by Khalid Amayreh | english.aljazeera.net | 21 December 2003
The international press organisation “Reporters Sans Frontiers” (RSF) recently lambasted Israel for abusing and harassing Palestinian and foreign journalists covering the Intifada against Israeli occupation.
The Paris-based group did recognise that Israel generally respected “the local (Jewish) media freedom of expression”, but criticised Israel for violating the international covenant on civil and political rights, including press freedom, especially in the occupied territories.
“Since the start of the Israeli army’s incursions into Palestinian towns and cities in March 2002, very many journalists have been roughed up, threatened, arrested, banned from moving around, targeted by gunfire, wounded or injured, had their press cards withdrawn or been deported,” it said.
Israeli troops have also killed at least 10 journalists since the outbreak of the Intifada in late August, 2000, including two European journalists covering Israeli raids into Palestinian population centres.
Aljazeera.net has spoken to dozens of Palestinian and foreign journalists in the West Bank and Israel.
Virtually all of them agreed that Israeli attacks on press freedom have assumed unprecedented ferocity, especially in the past three years.
“There is press freedom in Israel as long as you say and write good things about Sharon, the settlers and the occupation army.
"However, as soon as you start reporting the ugly reality, the rough treatment begins,” says Nawwaf al-Amer, a Palestinian journalist from Nablus who was imprisoned and tortured for eight months last year for “incitement against Israel and the IDF”.
Al-Amer, who spent 25 “nightmarish days” in Israel’s most notorious top-secret prison, known as Facility no 1391, said he lost all feeling in the right side of his head and face as a result of “sustained abuse and mistreatment”.
“They only told me they wanted to teach me the difference between journalism and incitement.”
Palestinian spokespersons accuse Israel of deliberately “abusing, intimidating and eventually killing journalists” in order to prevent the Palestinian viewpoint from getting through to the international public opinion.
“They use a variety of tactics to effect this goal, including opening fire on reporters in the field and then claim that they were killed or injured in ‘crossfire’ or ‘mistaken for terrorists’ or simply ‘operating in a closed military zone,’” says Yaqub Shahin, a Palestinian Ministry of Information spokesman.
Shahin produced a prepared list of the names of 10 Palestinian and foreign reporters, cameramen and photojournalists killed by the Israeli army in the period between 19 October 2000 and 2 May 2003.
He charged that the killings were carried out “knowingly and deliberately and without any rational justification”.
“When it comes to journalists, I assure you that Israeli soldiers are more than trigger-happy. They shoot first and then ask questions.”
In several recorded cases, Israeli soldiers took aim at photographers and cameramen following a mishap or an incident, or after sustaining casualties.
For instance, on 11 July 2002, an Israeli armoured personnel carrier (APC) operating in the northern West Bank of Jenin drove into an electricity pole, knocking it down and subsequently causing the live wires to land atop the military vehicle.
In response to the self-incurred blunder, soldiers in accompanying tanks fired high-velocity bullets at Palestinian photographer Imad Abu Zahra for taking a snapshot of the embarrassing incident.
The large calibre bullets opened a grapefruit-size wound in his right thigh, ravaging more than eight centimetres of his femoral artery.
Likewise, an Israeli soldier mounting another APC shot and killed Italian photojournalist Raffaele Cireillo on 13 March 2002, as the Corriere della Sera photographer was taking snap shots of Israeli tanks rumbling into Ram Allah.
On 2 May 2003, British film producer James Miller was killed in Gaza by Israeli soldiers while preparing a documentary film on the effect of Israeli violence on Palestinian children.
Seeking to win the “PR war,” Israel sought from the very inception of the Intifada to “silence Palestinian voices” by “whatever means necessary”.
Indeed, at the begining of the uprising, Israeli F-16 fighter jets bombed and destroyed the Voice of Palestine (VOP) Radio in Ram Allah, knocking it off the air.
Israeli officials then defended the bombing, claiming the station was indulging “in incitement and propaganda”.
Soon afterwards, the Israeli army began targeting some privately owned FM radio stations, which began to function as substitutes for the VOP, vandalising a number of these outlets, such as Radio Amwaj in Ram Allah.
When the Israeli army re-occupied all population centres previously run by the PA in 2002, troops acting under the pretext of fighting human bombings, vandalised and ransacked several press offices, studios and presses.
In addition, many Palestinian journalists were arrested, and some of them are still in jail.
In most cases, the detainees were kept in “administrative detention” for a minimum of six months, indefinitely renewable, without even knowing why they were being detained.
“I really don’t know why I was imprisoned for six months. They didn’t talk to me at all,” says Hussam Abu Allan, an AFP photographer from Hebron who spent six months in the notorious desert detention camp “Kitziot” near the Egyptian borders.
A similar testimony was given by Nizar Ramadan, a Hebron-based journalist who was jailed for 15 months for “incitement and giving a subversive lecture at Hebron University”.
"We don’t differentiate between ordinary Palestinians and Palestinians who claim to be journalists"
Palestinian journalists are normally denied Israeli press cards from the Government Press Office (GPO) in West Jerusalem.
Not being able to obtain the card means not only the inability to enter Israel proper, but East Jerusalem as well. It also prevents journalists from passing through the ubiquitous Israeli army roadblocks throughout the West Bank.
More recently, the GPO adopted harsher procedure in granting press cards to all non-Israeli journalists.
According to the new procedure, a foreign journalist must obtain security clearance from the Shin Beth, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency.
Israeli officials are tight-lipped on what criteria the Shin Beth is adopting in granting or denying applicants the GPO press card.
However, most Palestinian and foreign journalists have interpreted the stringent measure as an intimidation tactic aimed at bullying them to report pro-Israeli news and views.
When asked to respond to Palestinian journalists’ grievances about Israeli mistreatment, Israeli officials were less than charitable.
“We are under no obligation to help Palestinian journalists enter Israel. We don’t differentiate between ordinary Palestinians and Palestinians who claim to be journalists,” said Daniel Seaman, GPO Director.
After Aljazeera.net reminded Seaman that Israel was the de facto ruling power in the West Bank, Seaman said, “The Israeli army is only conducting security operations there.”
When further pressed to explain why the Israeli army is harassing Palestinian journalists and preventing them from freely travelling within the West Bank, Seaman said, “Israel is under no obligation to help those who undermine her image.”