Fighting between the army and Palestinian militants did not spare journalists in 2007, though none were killed. Israeli journalists continue to show their independence of the government, something quite rare in the region.
The Israeli authorities are capable of the worst and the best when it comes to press freedom. Despite military censorship, the media continues to enjoy genuine freedom. However, while getting the best marks in the region (44th in the world) in the Reporters Without Borders worldwide press freedom index, its record is badly marred by Israeli army violence against media workers in the occupied Palestinian Territories.
Sixteen journalists were injured when troops fired real or rubber bullets or percussion or teargas grenades during 2007. Palestinian photographer Abbas Momani, of the French news agency Agence France-Presse, received head injuries from a plastic bullet while covering a demonstration against the Israeli “separation wall” at Bilin, on the West Bank, on 25 May. The army reportedly fired on a group of journalists to disperse them. Al-Aqsa TV cameraman Imad Ghanem was seriously wounded by Israeli soldiers on 5 July as he filmed an army operation near the Gaza Strip’s Al-Barij camp. He lost the use of both legs.
The TV station Al-Afaq went off the air on 12 December after its equipment was seized during an army raid on its offices in Nablus, on the West Bank.
Golan journalist deprived of his rights
Ata Farahat, correspondent for Syrian public TV and the daily newspaper Al-Watan in the Golan Heights, was arrested at his home there on 30 July and reportedly accused of “making contacts with an enemy country.” He is being held at Al-Jalama prison (14 km southeast of Haifa) and has been refused conditional release. His lawyers and the Israeli media have been gagged by a court order banning publication of details of the case. He was still in jail at the beginning of 2008.
In a similar incident, Ron Ben Yishai, of the daily Yediot Aharonot, Lisa Goldman, of TV station 10, and Tzur Shizat, of a geographical magazine, were interrogated by police in December for visiting Syria in 2007 without permission. All Israelis must get an interior ministry permit before visiting “enemy” countries.
Israel army soldiers unpunished
Britain asked in June for the reopening of the investigation into the 2003 death in the Gaza Strip of freelance journalist James Miller. An Israeli autopsy showed he had been killed by a bullet from an M-16 assault rifle fired by an Israeli soldier. The army closed the enquiry in 2005 after 18 months for “lack of evidence.” British investigators went to Jerusalem in September 2007 to present their conclusions to the prosecutor-general.
Lawyers for French reporter Jacques-Marie Bourget, seriously wounded by Israeli gunfire in Ramallah in October 2000, are trying to get the authorities to help them hold hearings. A complaint has been filed in a French court for attempted murder. Disciplinary proceedings have reportedly been held in the army but the results have not been disclosed. Bourget is 42% incapacitated.