Al Cross, SPJ President, 502/648-8433 or firstname.lastname@example.org
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is asking the government of Israel to stop the intimidation and injury of journalists trying to cover the conflict in the West Bank.
SPJ also is calling on all journalists in the region to observe SPJ’s Code of Ethics and urging all governments to guarantee freedom of information.
“SPJ is deeply concerned that the Government of Israel is worsening the grave situation in the Occupied Territories by injuring and intimidating journalists who are attempting to report the biggest story in the world today,” said SPJ President Al Cross in a letter delivered to the Israeli Embassy in Washington today. The letter can viewed below.
“We respectfully request that the Israeli Defense Force and other elements of the government allow reporters and photographers to do their jobs and cease the intimidation that has escalated at times into serious injury,” Cross asked Ambassador David Ivry. “These journalists are not the enemies of Israel or the Palestinians. They are the enemies of ignorance and prevarication and the allies of truth and enlightenment.”
While it is unclear whether specific coverage has encouraged Israeli action against journalists, Cross, a political writer and columnist for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal, told the ambassador, “That’s no reason to subject reporters, photographers, and producers to the intimidation and injury we have seen from your government,” which “has long been a beacon of democracy and freedom in the Middle East.”
Israeli actions demonstrate a growing, disturbing penchant among many governments to restrict, penalize, harass, threaten, injure, and kill journalists during the course of conflict in order to silence an effort to get out the truth and give people throughout the world a first-hand look at crisis. SPJ calls on all governments to guarantee freedom of information.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) says four journalists have been killed, and others have been subjected to more than 50 incidents of violence and intimidation since the latest Palestinian uprising began in September 2000. The most recent death was that of Italian photojournalist Raffaele Ciriello in Ramallah on March 13. More than 20 journalists have come under Israeli fire since the offensive began March 29, according to the Paris-based watchdog group Reporters Without Borders. The Los Angeles Times reported that in most cases, the fire apparently is meant as warning shots, but five journalists have been wounded, including one American, Anthony Shadid of the Boston Globe. The latest known shooting victim was a French TV photographer, Jerome Marcantetti.
Israel has declared most cities in the West Bank off limits to journalists. On April 5, a convoy of foreign correspondents waiting for U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni’s to arrive at Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s compound in Ramallah was charged by two Israeli army vehicles. Without warning, one of the vehicles twice rammed a clearly marked CNN car, and soldiers threw several stun grenades at the journalists. When the convoy backed up and tried to leave, the soldiers fired plastic bullets at CNN’s armored car, chipping its reinforced glass windows.
On the same day, a group of journalists tried to walk to Bethlehem’s Manger Square, where Palestinian militants in the Church of the Nativity are in a standoff with Israeli troops outside. A block from the square, Israeli soldiers opened fire toward the group without warning, according to journalists who were present. The shots apparently were meant only to intimidate the journalists, but a French television cameraman was hit in the thigh by a fragment, according to The Washington Post.
“Journalists are trying to determine whether dozens of monks, priests, and nuns inside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity are hostages or willing companions,” Cross told the Israeli ambassador.
Five journalists from Agence France-Presse and Spanish television walked into the West Bank town of Yatta wearing flak jackets bearing the letters “TV” in big white tape and waving a white flag but retreated under Israeli gunfire, The New York Times reported. Journalists who stayed in Ramallah after Israel declared it a closed military zone got the message all last week, the Times said. Israeli snipers took potshots at their hotel and passing tanks fired into the air.
The Times also reported that the government has expelled CBS, NBC, and Al- Jazeera from Ramallah. It did likewise with Abu Dhabi TV, revoking credentials of two reporters and deporting one of them. Last week, soldiers forced journalists out of an interview with a Palestinian family at its Ramallah apartment. A family member had been arrested and released by the Israelis, and the journalists wanted to talk to him. Soldiers arrived outside the apartment sent word that the journalists had to go, then confronted the reporters with guns and ordered them to their hotel.
Early this week, the Post reported, soldiers seemed to act specifically to restrict reporters’ movements. For an hour Monday, troops stationed themselves in front of the City Inn Palace Hotel, one place where journalists stay. A reporter for a Cairo newspaper left the hotel to inspect a tire on his car that had been flattened during an excursion in the city. The soldiers at the hotel fired warning shots and he skittered back inside. Then a camera operator returning to the hotel in his white, bulletproof vehicle heard gunfire and stopped. He moved the car slightly forward, at which point the car came into the view of the soldiers at the hotel. He said they shot at the ground in front of him, and he reversed slowly, but the gunfire continued, and shrapnel hit the underside of the vehicle.
The restrictions are tougher than in previous, similar situations, apparently because the Israeli Defense Force was angered last month by an Israeli broadcast that showed troops blowing off the door to a family’s house with explosives and finding that they had fatally wounded a woman inside. An Israeli soldier turned to the camera and said: “I don’t know what we’re doing here. Purification, maybe – apparently it’s dirty here. I don’t know why a good Hebrew soldier should be here so far from home.” Top military officers said the Israeli outlet had violated a deal in which the army could censor images, but the outlet, Channel 2, said it had given advance notice that the deal was off.
The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization in the United States, with members living in several other nations and some working in the Middle East, including Israel and the West Bank. SPJ works to improve and protect journalism and is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.
SPJ'S LETTER TO THE ISRAELI EMBASSY:
April 10, 2002
Ambassador David Ivry
Embassy of Israel
3514 International Drive
Dear Mr. Ambassador:
The Society of Professional Journalists is the oldest and broadest organization of journalists in the United States, with some of our 9,000 members living or working in other nations, including yours. SPJ is deeply concerned that the Government of Israel is worsening the grave situation in the Occupied Territories by injuring, intimidating and inhibiting journalists who are attempting to report the biggest story in the world today. Journalists serve all people regardless of race, religion or political persuasion, and the efforts of journalists need to be unfettered.
We respectfully ask that the Israeli Defense Force and other elements of the government allow reporters, photographers and producers to do their jobs, and cease the intimidation that has escalated at times into serious injury. These journalists are not the enemies of Israel or the Palestinians. They are the enemies of ignorance and prevarication, and the allies of truth and enlightenment.
While the practice of journalism varies among nations, we believe that the overwhelming majority of journalists subscribe to the chief tenets of the SPJ Code of Ethics: Seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable. Only independent reporters, observing events first-hand, can sort through conflicting claims. For example, journalists are trying to determine whether dozens of clergy inside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity are hostages or willing companions.
When either side in a conflict restricts journalists’ movement or reporting, there is reason to question that side’s motives. When journalists take a side and fail to deliver fair coverage of events, their motives can be questioned, too. We don’t know whether that has happened in the current situation, but that’s no reason to subject reporters, photographers and producers to the intimidation and injury we have seen from your government. It has long been a beacon of democracy and freedom in the Middle East. In this case, it is not. As award-winning war correspondent David Halberstam said last night on CNN, Israel seems to be saying, “We don’t want you to see what we’re doing; we have become something different from what we intended to be.” Please change your policies.