Israeli Occupation Forces defends attack on journalists in Nabi Saleh

 
After Israeli armed forces opened fire directly at him and fellow journalists, photojournalist Mati Milstein filed complaints with the Israeli authorities responsible. After a five month delay, the IDF Spokesperson responds: ignoring the evidence, defending the IDF for opening fire, disparaging the journalistic relevance of covering Nabi Saleh protests, and insisting journalists on the scene are there at their own risk. 

By Mati Milstein: +972 Magazine: 26 December 2011

Nearly five months ago, on July 29, Israeli reserve infantrymen and Border Police officers opened fire on a group of photojournalists and television cameramen during a non-violent protest in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. Troops from the Alexandroni Brigade then – totally unprovoked – arbitrarily threatened me and fellow press photographers with arrest. Days later, I filed a formal complaint with the Israel Defense Forces, the Israeli Border Police and the Israeli Government Press Office, with all relevant details required for an investigation of the attack.

The GPO kindly forwarded my complaint – adding a cover letter from GPO Director Oren Helman requesting a timely examination of and response to my claims – to key officials in the Border Police and the IDF, as well as to the Foreign Press Association.

The Border Police ignored the query entirely. The IDF Spokesperson Unit failed to acknowledge receipt of both my original complaint and the GPO’s subsequent request for a response. However, via periodic telephone queries to the IDF Spokesperson, I was made to understand that the incident was under investigation and that – due to its complex nature and the multiple military units involved – this investigation would take time. I was assured that at its conclusion I would receive a formal response.

Five months passed. Only in the final week of 2011 did I finally receive a formal response from the Israeli army. With excited anticipation, I opened the response from Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich, of the IDF Spokesperson Unit’s North America Desk.

Leibovich’s letter was a general – and quite inaccurate – proclamation purportedly describing the “violent and illegal demonstrations” and consistent rock-throwing attacks faced by Israeli soldiers in Nabi Saleh.

In a blatant show of disrespect of the very media she is meant to be assisting, Leibovich ignored the details of the July 29 incident, which I had so meticulously provided to her. She instead unilaterally justified the use of force and violence by Israeli security forces against both protesters and media personnel.

Given that Leibovich’s letter made no reference whatsoever to an investigation, it seems clear that the army never did carry out any examination of the violence and threats against members of the media.

Leibovich actually took it upon herself to make sweeping value judgments on the news coverage of the protests, stating that “though the weekly frequency of the demonstrations has removed from them all news value, journalists and photographers frequently come to [cover] these demonstrations,” adding that “members of the media are sometimes caught in the eye of the storm.”

Clearly, conflict photographers face certain risks when carrying out their professional duties – indeed, they are sometimes caught in the eye of the storm – and they consciously accept these risks. Photojournalists, who must be physically close to their subjects, knowingly place themselves in the crossfire. My colleagues and I – Israeli, Palestinian and foreign – have in the past been inadvertently hurt while covering such events, hit by rocks, rubber bullets and tear gas grenades. This is, simply put, part and parcel of the job. No one complains.

However, Leibovich proceeded in her letter to transfer responsibility for harm to media personnel from the heavily-armed and heavily-protected security forces to the journalists themselves: “It is important to note that journalists who enter areas in which there is consistent violent and illegal disorder, such as Nabi Saleh – the responsibility is theirs, as is accepted in other areas of conflict around the world.”

Leibovich fails to understand a critical distinction: There is a fundamental difference between: 1) journalists voluntarily placing themselves in areas where, during the course of their work, they might face potential and inadvertent harm; and 2) soldiers voluntarily opening fire on a group of clearly-marked journalists, even when no protesters or other perceived threats are located in the vicinity of said journalists.

Lieutenant Colonel Leibovich, with all due respect, did you really think no one would notice if you abdicated your responsibilities and ignored both a legitimate complaint filed by an accredited member of the Israeli press corps, as well as the Israeli GPO’s own request for a proper investigation of the attack?

Rather than carrying out your duties, you exploited the circumstances of an unforgivable violent attack on the media to further propagate a propaganda that ignores all – very verifiable – facts on the ground.

Meanwhile, the protests in Nabi Saleh continue, as does the press coverage of these protests, despite Leibovich’s firm belief that this coverage has no journalistic value.

The soldiers of the Alexandroni Brigade have long since returned home, but Israeli military units subsequently deployed to Nabi Saleh continue to open fire on both non-violent protestors and members of the media, making illegal use of the weapons at their disposal. In the interceding five months, one man was killed in the village and numerous individuals have been wounded seriously enough to require hospitalization.

Leibovich failed completely to respond to my charge of an Israeli military attack on press freedom and, furthermore, has provided tacit systemic approval for future direct, tactically-unjustified – and potentially deadly – attacks on journalists.

No lessons have been learned here. The blood – when it comes again, as it surely will – will also be on your hands, Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich.

Mati Milstein’s photography and writing have appeared in Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post, Bild, Le Monde, Monocle, Daily Mirror, National Geographic News, The Forward and other publications.

