The Foreign Press Association on Sunday accused the Israeli army of “deliberately targeting” journalists after soldiers fired rubber bullets and threw stun grenades at photojournalists clearly identified as press.
In a statement, the Tel Aviv-based group, which represents journalists of all foreign media, including AFP, said troops had directly targeted a group of photographers covering clashes at the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
“On Friday afternoon, Israeli forces threw stun grenades at FPA photojournalists as they were leaving Qalandia. The FPA members had put their hands in the air, indicating to the forces that they were leaving at which point the grenades were thrown from close quarters directly at their backs,” it said.
Earlier an Italian freelance photographer covering the same incident had almost been hit in the face by a rubber bullet, it said.
“Fortunately the photographer was taking pictures at the time and the rubber bullet shattered the camera instead of his head. All the photographers in question wore clearly-marked jackets and helmets,” the FPA said.
“There is no question that the forces were directly targeting the journalists.”
The army said in a written reply to AFP questions that its soldiers had responded accordingly after protesters hurled fire bombs and rocks at them.
“Throughout the provocation, photojournalists were sighted adjacent and in the midst of the rioters, putting themselves at risk,” it said.
The army’s initial review of the incident involving the Italian freelancer had found that “the rubber bullet which hit the photojournalist’s camera, who was in the vicinity of violent protesters, was not intentionally fired towards him, but part of the riot dispersal means which were aimed at disbanding the protest,” it said.
AFP’s chief photographer Marco Longari said the photographers had been standing under a shelter about 20 meters from Palestinian youths throwing stones, and that the soldiers had suddenly begun firing rubber bullets without first using tear gas or giving any other warning.
“Usually they shoot at the legs, but this was at eye level,” said Longari, pointing out that the photographers had walked past in full view of the soldiers before taking up their position under the shelter.
“The bullet hit the upper part of the camera casing — if he hadn’t been taking a picture, he would have been killed,” he said of the Italian freelancer.
“We showed the camera to the commander and he laughed and said it was a mistake, but you don’t shoot by mistake at eye-level.”
The FPA said it had complained about some 10 such incidents over the past two years, none of which had been properly investigated, adding that the army and the military police had a “dismal track record” for looking into such incidents.
“As far as we know, just two investigations have been launched, with no results. The others have been ignored,” it said.
In February this year, a report by the Turkel Commission into investigations of violations of the laws of armed conflict concluded that there were “structural problems” in the military’s investigative processes, the FPA noted.
“A proper investigation into violence against the media and holding soldiers accountable for their actions would be a very practical first step towards rectifying these problems.”
(Ma’an and Agencies – www.maannews.net)