Interview with...

Jacques-Marie Bourget

Senior reporter at Paris-Match

You were wounded by gunfire on 21 October 2000 in Ramallah, in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel. How did it happen ?

My news weekly, Paris Match, sent me to do a report in Gaza. When I had finished, I decided to make a stopover in Ramallah on the way back to Ben-Gurion airport. It was Saturday and I was catching the first plane on Sunday. I had a photographer with me. We reached Ramallah at about 3:30 p.m. There were about 15 young Palestinians throwing stones at soldiers outside the Israeli army-occupied City Inn Hotel. A classic Intifada scene. There were many photographers there, including seasoned veterans. But the photographer with me did not fall into that category. We took up a position at some distance in order to watch, somewhere that offered some protection. That’s when a shot hit me in the left lung, between the heart and the shoulder. I fell down. I realised Palestinian stretcher-bearers were carrying me to an ambulance and then I lost consciousness.

I was taken to a Red Crescent hospital in Ramallah. The bullet had torn the vein under the collar-bone and I was losing a lot of blood. The doctors decided I had to be transferred to the Palestinian hospital in Jerusalem, which is better equipped, to undergo an operation. The Israeli army refused to permit the transfer. The French consul, M. Pietton, try to convince them, but without success. After three hours, and after I’d been given four litres of blood, a Palestinian radiologist and a Palestinian lung specialist operated on me with the help of a member of a Médecins du Monde intensive care team.

Medical evacuation to Paris was arranged the next day, but the Israelis still refused to permit the move. Jacques Chirac had to intercede with Barak in order to get the go-ahead. But more negotiations were necessary at the airport so that the ambulance could get to the steps of the aeroplane. I finally arrived in Paris at 6 a.m. Monday and I was taken to the intensive care unit of Beaujon hospital.

Do you think you were hit by a stray bullet, that it was just case of bad luck, or do you think were deliberately targeted and if so, by whom ? Was there an investigation ?

I was hit by an Israeli bullet. There’s no doubt about that. The bullet was removed in June 2001 and it was a bullet from a Galil rifle. I’m convinced I was deliberately targeted by an Israeli sniper. That it was a murder attempt, and that I wasn’t hit by chance. Why ? I see two reasons. On the one hand, I’d been covering this conflict for 25 years from the Palestinian side. On the other hand, certain Israeli officials undoubtedly couldn’t forgive me for the role I played after the death of the press baron Robert Maxwell in 1991. His body was found in the sea off the Spanish coast and his death was portrayed as accidental. It was said he fell from his boat. I managed to get a videotape of the autopsy carried out in Shin Beth, the Israeli intelligence agency. The tape showed that Maxwell, who was in dire straits financially, had been murdered. People in Shin Beth were punished for giving me the tape.

Finally, 48 hours before I was wounded, an American journalist known for his pro-Israeli lobbying, telephoned me at home in Paris, supposedly because he wanted some photos of Al Gore, the US presidential candidate. He wanted to know where I was. But he doesn’t work for a publication that uses photographs and anyway, he could have very easily obtained photos of Al Gore in the United States. Also, he never telephoned Paris Match. That’s curious, isn’t it ?

And then, how can I ignore the fact that my interpreter, Abdel Hamid Khorti, a very cultured person, was gunned down a few days later as he was going home in Gaza.

The Israelis obviously don’t recognize any responsibility. A military official told a Paris Match special correspondent, Patrick Forestier, that, "There are no grounds for saying it was the Israeli army." The newspaper Haaretz wrote a good report on the case. An army spokesman gave Haaretz an embarrassed explanation and said they would have to await the technical reports before taking a position. But there was no investigation.

What’s your status now ?

I’ve been left handicapped, with my left arm more or less paralysed. Medically, the case is closed. Social security has recognised I have 42 per cent disability. I was insured by Paris Match. The insurance company is dragging things out in order to delay payment, but there’s no fundamental problem. I’m working full time at Paris Match again, but it’s difficult because I still need medical follow-up. So, for example, I couldn’t go to Iraq, where I went in 1991.

Otherwise, I filed a complaint in early 2002 with the higher level court in Paris, alleging attempted homicide. The anti-terrorist section is in charge of the investigation. But nothing’s moving. It’s at a standstill. The ballistics report is supposed to be sent to the Israelis. The file is still at the foreign ministry. No pressure is being applied for the case to progress. But Jacques Chirac awarded me the Legion of Honour.

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