Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday it strongly condemns the violence used by Israeli forces against Palestinian, Israeli and foreign photojournalists covering demonstrations against Israel’s West Bank separation barrier and the continuing colonisation of Palestinian territory.
The press freedom organization deplores the total impunity enjoyed by the soldiers responsible for these abuses.
On 10 February, two Palestinian journalists were injured by tear gas grenades and rubber bullets fired by Israeli soldiers as they were covering a weekly protest in the village of Nabi Saleh against the barrier and encroachment on their land. They included Ahmed Maslah, who works as a cameraman for the Turkish television station TRT and a photographer for the New York Times.
Witnesses told Reporters Without Borders the soldiers appeared deliberately to fire tear gas grenades and rubber bullets in the direction of the journalists after barring them from areas where Palestinian youths clashed with Israeli soldiers.
On the same day, two other journalists were slightly injured in Kufr Qaddoum, in the northern part of the West Bank near Qalqilyah – a French reporter and a correspondent for Nablus TV, Bakr Abd Al-Haq – while they were reporting on a peaceful weekly protest.
On 27 January, the Palestinian photojournalist Moheeb Al-Barghouti was wounded in the legs by rubber bullets fired by a soldier as he covered the weekly protest in the Palestinian village of Bil’in. A reporter for Palestine Public TV, Haron Amayreh, also received a leg wound from a tear gas grenade.
On 31 December, Palestinian cameraman Ashraf Abu Shaouish from the local television agency Pal Media was targeted by tear gas grenades fired by Israeli soldiers while he was filming clashes between Palestinians and Israeli armed forces which broke out during a non-violent protest against the separation barrier in the village of Assira near Nablus. He was taken to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus for treatment.
On 18 December, Israeli troops accosted two reporters from the satellite station Al Quds during a live broadcast outside the Ofer prison near Ramallah of the release of Palestinian prisoners under the exchange deal between Israel and Hamas.
Reporters Without Borders has on many occasions asked the Israeli army to undertake independent and impartial investigations into such incidents in order to identify and punish those responsible.
Even when the army does carry out an investigation, it seldom reaches any real conclusions.
Such was the case with the Israeli photographer Mati Milstein, who filed complaints against the army’s Alexandroni brigade after he and other photojournalists were the target of an attack by soldiers on the outskirts of the village of Nabi Saleh last July. He received a response from the army on 22 December.
The letter from army spokeswoman Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovich is a stonewalling exercise. It says the army responded appropriately to what it considered a “violent and illegal demonstration”. She did not go over what actually took place in Nabi Saleh.
She stressed that the complaint was not appropriate because of the dangers present in the West Bank areas concerned, adding: “Sometimes the media are caught in the eye of the storm”.
She said the profession of photojournalist meant incurring certain risks. In an article published on the Web, Milstein takes issue with the army’s response.
He says a clear distinction exists between the risks incurred by journalists on the ground when covering an event and being the target of soldiers who deliberately open fire.
Reporters Without Borders is outraged at this insulting and totally inadequate response from the Israeli Defense Forces, which continually protect the army at the expense of freedom of information.