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Israel and the Occup. Terr.


-  Area: 20,325 sq. km.
-  Occupied Territories: 7,477 sq. km.
-  Population: 6,172,000
-  Languages: Hebrew and Arabic
-  Type of state: republic
-  Head of state: President Moshe Katzav
-  Head of government: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

Israel and the Occupied Territories - Annual report 2003

Political negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians were deadlocked at the end of 2002. Israeli repression and Palestinian suicide-bombings had killed more than 2,850 people, three quarters of them Palestinians, since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000. The year also saw a new low in relations between the foreign media and the Israeli government, which accused journalists of being biased and was determined to win the "media war." Western and Arab (especially Palestinian) journalists were obstructed daily while doing their job. Three were killed and eight others wounded by gunfire while reporting in the Occupied Territories.

While the United States sought the backing of Arab states for its war on terrorism, sending Gen. Anthony Zinni to try to kickstart regional peace talks, Israeli troops stepped up their destruction of the symbols of the Palestinian Authority in the autonomous territories.

After a wave of bloody attacks inside Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent the army on 29 March to reoccupy the major cities on the West Bank and ignored US and other foreign appeals to withdraw immediately.

Israel did not pull out until May and then returned in mid-June with carte blanche from Washington. US President George W. Bush yielded to Israeli demands by saying peace required a new Palestinian leadership. Israeli army chief Gen. Moshe Yaalon then stepped up the offensive against Palestinian terrorism and intensified the policy of targeted killings.

In early September, Sharon publicly and definitively junked the 1993 Oslo Accords and other attempts over the years to reach a settlement. "There’s no going back," he said, but did not suggest a peace proposal of his own.

The Labour Party, including foreign minister Shimon Peres, pulled out of the government in October as general elections approached and Sharon formed a new coalition with the ultra-nationalist far-right. He beat former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s challenge to his leadership of the Likud Party but the vote was marred by accusations of vote-buying. The Labour Party chose Haifa mayor Amram Mitzna, a former general, to lead it into the 28 January 2003 parliamentary elections.

After several serious incidents, including the death in Jenin of British UN refugee official Iain Hook in November, relations between Israel and international organisations became more strained than ever.

Continued suicide-bombings, the radicalisation of Israeli society and the government’s systematic resort to military force affected press freedom very badly during the year. Times were difficult for the Israeli press, which is traditionally critical of the authorities. When, in late April, Sharon called on the media to be more "patriotic," there was no objection. The ministry in charge of public broadcasting and the prime minister’s office repeated the message regularly to the public broadcast media. The chief news editor of the main public TV station was reproached for giving air time to Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN official who put together the Oslo Accords and made himself very unpopular in Israel with his perceived criticism after visiting the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin in April.

The government stepped up its efforts, begun after the September 2000 Palestinian uprising, to get state media journalists to use certain terms and not others. "We have been asked not to call the Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories ’settlements’ but ’localities’ or ’villages,’" said one journalist who did not want his name used. Some presenters got involved in the conflict by talking of "our troops" and "our soldiers."

At the end of April, the daily paper Haaretz reprinted an official guide to terminology issued to journalists of the state-run Kol Israel (Voice of Israel) radio station’s Arabic-language version, Reshet Dalet. Dead Palestinians were not to be called "victims" but the more neutral word "dead." While the Israeli army used the term "targeted killings" of Palestinians, the journalists were to say they had simply been "killed." If a member of parliament contradicted the prime minister, he must not be said to have "refuted" or "contradicted" him but to have "expressed his objections," the guide said.

Dissenting voices had a rough time in both the media and civil society. Haaretz’s media specialist Aviv Lavie noted the hardening of attitudes. "Some commentators have taken a clear nationalistic line," he said. "But opinions in editorials don’t bother me. Israeli society has turned sharply to the right. Journalists too, and it shows in their work. Reporting must give a balanced view of what’s going on and that isn’t entirely happening these days. In wartime, journalists must force themselves to give the viewpoint of the other side. At present, they’re exercising a kind of self-censorship."

Ironically, he added, it was the army radio station Galei Tsahal that was broadcasting the most critical programmes. However, Liron Taani, presenter of the station’s very popular music programme "Essek Shahor," was sacked on 22 February by station chief Avi Benayahu for saying on the air the day before:

"For years I’ve been dreaming of peace. But now planes are wiping out Arabs and Arabs are wiping out Jews. Thank you, Ariel Sharon. Sharon I love you. Now we can’t bring up children in this country."

Mordechai Shlar, head of the second public Israeli TV station, announced on 18 April that the station would reduce its coverage of the refusenik movement (the soldiers who refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories) on grounds that it was a fleeting development which should not be exaggerated.

The foreign media was also greatly restricted in its reporting of the military operations in the Occupied Territories. In January, the Foreign Press Association protested at the Israeli government’s refusal to renew the accreditation of at least 70 Palestinian journalists working for foreign media.

The Israeli government decided for "security reasons" to sharply reduce the number of Palestinian journalists with press cards. They also refused to accredit foreign TV technicians to protect Israeli jobs. Charles Enderlin, correspondent of the French TV station France 2, noted that foreign TV stations "can’t send Israeli journalists into the Palestinian territories because it would be too dangerous for them, but at the same time it would cost too much to bring in more staff from abroad."

