Media freedom advocates monitoring the sustained Israeli attacks on Palestinian territories this weekend accused the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) of mounting a systematic campaign of harassment against journalists covering the military incursions.
Two leading media watchdogs, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres, or RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), have issued strong statements in recent days condemning IDF actions which wounded, injured, threatened, and in one case killed, journalists from a range of foreign news outlets.
"The press freedom situation has deteriorated as never before in Israel's history," said RSF in a statement published Sunday. "The Israeli army is knowingly targeting journalists in a deliberate policy of intimidation," the Paris-based group said.
The group was reacting to reports Friday of IDF gun and grenade attacks aimed at 24 reporters parked across the street from the headquarters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, one of six major cities in the West Bank that have been brought directly under Israeli control in the most recent stage of the offensive.
The journalists had driven to the West Bank capital in armored press cars to cover a meeting between Arafat and visiting United States envoy Anthony Zinni when a military vehicle rammed a CNN car twice, and soldiers threw several stun grenades, one of which exploded at the foot of CNN reporter Michael Holmes, according to reports. Although no injuries were reported, a bullet hole was later discovered in the CNN car.
An Israeli army spokeswoman was quoted by The Washington Post as saying that the soldiers threw stun grenades at the journalists because they did not "cease and desist. This is a closed military zone and they should not have been there in the first place."
The incident was the latest in a string of attacks on the press that RSF has documented since the intifada, or uprising, began in September, 2000. Fifty-three journalists have been wounded over that period, mostly by Israeli gunfire, according to the group.
RSF said that at least five journalists had been wounded since March 29, and 20 had come under fire. Those wounded included Carlos Handal, a cameraman for an Egyptian television station, Anthony Shahid, an American correspondent for The Boston Globe, and Majadi Banura, a cameraman for the Qatari Al-Jazeera television station. At least eight Palestinian journalists had been arrested.
Last month Italian photographer Raffaele Ciriello became the first foreign journalist killed in the conflict when he was shot dead in Ramallah amid a hail of Israeli machine-gun fire.
"We are outraged by the Israeli army's continuing attacks against journalists," said CPJ's Middle East program coordinator Joel Campagna. "We call on the IDF to lift the restrictions now in place on media access to several towns and cities of the West Bank," he said in an appeal Friday.
The appeal was given an international dimension by comments from the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Koichiro Matsuura, who said, "Everywhere in the world, and in all circumstance, freedom of expression and press freedom are basic rights. There can be no justification to slighting them...I solemnly call on Israel to respect [these rights] scrupulously."
Copyright © 2002 OneWorld.net