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Journalists under fire

Mel Frykberg, West Bank
July 27, 2015

Israel is fighting several diplomatic and military battles. However, one war it may be losing is over its treatment of journalists. As Mel Frykberg reports from the West Bank, the pen is often mightier than the sword.

Image: DW/M. Frykberg

The Israeli foreign ministry released a video recently ridiculing the foreign media as being naive and uninformed prompting the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel to slam the ministry.

The Tel Aviv-based FPA said it was "surprised and alarmed by the foreign ministry's decision to produce a cartoon mocking the foreign media's coverage of last year's war in Gaza."

"Posting misleading and poorly conceived videos on YouTube is inappropriate, unhelpful and undermines the ministry, which says it respects the foreign press and its freedom to work in Gaza."

The release of the video coincided with a letter published in the Israeli daily Haaretz by Robert Mahoney, the deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, attacking Israel's treatment of journalists.

"One year and numerous inquiries later, we still don't know the whole truth behind the staggering death toll among journalists and media workers during Israel's Operation Protective Edge in Gaza," said Mahoney.

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have dismissed the latest United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry report on the Gaza war as 'defective and biased' but that does not mean Israel can move on with a clear conscience as far as the journalists' deaths are concerned. More media staff members were killed in Gaza during the 50-day conflict than in the rest of the world combined over that period," said Mahoney.

The International Middle East Media Center says that 17 journalists were killed in Gaza, while Reporters Without Borders gave the figure as 15, most of them Palestinian.

Journalists living dangerously

However, these figures do not include the high number of injured Palestinian journalists who are regularly targeted by Israeli security forces, including being shot at and assaulted.

The FPA has regularly complained about the indiscriminate targeting of foreign and Palestinian journalists by Israeli security forces.

"The Foreign Press Association condemns in the strongest terms the abusive behaviour of Israeli security forces toward photographers covering the weekly protest in Nebi Salah," said the group in a statement several months ago.

"During the unrest, soldiers pushed, cursed and beat photographers on the scene. In one incident caught on video, a soldier threw a stone at an AFP photographer, chased him and then violently threw him to the ground - all without any signs of provocation. Unfortunately, this is not the first time our members have been subjected to such behaviour," added the FPA.

DW was present during a number of these incidents and at no time were there any verbal or physical confrontations between the journalists and security forces. The journalists involved were also standing out of the way of the clashes and moved away when ordered to do so by the security forces.

man with gas mask copyright: Mel Frykberg
Journalists say they are being unfairly targetedImage: DW/M. Frykberg


"They're trying to intimidate us and stop us doing our work. They are particularly harsh with Palestinian journalists because we cover most of the events in the West Bank and Gaza, often when there is no foreign media present," Jaffer Shtayyeh, a Palestinian photojournalist with AFP for the past 19 years, tells DW.

Shtayyeh, 47, a father of six children, says he was clubbed and beaten up by Israeli soldiers in the village of Kafr Qaddoum in the northern West Bank several years ago, sustaining a broken hand.

Kamal Qaddoumi, 25, a local photographer tells DW that his finger was broken after he too was clubbed by the soldiers in the same village as he covered clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli security forces.

Photographer Nidal Shtayyeh, who works for the Chinese news agency Xinhau, says he lost 70 percent usage of his left eye after Israeli soldiers shot him in the face with a rubber bullet while he was covering a small protest near Nablus in the northern West Bank.

Nidal applied twice, once through the Red Cross and once through a lawyer, for a permit from the Israeli authorities to enter Jerusalem for specialist treatment at St John's Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem as there was no specialist in the West Bank. However he was refused permission by Israel's domestic intelligence agency with no reason given despite inquiries by the media.

Israeli military engagement rules state that teargas canisters have to be shot in an upward arc from a safe distance to avoid serious injuries.

man with helmet copyright: Mel Frykberg
Despite the intimidation, journalists remain committed to their workImage: DW/M. Frykberg

Committed to the cause

Despite the risks, the Palestinian journalists are committed to their work. "We risk physical assault, serious injuries and even our lives are under threat. We feel a sense of danger every time we cover an event," Shtayyeh tells DW. "However, getting the story out is essential and I love my job."

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Israel Defence Forces told DW that "the IDF takes unprecedented measures in order to avoid harming civilians. However, it is incumbent upon reporters to be aware that their presence in a combat area increases the danger to their safety. All unusual incidents are investigated by the Military Police, the findings of which are then transferred to the Military Advocate General for examination."

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