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Israel Accused of Not Protecting Journalists - 2001-07-28


The international group Reporters Without Borders has called on Israel to punish soldiers who have attacked journalists since the Palestinian intifada began ten months ago. The group's also released its study of injuries suffered by journalists covering clashes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Since the beginning of the Palestinian uprising last September, journalists from all over the world have been covering often violent confrontations between Palestinians and the Israeli army. A report this week from the Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders accuses Israel of failing to protect the journalists and endangering freedom of the press.

The group, led by director Robert Menard, blames Israel for the wounding of 30 reporters in a total of 40 shooting incidents. The report says that nearly all the injuries were caused by bullets apparently fired by Israeli soldiers.

Mr. Menard calls the situation especially grave for Palestinian journalists, whose injuries were often not investigated. "If unfortunately you don't have the luck to work for a major international media, it is very likely that there will be no investigation at all," he said. "To be even more specific, if you are a Palestinian journalist working for a Palestinian media, it is very likely that there will be no investigation."

Palestinian freelance photographer Mahfuz Abu Turk called on Israel to investigate the circumstances in which he was wounded three times, twice by rubber-coated steel bullets. He says each time he was injured he had his camera with him and wore clothing that clearly marked him as journalist. "I understand that the soldiers in the field are sometimes under pressure. But the three times which it happened to me. Exactly three times. I don't have the chance to think it's by mistake," Mr. Turk said.

The report rejects the Israeli explanation that journalists are often injured because their work places them in the middle of the clashes. The report said some reporters were also wounded before demonstrations, others after.

At the news conference called by Reporters Without Borders, the head of Israel's government press office, Daniel Seaman, promised Israel will investigate the allegations and apologized to the reporters who were injured. "Threats, injury or harm to members of the media, whether intentional or by error, are unacceptable," Mr. Seaman said. "I would like to take this opportunity to apologize in the name of the state of Israel to those journalists injured, regardless of the circumstances in which the injuries occurred."

Mr. Menard said Israel, unlike many other countries, is dedicated to a free press, making it all the more shocking that some of its soldiers had apparently fired at journalists trying to report the story.

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