'IDF troops shot at journalists covering W. Bank protest'
By BEN HARTMAN
Photojournalist files complaint alleging IDF intentionally fired at him; IDF says it cannot investigate incident in depth without full details.
An American-Israeli photojournalist on Thursday lodged a complaint with the IDF Spokesman’s Office, the Government Press Office and the Foreign Press Association, alleging that IDF soldiers intentionally fired anti-riot projectiles at him and a fellow journalist while they were covering a protest in the West Bank village of Nabi Salih last Friday.
“At the start of the weekly Palestinian protest in Nabi Salih, Alexandroni Brigade reservists and Border Police officers opened fire with riot-control weapons on a group of some 10 press photographers,” Mati Milstein, 36, and originally from New Mexico, said in his complaint letter.
“At the time the attack took place, the troops had already repelled Palestinian protesters with tear gas canisters, and the only people left on the street in view of the Israeli force were accredited press photographers,” wrote Milstein.
“The photographers were clearly identified; carrying still and video cameras and tripods and wearing unique blue flak jackets and helmets marked with ‘PRESS’ or ‘TV.’ The distance between the journalists and soldiers was approximately 100m. and visibility was clear,” he wrote.
Milstein said that the tear gas canisters and rifle-fired gas grenades shot at the Israeli, Palestinian and foreign journalists were not fired in an arc, indicating to Milstein that the soldiers were not trying to fire over him and his colleagues, rather, directly at them.
He said the barrage lasted three to five minutes and included at least 12 rounds fired at the journalists, none of whom were wounded.
When he went to the soldiers to complain, officers from the Alexandroni Brigade threatened him with arrest and demanded that he stand against a wall, which prevented him from performing his job, Milstein said.
“Other television and still photographers in the area were also sequestered – under threat of arrest – to a location behind military lines from which it was virtually impossible to photograph the events,” he said.
Milstein, who first reported the incident in a post he wrote for the blog “972mag,” told The Jerusalem Post by e-mail on Thursday that in the years that he has worked at the protests, “previous Israeli military commanders serving in this sector had generally taken a more tolerant and sophisticated approach to dealing with the weekly protests, not infrequently seeking negotiation or coordination with Palestinian village leaders aimed at diffusing potentially violent situations. However, since early 2001, army and Border Police units operating in Nabi Salih have taken an increasingly heavy-handed approach to the protests.”
He said a similar escalation has been carried out toward the press, an escalation he says is “the product of a military environment that increasingly sees the media as an enemy or a fifth column rather than as one of the key elements required for the maintenance of a democratic, transparent state.”
Milstein said that he knows of other journalists who have suffered abuse from one side or another in covering the conflict, but have kept quiet to avoid damaging their credibility or out of professional interests.
He said that he is seeking no personal damages following the incident, and that he decided to file the complaint because of a situation in the West Bank where “abuse of journalists and draconian limitations on press freedoms are now largely seen as acceptable. And perhaps, in some cases and in some units, are even encouraged.”
None of the other journalists filed a complaint with the Foreign Press Association, but the FPA referred the case to the International News Safety Institute and forwarded his entry on “972mag” to Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists, Milstein said.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office responded that “the IDF respects journalistic freedom of expression and understands its importance. As proof of this, every week there are dozens of journalists present covering the disturbances [in the West Bank] in a free manner, as long as they do not interfere with the work of [IDF] forces.
“Every complaint that is issued will be thoroughly examined by the IDF and any deviation from command, if discovered, will be dealt with accordingly. It should be noted that journalists who enter territories in which there are disturbances and illegal activities on a regular basis – such as Nabi Salih – do bear responsibility. Since full information on this incident was not submitted, it will not be possible to examine it in depth,” the IDF spokesman said.