Nael Shyouki, a Palestinian cameraman for the British news agency Reuters, shows FRONTLINE/World reporter Patricia Naylor where he was shot by Israeli soldiers in Hebron in March 1998.
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
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.
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