The International Federation of Journalists today called for Israel to lift its ban on reporters covering the military intervention in the West Bank town of Ramallah, warning that censorship in the conflict will not bring peace "but only lead to more ignorance, rumour and fear."
After a violent weekend in which at least three reporters were injured, a Palestinian radio station was take over and a journalist alleged Israeli troops used him as a "human shield" in a gun battle, the IFJ says media staff are in more danger than ever.
"People who speak of democracy and then impose censorship to avoid public scrutiny make a mockery of the language of peace and human rights," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ, the world's largest journalists group, which represents journalists in both the Palestinian and Israeli communities.
"The whole world is watching the situation nervously and journalists must be free to report," said White, "If media are not allowed to work and while rumours circulate of summary executions, mass detentions and other violations of human rights then the suspicion will be that Israel is engaged in a media cover-up."
The IFJ says that both sides in the conflict have made the media a battleground. "We have many reports of indiscipline among Israeli soldiers in dealing with media staff, but poor levels of professionalism in Palestinian media continue to enrage political leaders and add to fears that more attacks on media will follow," said Aidan White.
The IFJ says that a Palestinian freelance cameraman, Carlos Handel, working for Egyptian Nile TV was shot in the mouth on Friday while travelling through an area where Israelis and Palestinians were fighting. He was taken to a hospital in serious condition. A second cameraman, who was also riding in the van, suffered a less serious wound.
On Sunday, Anthony Shadid, a Washington-based Boston Globe reporter, was shot in the shoulder while standing in the doorway of a Ramallah shop. Shadid was said to be conscious and in stable condition in a private Arab hospital in Ramallah.
The IFJ protest follows the decision by Israel to declare Ramallah a closed military zone and to remove journalists. The Foreign Press Association in Israel also issued a protest, saying media must be allowed to cover a major story.
In another incident media reported that a journalist from Dubai TV said that Israeli troops entered a building in which he and some other journalists were working. He said the Israelis searched the journalists and that he himself was then used as a human shield as the Israeli soldiers went from room to room, searching for Palestinians. But the Israelis rebutted the allegation. They said that they escorted the journalist, Maher Shalabi, "outside and to another place as he wished.''
Violence erupted in September 2000, destroying peace negotiations and helping bring the hardline Sharon to power. In the past 18 months, 1,269 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and on 416 on the Israeli side. Four journalists have been killed.
The latest Israeli invasion follows a string of Palestinian attacks that killed 30 Israelis over three days. Israeli soldiers are accused by Palestinian of closing down media and preventing circulation of newspapers. Israeli troops entered the offices of the Voice of Palestine radio and forced it to stop broadcasting on Saturday, said Yousef Qazaz, the general manager of the radio. Military sources confirmed the report.
Palestinians also accused Israeli forces of capturing a television station in Ramallah and using it to broadcast pornography. A United States consulate employee who was in Ramallah confirmed to reporters that the programs were on the air. The Israeli army said soldiers interrupted the station's broadcasting but had not substituted pornography for the usual programming.
"This is a dirty and brutal war in which journalism is a victim," said Aidan White, "Palestinian media are being prevented from functioning while, at the same time, the less-than-subtle and partisan language of some Palestinian journalism tests the limits of professionalism." Palestinian gunmen and suicide bombers killed by Israeli forces are called "heroes" even when they were attacking civilians. Footage is often horrifyingly graphic. Mutilated bodies are shown without censorship. Often coverage exhibits "hatefully anti-Israel sentiment." "Media intolerance only makes matters worse," said Aidan White. The IFJ, which carried out a mission to the region six weeks ago, says that Israel must lift the obstacles to free reporting and end all intimidation of Palestinian journalists and media. "The cycle of censorship and violence must end and professionalism restored on all sides."