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Sunday, 12 August, 2001, 20:10 GMT 21:10 UK
Reporting the Intifada
Palestinians throw stones at an Israeli jeep near Ramallah on the West Bank
Since the Intifada began, journalists have often found themselves caught up in the violence
By BBC Monitoring's Morand Fachot

Two recent reports by international press bodies on press freedom violations and attacks against journalists in Israel and the Palestinian territories have highlighted the dangers faced by journalists in reporting the current violence in the Middle East.

A survey by Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) examining the cases of journalists injured by bullets, and a report by the Vienna-based International Press Institute, make disturbing reading.

Israeli soldier
Journalists may have been deliberately targeted by Israeli soldiers
Journalists "have repeatedly been targeted, shot, beaten, arrested, threatened and intimidated by Israelis (both soldiers and settlers) and by Palestinians (police and civilians)," the IPI report says.

RSF, for its part, says that 40 cases of gunshot wounds were recorded from 29 September 2000.

"In most cases, RSF came to believe that the shots were of Israeli origin," the report said.

Some examples indicate that journalists may have been deliberately targeted by Israeli soldiers.

Eighty-seven per cent of all violations were perpetrated by Israelis

International Press Institute

Palestinians have also threatened journalists on occasions, forcing, for instance, Italian TV channels to withdraw their reporters after an Italian crew filmed the lynching of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah in October 2000.

Journalist deaths

The IPI report records 102 incidents.

"There were two deaths, 43 journalists were shot and 42 were harassed and physically assaulted in other ways.

"Eighty-seven per cent of all violations were perpetrated by Israelis... The overwhelming majority of victimised journalists are of Palestinian origin [mainly working for foreign media outlets]."

The report is not "positive" from the perspective of Israel

Israeli chief press officer Daniel Seaman

The report added that "52 Palestinian media workers have been attacked, 17 beaten, 29 shot and eight shot at."

In the most recent incident, two Palestinian journalists were killed in an Israeli helicopter attack on a Hamas office in the West Bank on 31 July.

Difficult questions

Responding to the RSF report, Israeli government chief press officer Daniel Seaman acknowledged the report was "not 'positive' from the perspective of Israel".

"It raises difficult questions", he said in a statement.

"The authorities... feel the [Israeli] investigations [into the incidents], at times, leave much to be desired."

He regretted "any injury caused to journalists as a result of actions by our forces or individuals serving in our forces," and offered his apologies "in the name of the State of Israel to those journalists injured".

Raising awareness

Following the report, Mr Seaman announced measures "to do all we can to reduce, and hopefully eliminate, abuses of journalists."

We don't have an assassination policy

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres

Among these, he highlighted "creating an awareness that the media is not the enemy" by "toning down our rhetoric," and "teaching security personnel how to behave with the press".

Mr Seaman added that steps would be taken to facilitate contacts between members of the foreign press and Israeli security forces.

War of words

But on the Palestinian side, a war of words broke out after officials accused the BBC of banning its journalists from referring to Israel's targeted killings of Palestinian as "assassinations".

The BBC rejected the accusation, saying that "as part of a routine discussion on terminology it was felt that 'assassination' should be used to refer to the killing of high-ranking political leaders - the dictionary definition - rather than every killing that takes place."

As the statement was being made, though, an Israeli press release on Defence Ministry stationery referred to the killing of Palestinians as "assassinations", thus contradicting government policy.

The blunder was blamed by an Israeli spokesman on a translation error by a soldier "who didn't know what he was doing and shouldn't have been doing it in the first place."

The soldier "will not return to the job," the spokesman added.

Following the press release, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was forced to go on Israeli TV and stress "we don't have an assassination policy," adding, "that report will cause us tremendous damage."

Attacks on journalists and the daily war of words show that the difficulties surrounding the reporting of the continuous conflict in the region are likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

08 Dec 00 | Middle East
Intifada: Then and now
11 Apr 01 | Middle East
'Widespread' abuses in Hebron
13 Oct 00 | Middle East
Israel plans media counter-attack
06 Jun 01 | Middle East
Viewpoint: Gazans fear for the future
19 Jul 01 | Middle East
Life as a Jewish settler
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