The government’s aim was clearly to restrict and control as much as possible the film coverage of the conflict. For the first time, all foreign media got together in a joint protest, which included the three main international news agencies (AP, Reuters and AFP), the three main US TV networks (ABC, CBS and NBC), as well as CNN, the BBC and several European, Canadian and Japanese stations. The French government urged Israel on 22 January to accredit "without delay" the Palestinian journalists and to "compensate" the management of The Voice of Palestine radio and TV station whose headquarters in Ramallah were blown up by the Israeli army on 19 January in reprisal for an attack in the northern Israeli town of Hadera.

Remarks in June by CNN founder Ted Turner, in an interview in the British daily The Guardian, accusing Israel of "state terrorism" set off a quarrel between CNN and US Jewish organisations that degenerated into an open dispute with the Israeli authorities. The Israeli media reported that Jewish settlers on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip were being encouraged not to have any dealings with CNN journalists because of the network’s "biased" coverage.

The British BBC was also threatened with loss of its satellite TV audience in Israel for broadcasting a documentary about the 1982 massacres in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon which pointed to the involvement of Sharon, who was then defence minister.

The Israelis also accused CNN and the BBC of being "anti-Israel" and "encouraging terrorism." Telecommunications minister Ruben Rivlin said on 23 June that he was inclined to agree that the two networks should be removed from the package of stations offered to Israelis by the satellite TV company Yes which serves a large number of Israeli homes. The company said it was not a matter of censorship but a question of "opening up to the competition" and said it planned to add the US news network Fox News, owned by the pro-Israeli press baron Rupert Murdoch.

Government press office chief Daniel Seaman, when asked by Haaretz for examples of the "errors" committed by foreign media, said that "all our efforts to get CNN to stop calling Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] ’occupied territories’ have failed."

On 1 June, foreign minister Shimon Peres accused the pan-Arab Qatar-based TV station Al-Jazeera of "inciting hatred." The station called his attack "stupid" and shameful and accused the Israelis of being two-faced over the renewal of press cards for journalists working in the Occupied Territories. "They’re giving some of our people cards only valid for a month and they’re renewing some cards but refusing to consider others," a station spokesman said.

The Palestinian media was militarily and economically worst hit by the conflict. Nabil al-Khatib, an expert on the Palestinian press, said the Israeli army was determined to weaken the media based in Ramallah because they covered the whole of the Palestinian territories. In the streets, the army did everything it could to intimidate and harass journalists. Apart from occupied Palestinian cities being several times declared "closed military zones," the clear message was that journalists were unwelcome. "They’re biased, pro-Arab and waging war on us with false and damaging reports," the prime minister’s office told the daily paper Maariv on 30 October.

The toll of the conflict on journalists was a sombre one. Three were killed, including two photographers, eight wounded in shooting, 70 came under gunfire and the offices of least 15 foreign and Palestinian media were occupied or destroyed by the Israeli army.

Three journalists killed

Raffaele Ciriello, 42, a photographer working for the Italian daily paper Corriere della Sera, was shot dead on 13 March 2002 while covering clashes in the centre of Ramallah, which had been declared a "closed military zone." Amedeo Ricucci, of the Italian TV station Rai Uno, who was with him, said he was not wearing a bulletproof jacket. He was standing behind a group of armed Palestinians when an Israeli tank about 150 metres away began automatic fire. Ambulances could not reach the scene because of the intense shooting. Ciriello was taken by Palestinians to the Arab Care hospital, where he died soon afterwards from six bullet wounds in the chest and stomach. Foreign minister Shimon Peres expressed his condolences to Ciriello’s family.

In August, the army said it had "no evidence or knowledge that a soldier opened fire on him," but did not explain where the shots that killed him came from. His family filed a formal complaint against the army.

Freelance photographer Imad Abu Zahra, 35, died on 12 July after being seriously wounded in the leg by Israel army gunfire in Jenin. The previous day, the curfew had been lifted and he had gone to the city centre with Said Dahla, a photographer for the Palestinian news agency WAFA. Enquiries showed that Israeli armoured cars fired on them without warning and, according to witnesses, without any clash to justify the shooting. An Israeli army spokesman said "a crowd was throwing stones and firebombs at our vehicles so we had to respond." Zahra, who lost a lot of blood, was taken to hospital by car.

Issam Hamza Tillawi, 32, a journalist and presenter with The Voice of Palestine, was shot dead by the Israeli army on 22 September. He left his home in Beitunia, near Ramallah, near midnight on 21 September, equipped with a tape-recorder and bag, to cover protests by thousands of Palestinians that were starting in the streets of West Bank and Gaza Strip cities against the Israeli army’s siege of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah.

The chief editor of the The Voice of Palestine, who was with him, said he was wearing a jacket marked "press." When he got to the demonstrations in the centre of Ramallah, Tillawi mingled with the crowd to record their views. Witnesses said Israeli troops then fired teargas and as Tillawi was running from the scene he was hit by a shot that witnesses said came from an Israeli sniper on top of a building. The director of Ramallah Hospital confirmed he had been hit by a bullet at the back of his head. He died at the hospital half an hour later.

