IDF accused of deliberately targeting journalists

Military rejects Foreign Press Association report that soldiers threw stun grenades and shot rubber bullets at reporters

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

A photojournalist takes a photo of riot policemen during clashes in east Jerusalem in February of 2011. (Illustrative photo: Ruben Salvadori/Flash 90)
A photojournalist takes a photo of riot policemen during clashes in east Jerusalem in February of 2011. (Illustrative photo: Ruben Salvadori/Flash 90)

Israeli soldiers deliberately targeted journalists during a protest Friday afternoon, the Foreign Press Association in Israel charged.

According to a statement released by the FPA Sunday, IDF troops threw stun grenades at photographers as they were leaving the Qalandiya checkpoint. The organization alleged that even after the journalist raised their hands in the air, the soldiers continued to throw grenades at their backs.

Earlier in the day, an Italian photojournalist’s camera was hit by a rubber bullet, which shattered the camera and almost hit him, according to the statement.

The IDF rejected the FPA’s account of the incident.

“On the 29th of November, 2013,” said the IDF spokesperson’s office in a statement sent Monday to The Times of Israel, “an illegal and violent protest took place at the Qalandiya Crossing, during which firebombs were thrown and rocks hurled toward security forces, who responded appropriately with riot dispersal means. Throughout the provocation, photojournalists were sighted adjacent to and in the midst of the rioters, putting themselves at risk.”

AFP’s chief photographer Marco Longari said journalists were standing 60 feet from youths hurling stones at soldiers when IDF forces began firing rubber bullets without warning.

“Usually they shoot at the legs, but this was at eye level,” Longari said. “The bullet hit the upper part of the camera casing — if he hadn’t been taking a picture, he would have been killed. We showed the camera to the commander and he laughed and said it was a mistake, but you don’t shoot by mistake at eye level.”

“In the initial IDF review of the incident,” the army said, “the IDF concluded that the rubber bullet which hit the photojournalist’s camera, who was in the vicinity of violent protesters, was not intentionally fired toward him, but part of the riot dispersal means which were aimed at disbanding the protest.”

However, the FPA’s statement said that “all the photographers in question wore clearly marked jackets and helmets. There is no question that the forces were directly targeting the journalists.”

The Tel Aviv-based group has released a number of statements about IDF harassment or abuse of journalists over the past two years, and charges that Israeli investigations, when they were opened, have not yielded results.

Established in June 1957, the FPA works to ease bureaucratic hurdles for its members covering the region.

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