In a 13 March 2002 letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, IPI strongly condemned the Israeli army’s most recent attacks on journalists and media outlets in the city of Ramallah.
According to IPI’s sources, on 12 and 13 March the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) stormed Ramallah in its largest military offensive against Palestinians for thirty-five years. Supported by at least 150 tanks, bulldozers, artillery and the air force, the IDF laid siege to the city in an apparent punitive action against Palestinians following an escalation in violence between the two sides.
On 13 March, an Italian freelance photographer was shot and killed in Ramallah. According to several news reports, Raffaele Ciriello was hit six or seven times in the chest by Israeli gunfire and died shortly afterwards. On the same day, a French journalist, who was not immediately identified, was wounded in the leg by gunfire in Ramallah.
Ciriello had worked in a number of war zones around the world, including Afghanistan, Lebanon, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and the Yugoslavian province of Kosovo. He was the first foreign journalist to be killed in the seventeen-month conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Since November 2000, four Palestinian journalists have also been killed and many others injured.
According to eyewitness accounts, on 12 March Israeli troops in Ramallah confiscated a vehicle belonging to a media organisation – an initial report said it belonged to Abu Dhabi Television – in an apparent attempt to disguise themselves and carry out military operations against Palestinians. The vehicle carried the word “TV” in large, clear markings.
On the same day, heavy Israeli machinegun fire shattered the windows of a Link Productions office at the City Inn Hotel in Ramallah, narrowly missing Franz Normann, the correspondent for the Austrian public broadcaster, ORF. Around 30 media workers from other media organisations were also present in the building. Fortunately, there were no injuries but gunfire destroyed an ABC camera after the fleeing crew left it on its tripod. Reports from the journalists present indicated that there were no ongoing hostilities in the area and the IDF was aware that journalists occupied the building, most of whom worked for foreign media organisations.
At least two of these press freedom violations appear to be part of a concerted strategy by the Israeli army to control reports on the recent surge in armed hostilities in the region. In addition, IPI believes they have been undertaken with a criminal disregard for civilian lives. Moreover, the apparent decision by the IDF to disguise some of its forces places journalists at risk. In the opinion of IPI the decision represents an intentional blurring of the line between combatants and non-combatants. For this reason, it is inexcusable.
IPI regards these crude attacks on journalists and media outlets and the abuse of media infrastructure as gross violations of everyone’s right to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” as guaranteed by Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.