Eight journalists wounded in shooting

Sagui Bashan, a journalist with the second Israeli public TV station, was held at an army roadblock at Netzarim, in the Gaza Strip, on the night of 14 February 2002. After showing his press card, he asked to see the order from a senior officer declaring the area a "closed military zone." When the soldiers said they did not have such a document, the journalist began to drive off. Soldiers fired on the car and Bashan was wounded in the shoulder. He was taken to the Soroka hospital in Bersheva.

A French photographer, who did not want to be named, was wounded in the leg on 13 March in the main square in Ramallah, which was occupied by the Israeli army. He said he did not know whether he had been wounded by an exploding shell or a bullet.

Carlos Handal, of the Egyptian station Nile TV was seriously wounded in the throat on 29 March when an Israeli sniper fired on the van from which he was filming the Israeli army’s incursion into Ramallah. He was placed in intensive care. Several bullets penetrated the windscreen of the van, which was marked "press."

Anthony Shahid, an American journalist for the daily Boston Globe, was wounded in the shoulder on 31 March while wearing a bulletproof jacket marked "press." He said he did not see where the shot came from but said the area was surrounded by Israeli tanks and Israeli soldiers. The paper asked the Israeli army to investigate the shooting.
Iyad Hamad
, a Palestinian journalist working for APTN (Associated Press Television Network), was wounded on 1 April while taking photos, a few metres from some armoured cars, of a demonstration of pacifists in Beit Jala. A soldier fired at the ground to chase the journalists away and Hamad was hit in the leg as he was leaving.
Majadi Banura
, of the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera, was slighted injured by flying glass on 2 April while filming from the verandah of a hotel in Bethlehem. Israeli snipers were reportedly firing on the hotel, where many journalists were known to be staying. The media and the hotel owner filed a complaint with the army.
Jérome Marcantetti, a cameraman for the French TV station LCI, was wounded seriously in the thigh by shots from an Israeli soldier in the centre of Bethlehem on 5 April when he was turning back as he had been ordered to. He was with another of the station’s cameramen, Olivier Ravanello.
Amar Awad
, a cameraman working for Reuters, was wounded while filming at the Qalandia roadblock, between Ramallah and Jerusalem, on 7 May when a soldier fired at the ground and fragments hit Awad.

At least 13 journalists imprisoned

All human rights campaigners, including Israelis and Palestinians, condemned the arbitrary nature of administrative detention, a special device used to imprison people considered a threat to Israeli security for periods of six months, renewable without a court order. It was widely used during the first Palestinian intifada (uprising) between 1987 and 1993. The detained person is notified of the military decision without going before a court and without being told why. Neither the detainees or lawyers are allowed to see the case file, although they can appeal against the decision.

During and after the Israeli "Operation Rampart," which began on 29 March 2002 and ended on 10 May, a total of 954 cases of administrative detention were recorded by human rights groups. In August, an army spokesman said there were about 1,100 Palestinian detainees at Meggido (a prison in northern Israel), about 600 at Ofer (near Ramallah) and nearly 900 at Ketziot (in the Negev Desert), among them a dozen journalists.

Maher Hussein Romaneh, a presenter on The Voice of Palestine radio, was arrested in Ramallah on 30 March and taken to the Ofer detention centre. He reportedly had two broken ribs but the army refused to allow him to be taken to hospital or permit his family to visit him. He was freed on 26 April.

Ashraf Farraj (chief editor) and Jalal Hameid (journalist), of the Bethlehem station Al Rouah TV, were arrested on 3 April by the Israeli army at the city’s press centre with 14 other journalists, including Said Ayyid, a Voice of Palestine journalist, Walid Abu Alia, a photographer for Al-Rouah TV, Ahmad Mezher, a photographer for Al-Mahed TV, Mustafa Salah, of Al-Rouah TV, and cameramen Ala Daud and Ala al-Abed. Farraj said Israeli soldiers destroyed their equipment and seized their videotapes. The other journalists were soon freed but Farraj and Hameid were sent to the Beitunia detention centre, where hundreds of Palestinians were being held in administrative detention. Farraj was freed on 24 April and Hameid on 5 May.

Khalid el-Zwawi, correspondent of the daily Istiqlal in Nablus, was arrested at his home on 15 April in the middle of the night by a group of Israeli soldiers using a Palestinian civilian as a "human shield." They seized computer equipment and books and Zwawi was taken to the district coordination office and then to prison in the southern city of Ashkelon. The Israeli prime minister’s office said in a letter on 17 November that he was an active member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group.

