Foreign press group blasts IDF for attack on AFP reporters

Military must ‘show respect for freedom of press’ and ‘control behavior of soldiers,’ FPA charges; army says incident under investigation

A still image taken from footage shot in the West Bank on September 25, 2015 apparently shows an IDF soldier hurling a camera belonging to AFP reporters to the ground. (screen capture: YouTube)
A still image taken from footage shot in the West Bank on September 25, 2015 apparently shows an IDF soldier hurling a camera belonging to AFP reporters to the ground. (screen capture: YouTube)

The Foreign Press Association condemned on Saturday “in the strongest possible terms” the “deplorable” behavior of Israeli army troops who it said assaulted two journalists from a foreign news agency in the West Bank on Friday, an incident partly caught on camera.

According to AFP, IDF soldiers seized and destroyed equipment belonging to two of its journalists near Nablus, and a video journalist with the agency, Italian Andrea Bernardi, was thrown to the ground and jabbed in the side with a weapon. The agency said Bernardi was held down on the ground by a soldier, one knee on his chest, until he managed to show his press card. Bernardi suffered bruised ribs and a facial injury.

AFP said it had protested to the Israeli military over the incident and said it intended to file an official complaint.

Army spokesman Colonel Peter Lerner told the agency that the highest levels of command are aware of the incident, including the head of IDF troops in the West Bank, and that “disciplinary measures will be taken.”

“From the initial investigation it appears that the force did not operate as is expected of them, and [was] in contravention of regulations,” the army’s Spokesman’s Unit told the Israeli media Saturday.

The Foreign Press Association (FPA), which works with foreign journalists based in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, said that while it welcomed the IDF probe, “our concern is that had this not been caught on camera, nothing would be done.”

In the statement, the association said the assault caused several thousand dollars worth of damage.

“Units of the IDF too frequently act with impunity and apparently outside of their orders in direct contradiction with the ideal of high morals Israel’s military says it adheres to. The Foreign Press Association has raised its concerns with the IDF on multiple occasions but seen no discernible change in behavior,” the FPA said.

“It is time for the IDF command to act, to show it respects the freedom of the press and that it has control over the behavior of soldiers on the ground,” it added.

AFP said the soldiers pointed their weapons at Bernardi and his colleague, Palestinian photographer Abbas Momani. They also allegedly smashed a video camera and a camera for photographs and took away another camera and a mobile phone. Some of the incident is caught on the video.

At the time both journalists were wearing body armor clearly marked “Press,” AFP said.

The pair had been covering clashes between Palestinians and soldiers when some troops took them aside, swore at them in English and told them to stop recording events, AFP said.

In an incident on April 24, the Palestinian photographer manhandled Friday and a Palestinian colleague had stones thrown at them by Israeli soldiers, AFP said.

That incident was filmed, and the army announced that disciplinary action would be taken against the soldiers involved.

Friday’s clashes between Palestinians and troops at Beit Furik came after the funeral of Ahmed Khatatbeh, 26, who died of his wounds after being shot by soldiers near Nablus in the northern West Bank. The army said he and another man had thrown a firebomb at a vehicle on a road to the settlement of Itamar.

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