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IDF soldiers assault Reuters journalists after mistaking them for human rights workers

Soldiers beat cameramen in Hebron after suspecting that they work for B’Tselem. Recent years have seen an organized campaign by mainstream Israeli journalists and politicians against human rights organizations in Israel and the West Bank.

Reuters reported that two of its cameramen were abused by IDF soldiers in Hebron on Wednesday night. The men were stripped, beaten, and made to breathe tear gas at a very close range. The soldiers also took one of their cameras, which was later found unharmed nearby. The incident took place shortly after a local teenager was shot to death by a Border Police soldier at a Hebron checkpoint:

Here is an excerpt from the report Reuters published on the incident (my emphasis):

Yousri Al Jamal and Ma’amoun Wazwaz said a foot patrol stopped them as they were driving to a nearby checkpoint where a Palestinian teenager had just been shot dead by an Israeli border guard.

Their car was clearly marked ‘TV’ and they were both wearing blue flak jackets with ‘Press’ emblazoned on the front.

The soldiers forced them to leave the vehicle and punched them, striking them with the butts of their guns. They accused them of working for an Israeli NGO, B’Tselem, which documents human rights violations in the occupied West Bank, the Reuters cameramen said.

The soldiers did not let the men produce their official ID papers and forced them to strip down to their underwear, making them kneel on the road with their hands behind their heads, the cameramen said.

One of the soldiers then dropped a tear gas canister between the men and the IDF patrol ran away. The four journalists scrambled clear and Jamal and Wazwaz got to their car, which had rapidly filled up with tear gas, they said.

They tried to drive away, but said they only got around 200 metres before they had to stop and exit the vehicle because of the choking gas. The soldiers then fired more tear gas in their direction.

Wazwaz was overcome by the fumes and was taken to hospital by ambulance. He was released later the same night.

It is worth thinking about the reason the soldiers gave for the abuse – they thought the two Palestinians were working for B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization. One of B’Tselem’s most revolutionary projects has been equipping and training dozens of Palestinians in the West Bank with video cameras. Since the beginning of the project, amateur cameramen have been documenting numerous incidents of abuse, night raids, “price tag” attacks by settlers and more. A well known fact in the West Bank is that the presence of cameras often has a “restraining effect” on soldiers and settlers alike.

The IDF is the legal authority in the West Bank, and the Palestinians are subject to the good or ill will of 18-year-old soldiers who stand at checkpoints or raid their villages and towns. The cameras provide some of the protection that no other force can, especially in Area B and C of the West Bank.

Jessica Montell, executive director of B’Tselem, told me the following:

B’Tselem video cameras have proven effective in obtaining justice for wrongdoings and also deterring violence. Military officials have also stated that this fulfils an important role in promoting the rule of law. They have also confirmed that civilians have the right to film in the West Bank. However we have witnessed a number of worrying incidents over the past week in Hebron that indicate that this message has not been conveyed clearly to the soldiers on the ground.

But this is not a problem of miscommunication. Recently, Israeli politicians have made statements calling for a tougher hand against protesters in the West Bank. Furthermore, it has been some years now that Israeli politicians and non-governmental organizations have been inciting the public against human rights organizations, spreading claims which range all the way to treason.

The writing of mainstream journalists like Ben Caspit (author of the initial article which blamed the human rights community for the Goldstone report), Ben Dror-Yemini or Israel Hayom’s Dror Aeydar; statements by right-wing politicians like the people behind anti-NGO bill; the work of groups such as Im Tirzu and NGO Monitor  - all of these are directly linked to the behavior of the soldiers in Hebron on Wednesday. The soldiers might pay a price for the abuse – they were unlucky enough to target workers of the world’s largest news agency – but the journalists and politicians are not likely to be harmed. They will continue to tell the Israeli public that the international anger and frustration directed at Israel is not the result of the occupation, but of the actions of those documenting and fighting it.

Read more:
Why was 17-year-old Muhammad killed?
The heroine vs. the terrorist: A case study in brainwashing
IDF soldiers launch attack on photojournalists

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Had the two reporters been Israeli Jews (I don’t know if Israeli Palestinians), a public stripping to underwear would not have happened–but only out of fear of legal reprisal.

      The State cannot act violently against a legal NGO. If military command truly believes filming/photo action supports the rule of law, these soldiers should be publically tried; it shouldn’t be that hard to find them–they were on patrol. They should be tired both on intent and outcome. If command does not do this, the rule of law is just a smoke screen.