Israeli soldiers arrested Maher al-Dessuki, a presenter with Al-Quds Educational TV, and Kamal Jbeil, of the daily Al-Quds, on 18 April and took them to the Ofer detention centre. Dessuki was freed on 27 June without being charged with anything. He said he had been ill-treated in detention and interrogated about his journalistic activity. Jbeil was given three months administrative detention on 5 May. He was due to be freed on 3 June and then on 1 July but was not released until 12 September.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer Hussam Abu Alan, was arrested on 24 April at the Beit Anun roadblock near Hebron. An army spokesman said he had been detained because he was in the Israel-controlled Zone C and did not have a press card on him. The Foreign Press Association expressed its great concern on 1 May about the arrests of the Palestinian journalists and said the argument about lack of press cards was absurd because since January the government press office had refused accreditation to virtually all Palestinian journalists.

Alan had worked for AFP for seven years. Like most Palestinian journalists, he had not been able to renew his Israeli press card, which had expired on 31 December 2001. The army told AFP in a letter on 3 May that he was suspected of "helping the Tanzim terrorist organisation," considered the armed wing of Al Fatah, but did not offer any evidence for this. AFP repeatedly called for his release. Government press office chief Daniel Seaman said Alan and a journalist working for Reuters, Yusri El Jamal, were "working for news agencies but are not journalists, they are Palestinians."

Alan was placed in administrative detention for three months on 22 May. This was extended for five months on 22 July by a military court which then reduced it to three. He was first held at the Ofer detention centre and later at Ketziot, where conditions were harsher. He was freed on 22 October. "To this day, I have no idea why I was arrested," he said, adding that he had never been interrogated during the whole six months he was held.

Iyyad el-Juneidi, head of the Hebron TV station Al Mostaqbal, was arrested at his office on 29 April by soldiers who destroyed some of the station’s equipment. He was held at the Ofer detention centre until 14 May.

Mazen Dana (cameraman) and Yusri el-Jamal (sound-man), of Reuters, were arrested by Israeli soldiers on 30 April while reporting outside the hospital in Hebron. As they were being taken away, a soldier pointed a gun at their heads and asked them how they preferred to die. They were interrogated next day and Dana was freed with apologies. Jamal was kept in administrative detention.

The Israeli military court rejected on 19 June the joint request of Reuters and AFP for the release of him and Hussam Abu Alan. The prime minister’s office said Jamal was suspected of being "involved in terrorist activity having nothing to do with being a journalist." The army provided no evidence or explanation of this. Reuters chief editor Geert Linnebank expressed his indignation and concern about the conditions of his detention in a letter to the Israeli authorities. A military judge extended the administrative detention for three months on 1 August. Jamal was freed on 8 October.

Ayman el-Kawasmi, head of a local radio station, El Horiya, was arrested on his home on 30 April and sent to the Ofer detention centre the next day. Soldiers destroyed all the equipment at the radio station. He was freed on 15 July.

Suhaib Salem, a photographer for Reuters, was arrested at an army roadblock on 22 May in an armoured vehicle on his way to his office in Rafah, at the border with Egypt in the southern the Gaza Strip. He was going to Japan to report on the World Cup football tournament. He was freed five days later without explanation.

Mashhur Abu Eid, correspondent for the Jordanian news agency Petra, was arrested on 31 May with seven foreign pacifists at the Balata refugee camp, in Nablus. Soldiers said he had violated the "closed military zone." He was taken to the Huwara army camp and then to the one at Ariel. He was threatened with deportation, but he and the pacifists refused to sign the order agreeing to it. The Jordanian foreign minister pressed the Israeli authorities to release him and he was freed on 3 June and immediately deported.

Kahlil Abu Hamra, an Associated Press photographer in the Gaza Strip, was arrested on 7 June while taking pictures of an army roadblock. He was released from Ashkelon prison on 17 July. His digital camera was returned to him but without the photos he had taken and about which he had been questioned.

Nizar Ramadan, of the Qatar paper As-Sharq and the Internet website Islam Today, was arrested in Hebron on 27 June. Soldiers searched his office and seized two computers, a fax and a printer. He was first taken to the Ofer detention camp. His detention was extended for 18 days on 6 July. A lawyer was not allowed to visit him. The prime minister’s office said in a letter on 17 November that he had been charged by a military court with "belonging to an illegal organisation (Hamas), attending secret meetings and helping an illegal organisation." He was sentenced on 31 December to 16 months in prison, with 10 further months suspended.

At least 16 journalists arrested

Mahmud Fatafta, of the daily paper Al-Quds, was briefly arrested in Ramallah on 31 March 2002 by Israeli soldiers as he was watching an army raid on a building.

Atta Iweisat, a photographer for the Israeli daily paper Yediot Aharonot and the Gamma agency, was arrested in Ramallah on 2 April while he was with a group of foreign journalists. He was forced to kneel handcuffed in the street in the pouring rain with a number of other people, including Ahmed Assi, a cameraman for the London-based Arab TV station ANN. The soldiers blindfolded them and took them to the Beitunia camp, near Ramallah, for interrogation. Iweisat was freed a few hours later.

The Israeli army arrested Maher Shalabi, who worked for several TV stations, and Majeed Sawalha, of the Morocco state TV station, in the centre of Ramallah on 16 April. They were interrogated and then freed during the night.

Mohammed Daraghmeh, of the Associated Press news agency, was arrested at home on 18 April and detained for 20 hours blindfolded and with hands tied. When he was freed, it was dark and as he was walking home to Nablus during the curfew, soldiers posted along the road opened fire. When he asked for help, one said: "If you stay there, I’ll shoot you." He only managed to reach home the next morning.

