Joel Campagna works for the Committee to Protect Journalists
(CPJ) as its program coordinator for the Middle East and Africa.
The CPJ is an independent organization based in New York that
monitors the treatment of reporters -- and intervenes on their
behalf -- around the world. FRONTLINE/World's Web editor
Douglas Foster interviewed Campagna by email as he was finishing
the Israel chapter of the Committee's annual report on press
freedoms worldwide. The report will be released on the CPJ
Web site on March 31, 2003. Currently on the CPJ site is a report expressing concern about two Palestinian reporters for Reuters who were seriously injured during an Israeli raid in Gaza on March 6, 2003.
What are working conditions like right now for journalists
covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
For those who work on the front lines, the West Bank and Gaza
are still among the most complicated and potentially dangerous
beats in the world. Since the second intifada began, journalists
have encountered a variety of obstacles, ranging from bombs
to bullets and physical attacks to severe limits on their freedom
At the moment, one of the most pressing concerns is restrictions
on movement of journalists throughout the West Bank. This past
summer Israel reoccupied most of the West Bank, increased the
number of roadblocks and has regularly imposed curfews on Palestinian
cities. This, coupled with tough new government restrictions
on press accreditation for Palestinian journalists, has made
it exceedingly difficult for journalists, many of whom work
for international news organizations, to cover events in the
West Bank. Press accreditation, or press cards, facilitate movement
through army checkpoints.
Last January, the Government Press Office adopted a hard-line
policy to deny accreditation to Palestinian journalists, which
has made it even more difficult for news organizations to report
from the field. Local Palestinian reporters find it exceedingly
difficult to move around the cities and within the West Bank.
While the situation at the moment is perhaps not as dangerous
for journalists as it was in the spring, when Israel launched
successive military operations into the West Bank, it is still
unpredictable and can take a turn for the worse at any given
Have the conditions for journalists covering the conflict
gotten better or worse?
If you look at the last 27 months of the intifada, you will
notice that press conditions often change with the situation
on the ground. In the first three months of the intifada, when
clashes were intense, the number of attacks against journalists
spiked. In several incidents, journalists were assaulted by
troops and security forces or wounded by army gunfire.
The same can be said for this past spring during Israel's
large-scale military offensive in the West Bank, when press
freedom conditions sharply deteriorated to their worst levels
since the intifada began. During the operation the army used
threats, intimidation and, in some cases, potentially lethal
force to prevent journalists from covering its military operations.
There were several cases in which Israeli Defense Forces [IDF]
soldiers fired live rounds at or in the direction of working
reporters, detained several journalists, confiscated film or
press cards from others, and ransacked the offices of private
West Bank television and radio stations.
On the Palestinian side, abuses against the press tend to
be a function of events on the ground. Palestinian security
forces have confiscated film from photographers and threatened
reporters who have covered stories deemed sensitive. So, too,
have Palestinian militants and demonstrators. In a highly publicized
incident in 2001, Palestinian security forces harassed and prevented
several journalists from covering demonstrations of Palestinians
in the West Bank city of Nablus who were celebrating the attacks
on New York City and Washington, D.C. In another incident in
2001, a PNA official issued a veiled threat to an Associated
Press cameraman who had filmed Palestinians in the West Bank
town of Nablus celebrating the September 11 attacks. The official
said that the journalist's safety could not be guaranteed if
the footage were aired.
What's behind these kinds of restrictions?
In addition to being a conflict involving bombs and bullets,
the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is also a conflict of images.
Both sides have attempted to stymie press coverage that they
have deemed to affect their causes negatively. The IDF has attempted
to do this by using closed military areas and intimidating journalists.
The PA [Palestinian Authority] has done this by confiscating
film and preventing journalists from covering certain events.
How do conditions in Israel and Palestinian-controlled
territory compare with those for reporters operating in zones
of conflict in other regions?
Every conflict is unique in terms of dangers they present
for reporters. Jerusalem-based reporters have different views
about this depending on their respective experiences. Some characterize
the West Bank and Gaza as a controlled kind of chaos where there
are many risks -- but one in which journalists tend to know
where they are and how to avoid to them. In a country like Afghanistan,
where eight reporters were murdered in a 16-day period in 2001,
there was a greater element of randomness and unpredictability.
At the same time, others note that covering the West Bank
and Gaza carries its own share of unpredictability and randomness,
with reporters coming under fire and being physically attacked
-- especially during volatile periods.
Still, the danger in the West Bank and Gaza is different from
a place such as Colombia, for example, where the risk of covering
the conflict there entails being hunted down by paramilitary
or rebel groups.
What is unique about the West Bank and Gaza is how Israel,
in particular, has created a dangerous and difficult situation
for the press. During intensive military operations this year,
the army clearly sought to thwart journalists from covering
events by barring journalists from conflict areas and intimidating
those who attempted to enter those areas. Today, reporters still
face government-imposed restrictions on freedom of movement
such as checkpoints and the denial of press accreditation.
How do these conditions compare with those for reporters
in other parts of the Middle East?
In terms of recent conflict reporting, the West Bank has certainly
been the most dangerous in the Middle East for reporters. In
2002, three journalists were killed there. Several more were
wounded or escaped life-threatening situations. Many regularly
face difficulty in simply moving around the West Bank -- confronting
the risk of being attacked or having their film confiscated.
Other governments in the region attempted to limit conflict
reporting too. In Algeria, where civil war has raged since 1991,
the government has limited the movement of foreign reporters,
who are required to travel with government "minders." In Jordan
this past year, the army barred journalists from entering the
southern town of Maan, where troops battled with militants.
