The video I just saw on PBS, was very disturbing, they were shooting at Journalist, one journalist was on the ground, face down, bleeding from a head wound, and they shot him in the back. Two French Journalist were shot, one Israeli Journalist was shot, he is now sueing the IDF. He said until they realized he was Israeli, they treated him like shit, and shot him, he made a good point, because they said he was reckless, he served in the military, like every citizen is required to do in Israel.
What was it like for a Canadian television producer to investigate charges that Israeli soldiers have targeted journalists? FRONTLINE/World series editor Stephen Talbot spoke with "In the Line of Fire" reporter Patricia Naylor about her experiences covering the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the hazards journalists encounter.
How did you come to be in Israel?
It was a decision my husband and I made. He's a foreign correspondent for Canadian Television News. He was offered a job to run the bureau out of the Middle East. We both went over. I'm his producer, and I often shoot his stand-ups. I then started doing a documentary, and we ended up being in Israel for three years.
When did you arrive?
I arrived in December 1999. The intifada started in September 2000. So we had a good taste of the peaceful time and the coexistence between the Palestinians and Israelis that did exist before the fighting started. It was impossible for us to believe that it was going to keep spiraling out of control.
Where did you live in Israel?
We lived on the outskirts of Jerusalem until we got a shell on our balcony after the intifada started.
A shell landed on your balcony?
It exploded just a few balconies from us, but there was a burst of fire on our balcony too. We actually couldn't believe it, and then we read that our area had been hit by some new piece of artillery that was being used by the Palestinians.
You were in the crossfire in an artillery battle even though you hadn't left your apartment?
Yes, which was quite a shock, actually. That night, when we were laying in bed, we (said to each other), "A bomb or another shell could come right in our house, so maybe we should move." Later, our foreign desk phoned and said that we should. We moved to another house quite near the old city of Jerusalem, which is so beautiful and which was safer.
At what point did you get onto your story of journalists coming under fire?
Before the intifada started, I had heard about the [Palestinian] cameramen in Hebron. We had worked with them on a story in Hebron, where they're based. And they were telling us that they were sometimes shot at. They said that they were beaten up, and I couldn't believe it. They said, No, really, we are. They said, We've been collecting videotape on this.
These are the Palestinian cameramen working in the West Bank, who are employed by Western news agencies. Why is it that Western news agencies work with them?
The news agencies need people who are there at the scene, where things happen. They have to have people who can quickly get there, who can record it, who understand the language, who can move around, who know the safe routes to move around. So they depend on Palestinian journalists they train. They've trained them for years. Most of these guys that I met have been working 10, 12, 15 years with the same agency -- AFP, AP, Reuters. I needed them, for example, because I don't speak Arabic. When I go into an area that has some danger, that has volatility, I have to find a local fixer who can take me in there safely, show me where I need to go, and in case I get into problems, get me out of there really fast.
What's the Israeli government or press office view of this kind of arrangement?
The Israeli government has decided, during the last year of the intifada, that (the Palestinian cameramen) are not journalists. So they've taken away all the press credentials of all the Palestinian cameramen. And they've said, You no longer have press cards from the Israeli government -- which, in effect, means that they can no longer go into offices in Jerusalem. They actually can't leave the cities where they work. And some of those cities are quite small.
What's the effect of that particular restriction on the news we get from those areas?
It does, in effect, limit the news. People are struggling to find other ways to cover it. It's not an easy thing to do because with all the checkpoints, you can't quickly get somebody from Jerusalem to another area of the West Bank or Gaza.
Israeli tank on a road outside of the West Bank city of Hebron.
You interviewed Palestinian cameramen and other journalists who charge that they have been fired upon by Israeli soldiers using rubber bullets and, sometimes, even live ammunition. Do you think this is deliberate policy or is it out-of-control individuals who are responsible?
It doesn't matter if it's intentional or negligence; what matters, really, is whether it's being dealt with, whether it continues. The real questions are: What's being done to stop it, and are these cases being investigated seriously, and are people being punished for it? That is not happening.
Did you ever go to the Israeli army, to the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), and simply ask, "Why are soldiers doing this?"
I did call the army many times, and we had three or four interviews set up. In each case, the army cancelled the interview -- sometimes on the morning of the interview, sometimes the night before.
Your report also shows that these cameramen are attacked, sometimes by Jewish settlers. Have you spoken with the settlers?
I have spoken to settlers and to the head of the settler organization in Hebron. They say, publicly, that they don't like to see this happening; but they also say they don't like the press -- they're very open about not liking the press. Even with foreign journalists, they are often hostile because as far as they're concerned, the image of them in the Western world is not a positive one. They don't believe that journalists are there to tell a positive story about them, so there's a longstanding embittered relationship with journalists.