Mahfuz Abu Turk, who had worked for Reuters for several years, was arrested at an army roadblock north of Jenin on 20 April. An army spokesman said the number on his ID card showed he was he be checked and interrogated. He was freed the next day.

The army detained Hassan Titi (journalist) and Abed Omar Qusini (photographer), of Reuters, for nine hours in Nablus on 30 June for filming in a "closed military zone," Titi said they had been arrested because they were filming a demonstration by foreign pacifists.

Anas Bensalah (journalist) and Hassan Bouchenni (cameraman), of the Moroccan state TV station 2M, were arrested on 4 July as they left Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah, where they had interviewed him. The Moroccan Press Union condemned their arrest as "repressive behaviour." They were freed five hours later without explanation. Soldiers had asked them about the situation inside the headquarters, about Arafat’s physical and mental health and about their interview.

Five Palestinian journalists working for the international news agencies AFP, AP and Reuters were held for five hours on 5 December by Israeli army soldiers, who accused them of disobeying the curfew in Nablus, which was a "closed military zone."

Pressure and obstruction

The Israeli army blew up the main studios of the official Voice of Palestine radio and TV station in Ramallah on 19 January 2002. The station had been accused of "inciting people to violence" against Israel. The army had already blown up its main transmitter in Ramallah on 13 December 2001. The station was set up after the creation in 1994 of the Palestinian Authority and had become a "clear symbol" of a future Palestinian state’s sovereignty, said its chief editor, Ibrahim Al-Naji. The Israelis had caused at least $10 million worth of damage to the building, he said.

UNESCO director-general Koichiro Matsuura said on 24 January that it was "unacceptable that media and journalists were being used as targets in armed conflicts." But on 21 February, the Israeli army also blew up The Voice of Palestine’s Gaza studios and transmitters. The station’s local manager, Khaled al-Siam, said Israeli soldiers placed explosives on both floors of the building after removing papers and equipment.

The Israeli army banned journalists from the Gaza Strip on 13 February. Many TV crews were stopped at the Eretz crossing point and only a pool of written press journalists was allowed in.

From 29 March, the day the Israeli Operation Rampart began, more and more areas of the West Bank were declared out of bounds. The army said it would arrest journalists it found there and cancel their press cards, but this was not systematically done. Journalists in Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem were several times ordered to stay in their hotels. Ramallah was again declared a "military zone" on 29 March and upgraded two days later to a "closed military zone."

The Israeli army occupied the Ramallah offices of several Palestinian and foreign media on 29 March, including Reuters, Link Production Company, Abu Dhabi TV, ABC, Yemen TV, Watan Local TV andAmwaj TV. Firas Masri, an Amwaj TV presenter, said soldiers demanded that the journalists broadcast a message to the population to surrender. He accused the army of theft and deliberate destruction of property. Majed Said, an Abu Dhabi TV journalist, said about 30 soldiers searched the building on grounds, saying it was a suspected arms depot. The unit commander then said he had orders to occupy the building and gave the journalists an hour and a half to evacuate it. One of the journalists’ cars, which was parked in the Nile TV offices, was crushed by a tank.

The army occupied the Palestinian culture and information ministry building in Ramallah, which also housed a local radio and TV station, on 30 March. The premises were looted and the library and film archives destroyed. The Israeli army used it as a detention and interrogation centre for the next 28 days. It also seized and occupied the offices of Nile TV. Journalist Raed el-Helu, who tried to film the operation, was hit by soldiers. All journalists present were forced to lie on the ground and soldiers walked on top of them. Before leaving, the troops confiscated all mobile phones and caused a lot of material damage.

A crew from the French TV station France 2 came under Israeli gunfire on 30 March when they wanted to go through a checkpoint on the road between Jerusalem and Ramallah. The same day, four Turkish journalists, including Mete Cubuku, were held for several hours at the Ramallah press centre by soldiers who searched their belongings and confiscated their passports. Turkish prime minister Bulent Ecevit denounced their detention as an "unacceptable" violation of press freedom.
The Israeli army declared Ramallah a "closed military zone" on 31 March and ordered all journalists to leave. Soldiers at a roadblock near the city fired warning shots at the vehicle of two journalists from the Swedish public TV station SVT, Bengt Norborg and Rickard Collsioeoe.

At the end of March, soldiers began a three-week occupation of the Reuters office. A TV set, address books, a laptop computer and cables, books and magazine, a tape-recorder and a computer transformer were stolen and some photo negatives were torn up.

Bethlehem was declared a "closed military zone" on 1 April but journalists were allowed into the city. However, the Church of the Nativity, where 200 Palestinian fighters had taken refuge, was surrounded by tanks and out of bounds.

The situation also became more difficult that day for journalists working in Ramallah. Israeli soldiers expelled a crew from the US TV network CBS News. A vehicle carrying six Western journalists and photographers was targeted by Israeli soldiers near the city centre. "I think they were nervous, so they fired a round at us," said one of the journalists, who did not want his name used. An armoured vehicle clearly marked "press" carrying US NBC TV correspondent Dana Lewis and other journalists was shot at by an Israeli soldier who continued to fire when the journalists stopped and got out with their hands on their heads. "They were very aggressive," said Lewis.

