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Israel intentionally shoots to kill journalists covering Palestinian side
By Neveen A. Salem

When Joshua Hammer, chief of Newsweek's Jerusalem bureau, and British photographer Gary Knight were symbolically kidnapped by Palestinian resistance movement members on 29 May, media reports immediately pounced upon the oft-used and worn-out "Muslim Palestinian terrorist" rhetoric in order to exploit the incident.

However, when the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) released their reports highlighting dozens of incidents in which journalists have been shot or shot at by Israeli occupation forces, barely a peep emerged from the media. Even from the same journalists and media establishments so concerned about Hammer and Knight.

According to Hammer, he realized that the "kidnapping" was symbolic and commented that he and Knight were treated well, served lunch and apologized to after the incident.

In his Newsweek article following the incident he said, "In the end, our detention lasted only four hours. There were handshakes and apologies…The kidnapping had indeed been symbolic." (1)

Knight told the BBC that no one had been harmed or mistreated during the incident. He said that he and Hammer had arranged an interview with the Fatah Hawks for midday on Tuesday and after about an hour of talking they were informed that they had been kidnapped.

''They said the kidnap[ing] was largely symbolic,'' he told the BBC. ''It was to send a message to Bush and Blair that they held them responsible for the situation of the Palestinian people and once that message had been broadcast we would be released.''

''They seemed very upset that elements of the Western media, particularly the American media, portrayed the Palestinians in a very negative light and the Israelis in a very positive light. They wanted to make that point." (2)

Palestinian officials condemned the detention, and Mohammed Dahlan, head of the Palestinian Preventive Security force in Gaza, said those responsible would be brought to justice. "We are very sorry for this shameful act," Dahlan said. "The Palestinian Authority respects the freedom of speech and the freedom of journalism." (3)

But what of the reports documenting Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) shooting easily recognizable journalists? Once again, the international community has been mislead by an anti-Palestinian media that is bent on safeguarding and justifying Israeli aggression against all those in favor of reporting on the true state of violence in the Occupied Territories, even at the expense of their own journalists. Journalists from the Associated Press, Reuters, Newsweek, CNN and Agence France-Presse, have been targeted, despite the fact that many state they were nowhere near any "crossfire" and were often even standing on the "Israeli side."

Patrick Baz of Agence France Presse was shot in the finger while he was about to snap a picture of Israeli forces shooting at stone-throwing Palestinian protesters in Ramallah. "It was obvious [we were journalists]. We were wearing white helmets and flak jackets," he said." I got it on my finger while [my finger] was on my camera…I can't say it was a stray bullet" (CPJ, p.10).

But Israeli attacks against journalists don't stop with Western and Arab journalists, the number of which has been plenty. Rather, the Israeli government is so afraid that the international community will gain further evidence of what it already knows - that Israel is in fact a brutal occupying government that will use any means necessary to quell a legitimate anti-occupation movement and those seeking to report on it - that it has even taken to targeting Israeli reporters covering the continued conflict in the Middle East.

CPJ documents that Avichai Nudel, a photographer for the Israeli daily Maariv, was wounded in the stomach by a bullet fired by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) while he was covering "clashes" between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Nudel told CPJ, "I wasn't in the middle of the clashes," and that he and other journalists "were standing behind some cars and not in the line of fire."

Maariv editor, Yaacov Erez wrote, "Avichai was shot from a 40 meter [43 yards] range. It was not accidentally discharged or a stray bullet. It is possible that the soldier who shot him had intended to shoot at the journalists who were covering the unrest…"

Among the dozens of journalists who have been targeted are Christine Hauser, Ahmed Bahadou and Suhaib Salem of Reuters, who said they were openly and deliberately targeted by the IDF, despite the fact that "Bahadou and Salem were pointing their cameras in the opposite direction…. Hauser had taken out her notebook….[and] made eye contact with the IDF gunner in order to assure him that they were press…" (CPJ, p. 5).

IDF and Israeli officials emphatically deny that they have actively and systematically targeted journalists reporting on the Palestinian uprising against illegal Israeli occupation.

In response to the above allegation, IDF spokesman Olivier Rafowicz told CPJ that the gunfire from an Israeli armored carrier was really "warning shots." He added that the journalists failed to inform the IDF ahead of time that they were going to be there - even though Reuters says that the IDF requires no such notification from journalists working in that area (CPJ, p.5).

In an official response to CPJ's document, At Risk Covering the Intifada: Documented Cases of Journalists Shot in Israel and the Occupied Territories, David Irvy, Israel's Ambassador to the U.S., "categorically rejects the implication that Israel deliberately targets journalists." He says, "On the contrary the standing orders of the IDF explicitly prohibits such behavior" (CPJ, p. 2).

Is that so? I think that the IDF may need to be reminded of these "standing orders".

The journalists themselves assert that Israel does in fact systematically target journalists. Paris-Match photographer Thierry Esch told Agence France-Press that she was standing next to reporter Jacques Marie Bourget when he was shot by the IDF. "Of course it was fired by an Israeli. Everyone knows it" (CPJ, p.10).

"From where he [Bourget] was standing, only those in front of him could have hit him. And those in front of him were Israeli soldiers," said Patrick Jarnoux, Paris-Match deputy editor. "He was nowhere near the clashes, standing alone with a photographer." Jarnoux added, "And a 57-year-old-man can't easily be mistaken for a 15-year-old rock thrower" (CPJ, p.10).

Despite witness statements, a Paris-Match editor states that the magazine "does not believe he [Bourget} was targeted intentionally" (CPJ, p.10).

Sadly, this does seem to be the same sentiment echoed by much of the Western, particularly American, media. They seem to abandon their journalists when the reputation of Israel is at risk, but come to their aid with guns blazing when Palestinian "terrorists" detain journalists.

The Western media, despite unequivocal evidence that Israel is in fact trying to violently quell any Palestinian resistance, be it from Palestinian demonstrators or journalists seeking to illuminate the truth to the world, has proven that it will not report on such behavior. Why? That remains a vexing question that denies all logic and journalistic integrity.

Journalism must be unbiased and objective, despite which "allies" may be criticized. Fifty-three years after the establishment of Israel, a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has yet to be reached. However, the international community is finally on the path towards realizing that Israel may in fact be more of a problem than a victim.

The media however, for the most part, is still a far way from fulfilling its role as an objective witness charged with the responsibility of accurately and honestly reporting on the conflict in the Middle East.

It is not unreasonable to assume that if the international community were truly privy to the actual events surrounding the conflict and facts on the ground, lawmakers would be more apt towards seeking a just and fair solution to the conflict rather than continually justifying their actions through reports by an unforgiving media that seems to sacrifice its own for the sake of perpetuating the notion that Israel can do no wrong.

(1) Hammer, Josh. "We've Been Kidnapped." Newsweek Magazine. June 11, 2001. pg.20.
(2) "Journalists Released in the Middle East." Online Journalism Review. The European Journalism Centre. May 30, 2001.
(3) "Palestinian Militants Briefly Seize British, American Journalists." Risk Services International (RSI). May 30, 2001.
Sources: "At Risk: Covering the Intifada. Documented Cases of Journalists Shot in Israel and the Occupied Territories." Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). June 1, 2001; "Palestinian Journalists Targeted By Israeli Army: Eight Wounded By Rubber Coated Metal Bullets." LAW- The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment. March 16, 1998;
"Silencing the Press: A Report on Israeli aggression Against Journalists. September 29 -November 20, 2000." Palestinian Commission on Human Rights.


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