IPI condemns killing of freelance photographer and journalist, wounding of news agency photographer

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, strongly condemns the killing of the freelance photographer and journalist, Imad Abu Zahra, and the wounding of the official Palestinian Wafa news agency photographer Said Dahla on 11 July 2002.

According to IPI sources, Abu Zahra and Dahla were shot by Israeli machine-gun fire from an armoured personnel carrier (APC) in the West Bank city of Jenin on 11 July. Abu Zahra was hit in both legs, lost large quantities of blood and went into a coma before being taken to hospital. He died in hospital on the following day. Dahla was hit in one leg and remains in medical care.

There was no military curfew imposed by the Israeli army on the city at the time of the attack on Abu Zahra and Dahla. The Israeli APC had rammed an electricity pole in the city and, according to journalists and others present, local boys approached the APC, which was slightly damaged in the collision, and threw rotting fruit at it. The Israeli soldiers in the APC then started shooting in an apparently random manner.

An Israeli army spokesman, however, claimed that rocks and Molotov cocktails had also been thrown at the APC and that it had come under gunfire. According to the army spokesman, the soldiers in the APC directed machine-gun fire in self-defence. He also said that it was not clear whether army gunfire had hit anyone and that it was entirely possible that Palestinian gunfire had hit the journalists.

Abu Zahra was the third journalist apparently killed by Israeli army gunfire in the West Bank this year. Raffaele Ciriello, an Italian free-lance photographer for the daily Corriere della Serra, was killed in Ramallah on 13 March. Amjad Al-Alami, a cameraman for a local Palestinian TV station, was killed five days later in Hebron.

Since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, a total of seven journalists have been killed in the fighting, at least five of them by Israeli gunfire. IPI has documented 60 further incidents of media workers otherwise injured with live ammunition, shelling, shrapnel or rubber coated metal bullets. All or nearly all of these attacks were perpetrated by Israeli forces. Although Israel claims that it respects and upholds press freedom, no Israeli soldier has yet been punished for any of the nearly 180 press freedom violations in total committed by Israeli authorities that IPI documented in the Intifada so far. Only one soldier has been reprimanded, for the shooting of a female journalist in the back, but he was allowed to continue serving with the same rank.

IPI suspects that the shooting of Abu Zahra and Dahla may have been yet another attempt by the Israeli army to restrict the free flow of information through the intimidation and suppression of the news media. It may also have been an unintended result of extreme recklessness. In either case, the use of firearms against journalists is illegal under international laws and treaties to which Israel is a signatory, including Articles 19 and 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Articles 50, 51 and 79 of the Geneva Convention.

IPI joins other organisations in calling for a thorough investigation into the incident and calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

By not disciplining soldiers for such violations, Your Excellency’s government is displaying ignorance of the crucial role played by a free and independent media. The consequent impunity encourages further press freedom violations.