Soldiers fired on the vehicle marked "press" being driven by Agence France-Presse (AFP) Abbas Al-Mumani in Ramallah, stopped him and forced him to stand for three hours with his hands on his head, after which they returned his camera and told him to leave the area at once.

The government press office threatened on 2 April to prosecute the US TV networks CNN and NBC if they continued to broadcast material from the "closed military zone" of Ramallah.

From 2 to 21 April, the offices of Al-Quds Educational TV in Al-Bireh were occupied by the army, during which time equipment was destroyed or disappeared.

In early April, all the equipment of the Ramallah radio station Voice of Love and Peace was destroyed, according to its chief, Muataz Bseisso.

On 8 April, Israeli soldiers went again to the offices of Abu Dhabi TV and Nile TV. The head of Ramallah’s main radio and TV station, Amwaj, said the army had "destroyed everything before leaving" as an "act of revenge." The offices were across the street from President Yasser Arafat’s headquarters and were used by troops as a dormitory and strategic position for army sharpshooters during the occupation of the city. The soldiers left behind a written message saying that they were sorry for any damage and hoped to return in happier times. The amount of damage was put at $300,000 dollars.

A dozen privately-owned radio and TV stations were damaged in this way during the occupation of Ramallah. On 30 April, the Israeli army said it would prosecute soldiers who had vandalised local and foreign media offices and soon afterwards announced the suspension and charging of some soldiers for looting and destruction.

In an interview on the army radio station Galei Tsahal, Gen. Ron Kirtey said "the things that have been reported are unfortunately true and these actions by a few people tarnish the image of the army as a whole." On 27 May, the army announced five soldiers had been sentenced to five months in prison for such offences and that six more were to be tried. Total material damage to the Palestinian media was put at $700,000 dollars.

Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem on 2 April opened fire on a vehicle marked "press" containing Reuters photographer Magnus Johansson, as it was starting off.

The same day, photographer Atta Iweisat, of the Gamma agency, was forced to kneel in the street in the rain for more than an hour at the Beituna roadblock.

Six Italian journalists -Marc Innaro and Ferdinando Pelligrini (both of RAI TV), Toni Capuozzo (TG5), Gan Nal Bandia, Mauri Maurizi and Luciano Gulli (all of the daily paper Il Giornale) - were stuck in a convent near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on 2 April. They were driving but decided to turn back because the situation was too dangerous. Israeli troops blocked their way and one opened fire in their direction. They were forced to spend the night in the convent and were rescued the next day after considerable efforts by the Italian consulate.

Two Palestinian cameramen, Ismail Khader (Reuters) and Mark Mina (MBC), who were driving in Ramallah on 3 April, were forced at gunpoint to take off their clothes during a check by solders. They were allowed to leave and the troops then arrested a ANN cameraman.

The Bakri building in Ramallah, which housed three privately-owned radio stations (Manara Radio, Ajyal and Angaam) broadcasting mostly light entertainment and the Nasr TV station, was occupied on 3 April. Equipment was destroyed and computers seized. The Israeli authorities refused to confirm or deny the damage had been done.

The government press office refused on 3 April to renew the press card of US journalist Jassem al-Azzawi, of Abu Dhabi TV, and he was deported three days later when Israeli secret service agents took him from his hotel to the airport. Israel accused the station of "anti-Israeli" coverage of military operations in the Gaza Strip.

Warning shots and stun grenades were fired at about 30 foreign journalists (from CNN, ABC, AFP, Reuters, AP and Gamma) in a convoy of seven armoured vehicles as they went on 5 April to the Ramallah headquarters of President Yasser Arafat to report on the arrival there of US mediator Gen. Anthony Zinni.

As the convoy turned round, the CNN vehicle was hit by a bullet that broke its rear window. The incident was filmed by CNN. The convoy then took another route through the city centre to get to Arafat’s headquarters. Soldiers checked their passports and press cards. Some journalists managed to slip through in the confusion but others, including Inigo Gilmore, of the British Daily Telegraph, had their papers confiscated. A soldier shouted through a megaphone: "Press out! Press out!" Dan Harris, of the US TV network ABC, said it was "hard to work when you become a target."

Also on 5 April, a group of foreign and Palestinian journalists were fired on by Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem as they were walking to Manger Square. Reuters journalist Mafuz Abu Turk was roughed up by Israeli soldiers, one of whom threatened to confiscate their film because they were in a "closed military zone."

A group of journalists, including AFP photographer Hussam Abu Alan and a crew from the Spanish TV station Antenna 3 were shot at by Israeli soldiers on 7 April as they arrived at the village of Yatta (near Hebron). They were wearing bulletproof jackets marked "press" and waving a white flag as they walked towards an Israeli tank blocking the road. A soldier fired at them.

The same day, five Cypriot journalists and a political delegation from that country were detained for several hours at Ben Gurion airport before being refused entry into Israel.

