent surgery in Gaza.
On May 20, Shaaban Qandil, an ANN cameraman, and Jospeh Handal, a cameraman with France 2, were brutally assaulted by Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem. Qandil and Handal had just left Handal’s residence in Bethlehem a little after midnight when several Israeli troops in jeeps stopped Handal’s carm which was marked “TV”. Two of the Israeli soldiers ordered Handal to leave his car. He complied but told the Israeli soldiers that he is a journalist. Within moments, they began to beat Handal and he fell to the ground. Right before Handal had left the car, he gave Qandil his mobile phone. When some of the Israeli soldiers noticed he was about to make a call as Handal was being beaten, he was pulled out of the car and beaten as well. Both journalists sustained fractures to their right hands. Friends took them to a local hospital for treatment soon after the Israeli soldiers left the area.
On October 21, Israeli forces in Ramallah raided the office of Al-Jazeera. Israeli forces had entered the office in nearby El-Bireh and asked the staff and journalists to close the doors and remain inside. The station broadcast live footage of an Israeli officer arguing with correspondents and staff members.
As journalists working in the occupied Palestinian territories remain in danger, more restrictions on the press are expected for 2004. On November 2, the Israeli Government Press Office announced new administrative guidelines for press accreditation that set to take effect this week. The guidelines include a provision requiring Israel’s security service, Shin Bet, to vet candidates seeking accreditation. The guidelines will give the GPO and Shin Bet means to prevent accreditation to anyone they don’t like reporting events on the ground. In the past this has been used against Palestinian journalists.
The new guidelines will directly affect foreign correspondents and Israeli reporters who cover the occupied territories. They follow other restrictive measures adopted by the GPO in recent years, which have resulted in complaints from the international media. In 2002, GPO froze the accreditation of most Palestinian journalists from the occupied territories who work with foreign media. The Foreign Press Association (FPA) stated that the new measures provide the authorities “unreasonable veto power over who can serve as a foreign correspondent.”