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Synopsis of "In the Line of Fire"

When Journalists Become Targets

Charting Worldwide Risks

Hazards for Reporters Working in the West Bank and Gaza

Interview with Committee to Protect Journalists

Danny Seaman and Gideon Levy

Press freedom, slain journalists, background




Divergent Israeli Views: Interview with Gideon Levy

Gideon Levy

Can you describe what was happening at the time you were shot at?

We'd (gone) to make a story in Tukarem. We had all the licenses, all the agreements of the army, all the documents (saying) that we can enter ... . We waited for two hours to get all we needed at the checkpoint. Finally they let us in, and we started to drive into the city. At a certain stage (the) army stopped us and asked us what are we doing there. They directed us to go to a certain army base on the border of the city, (an order) we obviously obeyed.

We were in an Israeli taxi with all the signs of an Israeli taxi: yellow plates, white color. Finally we started to drive in the direction of the army base. When we were like 150 meters away from the base, they started all of a sudden to shoot at us.

They directed their fire to the center of the front window -- three bullets in the window, and another two bullets around it, five bullets altogether. Our only luck was that it was a bulletproof car because otherwise we wouldn't be talking now. We found a shelter, and we start hysterically calling anyone we could because we didn't know if they are going to continue their shooting or maybe they will bomb us. Finally the army came and rescued us.

What went through your mind when you realized you were being shot at?

Being helpless. I mean, this was the strongest feeling: You're helpless, you don't know what to do. How will you stop it? You're (thinking) that for so many years you've expected this moment. I always knew I'm taking a hell of a risk in going every week to the territories. (For) many years the main risk was from the Palestinian side. I must tell you that in the last two years I'm much more afraid of the Israeli soldiers rather than the Palestinians.

Did they know you were a journalist?

I don't know what they knew or not, and I think it is irrelevant. They knew it is an innocent taxi, (an) Israeli one, and they shot it like someone else lights a cigarette. And they do it on a daily basis, I'm afraid to say. The only difference is that this time I was in the taxi and not a Palestinian. If it would have been a Palestinian, this whole fuss wouldn't have taken place and the Minister of Defense wouldn't call to apologize and the soldiers wouldn't have been punished. But because it was me, it became a big fuss. But let's remember the real victims are the Palestinians and they are being shot like this on a daily basis.

Just to be clear then, would they have known from the Israeli plates that you were Israeli?

What could we be if not Israelis in an Israeli taxi? But even if they didn't know, you shoot in such an easy way at taxi, into the front window in the center? No shooting in the air? No megaphone calling us to stop? No shooting in the wheels? Just shoot to kill immediately? Do you know whom are you going to kill? No. They didn't know and they didn't care. That's so terrible. They didn't know and they couldn't care less.

What does it mean to be shot by your own?

This is dilemma which I'm in for many years now. Just yesterday morning I wrote an editorial supporting the initiative to appeal to the international court against war crimes by the Israeli army. It's a very complex feeling because, you see, my children are here and my children are going to be soldiers and the children of my friends are soldiers and I was a soldier.

I'm an Israeli, and I feel so Israeli. But I would like to see a different army. It's not the army that I dreamt about, and it's not the state I dreamt about. Therefore I think that it is very legitimate to do anything against this occupation regime.

I feel bizarre when many times I was standing among the Palestinian demonstrators, my back to the Palestinians, my face to the Israeli soldiers, (and) they were shooting in our direction. They are my people, and they are my army. The people I'm standing among are supposed to be the enemy. It's all mixed up.

Last week I was invited to lecture in one of the most secret and dangerous units of this same army. I do it on a regular basis. And I speak about human rights and the occupied territories. And we found common ground. I tried to deliver the message that Palestinians are also human beings, which is not a message they know because that's not the way they treat them.

Most Israelis today are sure that the Palestinians were born to kill. That they were born with, you know, this terrible cruelness of suicide bombers. I always ask why do they do it, what brought them to become so cruel. Because they were not born like this, they were born like us, like any other human being. This is today a very unpopular voice in Israel.

That feeling within the army that the Palestinians are not human -- where does it come from?

Once we are the occupier, it cannot be that we are equal. The idea was to prove to the Palestinians by force that we are the real landlords of this land, that there are no two landlords, there is only one landlord, the Jewish people. And having said this, you develop a whole dictionary, a whole body language, a whole concept of we the occupiers, the superiors, and they something else.

What can you say about the army's relationship with journalists?

I can tell you mainly about the army's relationship toward Israeli journalists. All the military correspondents, they all go with the army, they quote the army, they are so uncritical about the army in the last two years. If you try to criticize, they tell you, "Look at the United States. Look at the press there. Look at the media there. They are much worse than us. Nobody (there) asks any (critical) questions about Afghanistan."

So most of the media is very faithful, patriotic. But I must tell you that even toward someone like me, on the official level they are very fair with me. They give me the full freedom to really operate. They know what I'm writing and still they let me in on a regular basis. I can meet anyone. I must tell you that from this point of view Israel is a real democracy. They always say Israel is a real democracy toward Israeli Jews. I'm Israeli, I am Jewish and I really enjoy full democracy

One last thing. I talked to many journalists, mainly Palestinian cameramen and a few foreign journalists, who were shot multiple times. With the Palestinians (there was) never an investigation. Why is that?

Don't separate shooting journalists from shooting all the others, because it's the same rules of the game today. There is no difference between journalists and others. That's the policy of the army, not to investigate. There are very few restraints. Your life is in danger.

What does that mean?

That they don't take it seriously and it will happen again. Because they don't take it seriously, it will happen again and again and again -- today, tomorrow.

next: Naylor's interview with Danny Seaman

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