      “it has been some years now that Israeli politicians and non-governmental organizations have been inciting the public against human rights organizations, spreading claims which range all the way to treason” : So too have sitting MK’s incited the public to riot against Africans in South Tel Aviv. It is very clear that the law is thought to protect only the State and those that agree with it.

      “Recently, Israeli politicians have made statements calling for a tougher hand against protesters in the West Bank.” : This is wickedly pathetic, as such protests are the only common place to alter the occupation on the ground. The protests are the only present hope for a change in the occupation; and the occupation is clearly eating away at Israeli internal law–precisely because there are Israeli Jews who refuse to think as the ruling coalition insists. Not Israeli Arabs–that’s foregone–but Jews.

      Such incidents will continue until either Administration truly changes or the Courts turn independent; neither seem likely right now. I am reminded or Southern liberals under Jim Crow. If the spoke their minds they might find no one would hire them at all.

      First hit the weakest, then the dissenting stronger.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        I am more and more reminded of the way Israel resembles the Jim Crow south, the KKK south. The ongoing, relentless pressure to “keep them in their place, keep them from being uppity.”

        The constant raids, “cutting the grass,” is just what the KKK would do, driving around in their white sheets. And when the white nigger-lovers came around to stir up trouble, they got what they deserved.

        Just the same. Just the same.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Israeli social groupthink has advanced rapidly and not surprisingly; perpetual war thinking does that to a mind.

          As the Israeli economy continues to expand into the Bank, social policing as in the Jim Crow South will too advance. But this expansion will have the back up of the IDF. We have already seen the impunity of vanguard settlers. Ultimately, IDF command may come to some disquiet as to what they have made on the ground. No professional army mouthing standards of decency can allow such acts. Then they must ask how this event was even possible. And that is an uncomfortable question.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Aaron Gross

      Quote: “It is worth thinking about the reason the soldiers gave for the abuse – they thought the two Palestinians were working for B’Tselem….”

      Well, no. First of all, you’re just quoting a Reuters cameraman, not necessarily a reliable source. Second, he did not even say that was the reason. He only said that a soldier accused them of that. So your reporting is going way beyond the facts here.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Mikesailor

      Strange A.G., that apparently you are attempting to obfuscate and mislead about a news story without any ‘facts’ at all to buttress your position. Is such a knee-jerk defense of actions performed by an Israeli (or should I say Jew because it is fairly certain these soldiers were jewish)without knowing more really assist the Zionist cause? The reporter asserted the statement of a soldier involved. Isn’t that sufficient? Or is the fact that the reporter didn’t profess unquestioning loyalty to the prevailing right-wing Israeli ethos render his statement inadmissinble as being somehow unworthy of credibility? Is the IDF a motley undisciplined militia? Apparently an investigation was opened by the IDF into this incident. Are there statements pointing to some other cause for the beatings administered? If you applaud and excuse the actions of the IDF, no matter what they do or how they do it, you evince a bad case of intellectual dishonesty and moral obtuseness. You become akin to a trained seal, applauding and clapping his flippers in order to obtain the ‘fish treat’ from his trainers and masters. ‘Nuff said

      Reply to Comment
      • Aaron Gross

        You’re a loony.

        Reply to Comment
        • LS

          Incisive posts from both Mike and Aaron. Mike focuses on fact – what the reporter was told by a soldier is something that happned, in other words a fact – Aaron focuses on what people of his ilk do best. Being abusive and trying to stifle any level of debate from those who do not agree with their opinions.

          Reply to Comment
          • Aaron Gross

            I have an ilk?

            Reply to Comment
          • Daniel Haarti

            A statement is not a ‘fact’, but a statement.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Aaron Gross

      From Noam Sheizaf’s new column at Maariv (hope the Hebrew gets formatted OK):

      לפי רויטרס, החיילים הורידו את העיתונאים מהרכב, הכו אותם תוך שהם מאשימים אותם כי הם תחקירנים של ארגון “בצלם,

      That’s all I was asking for: “According to Reuters” and “beat them while accusing them of being Betselem investigators.” This corrects both of the things I was objecting to in my previous comment.

      P.S. Congratulations, Noam, for the Maariv gig, and congratulations to Maariv for getting a fine columnist.

      Reply to Comment
    5. JFG

      “Cameras are the new weapons” is a standard rhetoric of our times, and it’s no surprise that Hamas adopted it as well. But it legitimized camera-operators as terrorists in the eyes of the IDF… so this act, sadly, falls into that script as well.

      Reply to Comment

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