A large group of journalists arrived in Nablus on 8 April as the city was declared a "closed military zone." They were told by the army they could either leave the city or stay inside their hotel since their safety could not be guaranteed.

French cameraman Vincent Benhamou was stopped by Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem on 9 April. He told them he was simply doing his job but they seized his film and told him to leave. As he did so, they fired two shots in the air.

Also on 9 April, Giavara Budeiri, of the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera, tried to leave Bethlehem in a convoy of two vehicles. When they got to a roadblock, soldiers fired at the ground and ordered the journalists to go back.

Reuters photographer Laszlo Balogh said he came under automatic fire from an Israeli armoured car in Bethlehem on 9 April as he got out of his easily identifiable armoured press vehicle.

TV Tokyo journalist Yuzuru Saito was walking with a cameraman through the old part of Bethlehem on 9 April when soldiers blocked their way and told them to stop filming. They seized their film and told them to leave. "You’ve got one minute or we fire," they said.

Israeli soldiers harassed photographers Naseer Ishtayed (AP) and Jafer Ishtayeh (AFP) for an hour and a half on the road through the villages of Salem, Azmud and Deir al-Hatab, near Nablus, on 10 April and made them partly undress. The journalists refused to hand over their bulletproof jackets and videotapes. They were not allowed to enter the city and had to turn round and go back.

The Israeli army chased journalists out of the western suburbs of Jenin on 11 April, seizing photographers’ equipment and barring foreign journalists from the refugee camp where fierce fighting had taken place, saying explosives were hidden there. In the city itself, troops strictly sealed off the town to the media, but in Bethlehem and Nablus, journalists managed to get into the combat zone despite the army’s ban.

Also on 11 April near the Jenin refugee camp, Israeli soldiers stopped a group of journalists - including Atta Iweisat (Gamma), Rawhi al-Rasem (APTN), Amar Awad (Reuters), Jérome Delay (AP) and Patrick Baz (AFP), insulted them, forced them to undress and seized their press cards and film.

The Israeli army took control of the Jenin camp after eight days of fierce fighting. Since no journalists had been present, a heated argument developed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority about how many civilians had been killed there.

The Israeli army detained and harassed a group of journalists, including Walid el-Omari, correspondent of Al-Jazeera, and a Spanish TV crew, for several hours on 13 April at a roadblock at Jalameh, near Jenin, confiscating equipment and four videotapes.

The Israeli army announced on 14 April it was easing restrictions on the media and on foreign journalists working in the West Bank and that they could now go anywhere, except for three particularly "sensitive" areas - the Jenin refugee camp, the area round the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and President Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah.

The decision came after numerous protests by international organisations calling for such restrictions to be lifted on grounds they were preventing effective and impartial media coverage of the Israeli military operations in the Palestinian territories. A pool of journalists was allowed to go to the edge of the Jenin camp under tight army surveillance.
Eight journalists, including APTN cameraman Rawhi el-Rasem, were stopped by Israeli soldiers at the entrance to Ramallah, Jenin and other cities on 14 April and film equipment seized.

The army fired on a vehicle of the Swedish TV station SVT in Ramallah on 16 April. Special correspondent Peder Carlqvist said soldiers in a jeep had ordered them to turn back and when they did so they heard shots. When they got back to their hotel, Carlqvist saw that a bullet had gone through the window and pierced his bag. The station protested to the Swedish foreign ministry and the Israeli embassy in Stockholm.

Israeli soldiers allowed Israeli journalists to go to Manger Square in Bethlehem on 24 April but foreign journalists were told to leave on pain of arrest.

At the end of April, after suicide-bombings in Israel, six autonomous Palestinian West Bank cities (Bethlehem, Tulkarem, Qalqiliya, Jenin, Nablus and Ramallah) were declared "closed military zones" and journalists barred from them.

Ala Badarneh, of the privately-owned radio station Tarek el Mahabeh and the newspaper Al Quds el Arabi, and Hassan Titi, a Reuters cameraman, came under Israeli gunfire while driving through Governor’s Square in Nablus on 4 June. Titi was driving a yellow Land Rover with British plates and with banners marked "press." No fighting was going on at the time. A first shot smashed a rear-view mirror and a second punctured a tyre. "We had passed through the square several times that morning and anyway the soldiers knew who we were from previous days," said Badarneh.
Ramallah was tightly sealed off on 10 June and the army occupied the building housing the Reuters office and barred its five journalists from going there, because it was in a "strategic place," according to an army spokesman. Reuters denounced the move as an attack on press freedom. The journalists eventually managed to send their stories other ways but they were delayed, said the agency’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Tim Heritage, who noted that it was the second such occupation of the office. The agency protested against the day-long occupation and demanded compensation for the "ransacking and looting" it said had occurred. The army gave no explanation.

A soldier hit Reuters photographer Nasser Shiyoukhi with a rifle-butt while he was taking pictures of the army arresting Palestinians in Hebron on 10 June. Some of his equipment was confiscated.

Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana was targeted in Hebron on 25 June when a bullet pierced his camera as he was filming from a window on the top floor of a building. Several soldiers were stationed 150 yards away. He did not see where the shot came from but said there was no exchange of fire near the building and he had been there for 40 minutes. The agency asked the army for an explanation but got no reply.

The headquarters of the Jordanian broadcasting company JTV in Ramallah was occupied by the Israeli army on 8 July. JTV correspondent Abdallah al-Hoot said troops barged into the offices, threatened the staff with their guns and searched the premises. They took film, passports and press cards from Hoot and another journalist, Akil al-Amr. Their documents were returned a few hours later, after the intervention of the Jordanian representative in Gaza, Jomaa al-Abbadi.

The Israeli army took over the offices in Ramallah of Palnet, the main Internet service provider (ISP) in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, during the night of 14-15 July and Internet connections were temporarily cut. The six staff in the office at the time were arrested. Five were soon freed. Because of the roadblocks and curfews in the main cities, the Internet was a vital communication tool for Palestinians.

Ahmed Jalajel, a cameraman for the Palestinian Media Communication Company (PMCC), was prevented from working, insulted and manhandled by two soldiers at a roadblock at Qalandia, between Ramallah and Jerusalem, on 29 July. He was forced to leave without being able to film.

Gideon Levy (journalist) and Miki Kratsman (photographer), of the Israeli daily Haaretz, came under fire on 11 August while they travelling in an Israeli taxi in the town of Tulkarem during the curfew. Gideon Levy, who writes a column about daily life in the Palestinian Territories called "Twilight Zone," said: "What happened is what happens every day in the Occupied Territories, except that this time it happened to an Israeli Jew and journalist. They weren’t just warning shots, they were trying to kill us." Bullets hit the taxi’s windscreen. A soldier and an officer were punished the next day for the incident, with respectively 35 days close arrest and a suspended 21-day sentence for "erroneous coordination."

A Belgian cameraman for Reuters, Ahmed Bahaddou, was deported to Jordan on 15 August. He was detained for 24 hours in a cell at Ben Gurion Airport. "It was very humiliating and unworthy of a democracy," he said. Government press office chief Daniel Seaman said the interior ministry had refused to allow him in because of pressure from the Israeli cameramen’s union not to allow foreign cameramen to work in the country.

AFP photographer Said Shawki Dahla, accused the Israeli army on 28 August of stealing $2,000 worth of jewellery and three mobile phones when they searched his home in Jenin on 23 August. He said an officer threatened him and advised him to "change his job" if he did not want to meet the same fate as a colleague, Imad Abu Zahra, who was killed in Jenin in July. An army spokesman said the accusations would be carefully looked into.

Bassam Masaud, a freelance cameraman working for Reuters in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, came under gunfire while filming on 29 August and wearing a bulletproof jacket marked "press." His camera, which was on a tripod, was destroyed. The army said he had been caught in crossfire and that soldiers had not fired at him. But Masaud and other witnesses said there had been no exchange of fire at the time. He said he had been careful to set up his camera away from Palestinian demonstrators. Reuters protested against the incident and asked the army to investigate it.

Israeli soldiers confiscated a videotape of clashes in Nablus from Reuters cameraman Hassan Titi on 30 September. He had gone to a roadblock outside the town to give the tape to an Israeli taxi-driver to take to the Reuters office in Jerusalem. An army spokesman admitted the soldiers had violated army instructions by seizing the film.

The Israeli army made a night-time raid on the main office in Ramallah of the daily newspaper Al-Ayyam on 5 October. The paper said the soldiers did not make a thorough search of the premises, suggesting it was an effort to intimidate. "After two hours, they seized two posters, one calling for an end to the Israeli occupation and the other showing a child victim of the war," said a senior staff member. The Israeli public radio said the soldiers had seized "propaganda material" during the raid.

Jaafar Ashtiye, a Palestinian photographer working for AFP, was punched by two Israeli frontier guards at a roadblock near Nablus on 19 December after clearly acknowledging them as journalists. They threatened to seize his camera and then dropped the idea when they saw no pictures had been taken. Before letting him go, they threatened to kill him if he came back.

Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai used a 1933 press law from the period of the British Mandate in Palestine to order the closure for two years on 22 December of the Islamic weekly Sawt al-Haq wa Al-Hurriya (Voice of Truth and Freedom) on grounds that it threatened national security. The paper, put out by the radical wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel, was accused by the Shin Bet Israeli secret police of being the mouthpiece of the Palestinian Islamic militant group Hamas.

Tamer Ziara, an Associated Press cameraman, received head wounds from a ricocheting Israeli bullet while filming a group of foreign pacifists distributing food on 29 December to Palestinians living in an enclave in the middle of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. He was not seriously hurt.



north africa / middle east countries list
North Africa and the Middle East Introduction - 2003 Annual Report
Algeria
Egypt
Iran
Iran
Iraq
Jordan
Kuwait
Lebanon
Libya
Morocco
Palestinian Authority
Qatar
Saudi Arabia
Sudan
Syria
Tunisia
United Arab Emirates
Yemen

see also
2003 Africa Annual Report
2003 Asia Annual Report
2003 Americas Annual Report
2003 Europe Annual Report