Naylor with Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana.
You met an Israeli photographer who was shot while covering a Palestinian protest. He says that an Israeli soldier mistook him for a Palestinian.
Avichai Nitzan, that Israeli photographer, met with the soldier who shot him. And it's through that meeting with him that he learned more about the reason he was shot.
Hadn't Nitzan served in the Israeli army?
Yes, and so he had access, like none of the Palestinians who were shot would have, to the soldier who shot him. He was told immediately which soldier shot him. That soldier came to the hospital and apologized, along with the commander. And later Avichai Nitzan and the soldier met and talked about the incident, what the soldier was thinking at the time, which is how Avichai has come to conclude that he was mistaken for a Palestinian.
I'm curious about Danny Seaman, the head of the government office that deals with the foreign press in Israel. In your piece, we see him at a press conference expressing regret for any harm that's been done to journalists. Then when you interviewed him after the press conference, he appears genuinely disturbed by what you showed him, especially footage of the shooting of a Palestinian cameraman, Nael Shyouki.
I think he was genuinely concerned, and I think he had good intentions to try to improve the situation and do something about all the shootings. At that point, when we first had spoken, there'd been more than 40 shootings of journalists. I think as the intifada continued and the death toll for Israelis struck close to home his attitude hardened tremendously. Everyone knows someone who has been hurt or killed. I think that's why he took away the press credentials of the Palestinian journalists and feels that there's no need to investigate the shootings of Palestinian journalists. As far as he's concerned, they're all somehow related to the Palestinian Authority.
Close-up of Reuters journalist Nael Shyouki, grimacing, after being hit by rubber bullets in Hebron in March 1998.
What about that? These cameramen -- Mazen Dana, Nael Shyouki -- are Palestinians who live in the West Bank. They've seen the violence, and they must have feelings about it. I wonder if they are, in fact, neutral observers?
That's something that I know the news agencies like Reuters talk to them about all the time. And the cameramen are very -- you know, they're cameramen first. These are fairly prestigious jobs within the Palestinian cities, and they have a trade and they've been able to work throughout the intifada, which many people haven't. And they have to get the pictures that Reuters needs. Reuters has to show the funeral of the young girl, who was Israeli, who was killed in Hebron; and they have to show the pictures of the Palestinians who were killed in Hebron. And they can't just have pictures from one side or the millions of people who rely on their pictures to get the news every night would complain. These cameramen wouldn't keep their job if there was any problem with their work.
One of the things Danny Seaman said in your follow-up interview last summer is that Israel's a democracy, so why criticize us? He mentions Syria and argues that journalists would never challenge soldiers there because it could cost them their lives. He's complaining, in effect, about a double standard.
Well, nobody looks at the Arab countries as democracies. So, in a sense, we do hold Israel to a higher standard because we expect it to behave like a democracy. Also, we in the U.S. and Canada fund Israel to an enormous extent, so we have some obligation to make sure it behaves in a democratic way. I think the story in a war has to be told from both sides. You have to have Palestinian journalists who are also allowed to tell the story.
Palestinian and Israeli journalists protest the shooting of Nael Shyouki and other journalists, 1998.
What was working in the West Bank like for you?
Shooting this story certainly was the most dangerous thing I've ever done. There were two days when there was shelling and gunfire starting while we were just wrapping up interviews. On another day, fighter helicopters came overhead while we were doing an interview. I come from Canada. This was all well beyond what I wish to be involved in. During the intifada, it was very hard to do interviews. I was constantly having to cancel crews because that day was not a safe day to go. And then twice, I did get caught in fire. I just had to quit everything I was doing and leave.
What's the relationship like these days between international journalists and the Israeli government?
When you're working with the Israeli government, you're able to get access to officials at any time, 24 hours a day. The open anger toward us comes from many of the soldiers. It's no secret that the army doesn't like the media. They don't like the images of what they're doing being shown on television. But you know, lots of days, I would go to the West Bank and on the way down meet two dozen soldiers at the various checkpoints, and they'd be congenial. I think the larger problem in terms of these shootings seems to be the younger soldiers. They're 18 and they have guns and a lot of power. They feel they're under threat all day.
Reporter Patricia Naylor driving to the West Bank.
What's next for you?
We've left the Middle East, and we're going to start working in Beijing for a few years. My husband took a job with the China bureau for CTV. I'm going to take some time off, and my husband's going to pick up the slack.
That will be a change for you, out from under the pressure you've felt while working in Israel.
From the time you walk out of the house until you go to bed at night, you're thinking about the risk. It's what the Israeli people have to live with all the time. It's both exhausting and disturbing at a deep level. I was certainly happy to leave. I just hope things get better.