Live Sniper-Fire Injures Protester in Nabi Saleh

by Popular Struggle Coordination Committee: 23 December 2011

Two weeks after the killing of Mustafa Tamimi during a demonstration in the village, an Israeli sniper shot a protester with live 0.22″ caliber ammunition, banned for crowd control purposes.

Earlier today, an Israeli military sniper opened fire at demonstrators in the village of Nabi Saleh, injuring one in the thigh. The wounded protester was evacuated by a Red Crescent ambulance to the Salfit hospital. The incident takes place only two weeks after the fatal shooting of Mustafa Tamimi at the very same spot. Additionally, a Palestinian journalist was injured in his leg by a tear-gas projectile shot directly at him, and two Israeli protesters were arrested.

Protester evacuated after being shot with live ammo in Nabi Saleh. Picture credit: Oren Ziv/ActiveStills
Protester evacuated after being shot with live ammo in Nabi Saleh today. Picture credit: Oren Ziv/ActiveStills

The protester was hit by 0.22″ caliber munitions, which military regulations forbid using in the dispersal of demonstrations. Late in 2001, Judge Advocate General, Menachem Finkelstein, reclassified 0.22” munitions as live ammunition, and specifically forbade its use as a crowd control means. The reclassification was decided upon following numerous deaths of Palestinian demonstrators, mostly children.

Despite this fact, the Israeli military resumed using the 0.22” munitions to disperse demonstrations in the West Bank in the wake of Operation Cast Lead. Since then at least two Palestinian demonstrators have been killed by 0.22” fire:

  • Az a-Din al-Jamal, age 14, was killed on 13 February 2009, in Hebron,
  • Aqel Sror, age 35, was killed on 5 June 2009, in Ni’lin.

Following the death of Aqel Srour, JAG Brig. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit reasserted that 0.22” munitions are not classified by the IDF as means for dispersing demonstrations or public disturbances. The rules for use of these means in Judea and Samaria are stringent, and comparable to the rules for opening fire with ‘live’ ammunition.

Contrary to the army’s official position, permissive use of 0.22” munitions against demonstrators continues in non life-threatening situations.

Background
Late in 2009, settlers began gradually taking over Ein al-Qaws (the Bow Spring), which rests on lands belonging to Bashir Tamimi, the head of the Nabi Saleh village council. The settlers, abetted by the army, erected a shed over the spring, renamed it Maayan Meir, after a late settler, and began driving away Palestinians who came to use the spring by force – at times throwing stones or even pointing guns at them, threatening to shoot.

While residents of Nabi Saleh have already endured decades of continuous land grab and expulsion to allow for the ever continuing expansion of the Halamish settlement, the takeover of the spring served as the last straw that lead to the beginning of the village’s grassroots protest campaign of weekly demonstrations in demand for the return of their lands.

Protest in the tiny village enjoys the regular support of Palestinians from surrounding areas, as well as that of Israeli and international activists. Demonstrations in Nabi Saleh are also unique in the level of women participation in them, and the role they hold in all their aspects, including organizing. Such participation, which often also includes the participation of children reflects the village’s commitment to a truly popular grassroots mobilization, encompassing all segments of the community.

The response of the Israeli military to the protests has been especially brutal and includes regularly laying complete siege on village every Friday, accompanied by the declaration of the entire village, including the built up area, as a closed military zone. Prior and during the demonstrations themselves, the army often completely occupies the village, in effect enforcing an undeclared curfew. Military nighttime raids and arrest operations are also a common tactic in the army’s strategy of intimidation, often targeting minors.

In order to prevent the villagers and their supporters from exercising their fundamental right to demonstrate and march to their lands, soldiers regularly use disproportional force against the unarmed protesters. The means utilized by the army to hinder demonstrations include, but are not limited to, the use of tear-gas projectiles, banned high-velocity tear-gas projectiles, rubber-coated bullets and, at times, even live ammunition.

The use of such practices have already caused countless injuries, several of them serious, including those of children – the most serious of which is that of 14 year-old Ehab Barghouthi, who was shot in the head with a rubber-coated bullet from short range on March 5th, 2010 and laid comatose in the hospital for three weeks.

Tear-gas, as well as a foul liquid called “The Skunk”, which is shot from a water cannon, is often used inside the built up area of the village, or even directly pointed into houses, in a way that allows no refuge for the uninvolved residents of the village, including children and the elderly. The interior of at least one house caught fire and was severely damaged after soldiers shot a tear-gas projectile through its windows.

Since December 2009, when protest in the village was sparked, hundreds of demonstration-related injuries caused by disproportionate military violence have been recorded in Nabi Saleh.

Between January 2010 and June 2011, the Israeli Army has carried 76 arrests of people detained for 24 hours or more on suspicions related to protest in the village of Nabi Saleh, including those of women and of children as young as 11 years old. Of the 76, 18 were minors. Dozens more were detained for shorter periods