One of the paradoxes of covering Israel and the occupied territories
is that you have a situation where there is a good degree of
press access overall. In the last year, thousands of journalists
have passed through Jerusalem and the territories to cover the
intifada and report on its violent twists and turns. It is one
of the most covered international stories today. Yet at the
same time, journalists have faced numerous restrictions in the
field -- some overt and others more subtle.
Has the committee investigated the claims presented in
Patricia Naylor's report?
Over the years, CPJ has documented a number of cases of journalists
wounded by Israeli gunfire where the available evidence suggests
that they may have been deliberately targeted by Israeli soldiers
or that, at the very least, soldiers behaved recklessly. In
the first year and a half of the intifada, there were cases
of journalists who were shot in the legs, head or even hands
as they held cameras. In one case, a bullet hit a journalist's
camera lens. In many cases, reporters hit by gunfire were far
removed from clashes and easily recognizable as journalists
because of their conspicuous camera equipment.
Last year, in March and April, it was quite clear in a number
of cases that the army fired at or in the direction of reporters
trying to cover the IDF's offensive in the West Bank. One of
the most serious cases took place on April 1, when NBC correspondent
Dana Lewis and his two-man camera crew came under IDF fire in
Ramallah while driving in an armored car marked clearly as press.
A soldier fired two rounds at their car and then a third, even
as the journalists stopped their car, turned on an interior
light to make themselves visible and placed their hands on the
windshield. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
Have journalists been detained or jailed solely for their
work as reporters?
Since the intifada began, several Palestinian
journalists have been detained by Israeli forces, some while
in the line of duty, others from their homes as part of what
appeared to be larger dragnets. Palestinian journalists have
also been questioned or detained by the Palestinian Authority.
Three of the longest-held journalists were Hossam Abu Alan,
a veteran photographer for Agence France-Presse; Youssry al-Jamal,
a soundman for Reuters news agency; and Kamel Jbeil, a reporter
for the Palestinian daily Al-Quds. They were detained
by Israeli troops in April and held for several months in administrative
detention without charge. The government accused them of having
contacts with militant groups, but never provided details or
evidence to support their allegations. All three were released
in September and October last year without any charges being
brought. During their detention, CPJ issued several letters
of protest to the Israeli government, and representatives of
our organization met with government officials in Israel to
express concern about their incarceration and to press for their
How does the committee evaluate conflicting reports from
a war zone like this?
We approach our work the same way any good journalist would
-- by verifying our information through as many credible sources
as possible. Most of our documentation entails firsthand reporting,
interviews with victims, eyewitnesses and government officials.
In some cases we have corroborated our information through the
use of video footage.
How does the organization weigh competing claims of the
reporters themselves and the governments accused of these abuses?
When investigating a particular abuse, such as the shooting
of a journalist, we try to obtain all sides of the story, including
those of the journalists, eyewitnesses and government officials.
In a story as explosive as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
it is essential to rigorously document and weigh the credibility
of our information as carefully as possible. As an international
organization, our credibility rests on our ability to accurately
Danny Seaman, the spokesman for Israel's Government Press
Office, claims that Palestinian stringers working for European
and North American press outlets are really under the thumb
of the Palestinian Authority. Does the committee take such claims
into account when it conducts an investigation?
Since its founding, the Palestinian Authority's record on
press freedom has been consistently poor. Officials have harassed,
censored and intimidated both local and foreign journalists.
As a result, Palestinian journalists who live and work in the
areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority operate under
especially tough conditions.
However, the assertion that Palestinian stringers are being
controlled by the Palestinian Authority is one that foreign
bureau chiefs categorically dismiss. CPJ would be concerned
about any allegation of a journalist being coerced by the Palestinian
Authority or Palestinian militants in their reporting and will
investigate any such allegation that comes to our attention.
As far as documenting cases goes, we apply the same rigorous
scrutiny to all cases, whether they involve Israeli or Palestinian
journalists. Our aim is to apply the most rigorous journalistic
standards to ensure the credibility of our information.
It goes without saying that anywhere in the world there are
examples of both professional and unprofessional journalism.
From my personal experience I can say that there are a great
many Israeli and Palestinian journalists working for foreign
news outlets who demonstrate exceptional professionalism.
Seaman also says that given the ferocity of the conflict,
it's remarkable to note how few journalists have been
killed, wounded or obstructed in their work.
This is not something the Israeli authorities can claim any
credit for. Three journalists were killed in the West Bank in
2002, with several more wounded. In fact, it is remarkable that
more have not been killed. Yola Monakhov, a photographer for
Associated Press, was gravely wounded in the stomach by IDF
gunfire in 2000 in a case of excessive force in which the IDF
acknowledged responsibility. French reporter Bertrand Aguirre
was saved by his bulletproof vest in 2001 when a border policeman
inexplicably opened fire in his direction. And Dana Lewis of
NBC was no doubt saved from injury by his armored car in April.
There have been several other close calls.
What's the committee's experience in getting a response
from the Israeli government when you make queries, pursue investigations,
In 2001, a delegation of CPJ representatives met with Israel's
ambassador to the U.S., David Ivry, to express our organization's
concern about several cases in which journalists were wounded
by IDF gunfire. At the (meeting), we pointed out that unless
concrete steps were taken to ensure the safety of reporters,
it was only a matter of time before someone would be killed.
The ambassador took our concerns seriously, and the army subsequently
made statements calling on troops to be mindful of reporters
in the field. Yet we still witnessed examples last year -- in
March and April, in particularčof the IDF demonstrating a clear
disregard for journalists' safety.
What's next on the committee's agenda?
We will continue to document and publicize abuses when they
occur on both sides and fight to ensure that journalists are
able to perform their work safely and without interference.
One of our major concerns in the coming year will be the issue
of accreditation and access for journalists covering the occupied
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