Israeli-Palestinian clashes: journalists caught in the crossfire

As journalist Jacques-Marie Bourget of French magazine Paris-Match was shot and badly injured in Ramallah on 21 October, Reporters sans frontières (RSF - Reporters Without Borders) has voiced its consternation at the security risks being run by journalists in Gaza and the West Bank. Since 28 September, journalists have been increasingly targeted, threatened and intimidated by Israelis (both soldiers and civilians) and by Palestinians (police and civilians). RSF appealed to both sides to end this pressure and to guarantee the safety of journalists so they can cover events freely. In this conflict, both sides realise how crucial film and photos are in the contest for the support of international opinion. Robert Ménard, RSF General Secretary, has already pointed out violations of press freedom on both sides. In a report published in October 1999 RSF said that most of the 11 journalists wounded by Israeli solders during the clashes following the opening of the Hasmonean Tunnel, were deliberately targeted. Over the last five years more than 70 journalists have been assaulted by Israeli security forces. At the same time, in the territories under the Palestinian Authority, journalists who dare criticise its policies have been regularly attacked or arrested. Since 1995, more than 50 journalists have been arrested and more that 20 assaulted by Palestinian security forces.

Since 28 September, at least eight Palestinian journalists have been hit by Israeli bullets. On 29 September, freelance journalist Khaled al-Zeghary; Associated Press cameraman Hazem Bader; freelance photographer Mahfouz Abu-Turk and Awad Awad, photographer with Agence France-Presse, were wounded by Israeli shooting in Jerusalem. On 30 September, a cameraman with the French TV channel France 2, Talal Hassan Abu Rahma, filmed the killing of a Palestinian boy by the Israeli army - footage that was shown around the world and had a huge impact on international opinion. Shortly afterwards, the France 2 correspondent in Jerusalem, Charles Enderlin, received telephone threats, apparently from “Jewish extremists”. On 1 October, in Hebron, a cameraman with the US channel ABC, Amer al-Jabari, was shot in the head and hospitalised. On 2 October, also in Hebron, Israeli soldiers shot at Reuters journalists Mazen Da’na and Lu’ay Abu-Haikal, and Wael al-Shiokhy, a journalist with the local TV Al-Nawras. On 4 October, a photographer for the Israeli press agency Zoom 77, Atta Oweisat, was clubbed by Israeli policemen while covering a Palestinian demonstration in Jabel Moukaber, near Jerusalem. On 12 October, during reprisals for the lynching of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, the Israeli army fired rockets at the aerial of the official Palestinian radio The Voice of Palestine.

Journalists also come under continuous pressure and threats from the Palestinians. On 12 October, a large number of journalists were present when two Israeli soldiers were lynched in Ramallah police station. Footage shot by a cameraman with the private Italian television channel RTI were shown around the world. (The film later allowed the Israeli authorities to identify and arrest some Palestinians). Several film crews were assaulted by Palestinian civilians and policemen who ripped out videotapes and in some cases seized cameras as well. Bertrand Aguirre, correspondent with the French channel TF1, was assaulted by Palestinians after filming at the scene in Ramallah. In a letter addressed to the Palestinian Authority on October 16 and carried in the Palestinian daily El Hayat el Jadida, a journalist with the national Italian TV Rai, Riccardo Christiano, defended his channel, saying it did not shoot the footage in question. He acknowledged implicitly that he respected the Palestinian Authority’s rules of censorship: “We have always respected (and will continue to do so) the Palestinian national authority’s procedures for journalists when working in Palestine”, he said. Following the events in Ramallah, Palestinian police have stepped up checks on journalists, making them produce not only their press cards but also their passports.

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