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Israeli forces shoot Palestinian journalist in head with tear gas canister

Nidal Eshtayeh, who has been attacked by Israeli troops and officers multiple times, is still recovering from the impact of the projectile that broke through his helmet.

Israeli Border Police officers shot Palestinian photojournalist Nidal Eshtayeh in the head with an extended-range tear gas canister last week, which shattered his helmet and left him with a concussion from which he has yet to recover.

The shooting took place during the course of a weekly protest against Israeli settlements in the Palestinian village of Kafr Qaddum. Like almost every week, the protest devolved into clashes between Israeli soldiers and Border Police officers, who shot tear gas and sprayed local homes with putrid “skunk” water, and young Palestinian protesters who threw stones at the armed and armored soldiers.

Eshtayeh, a freelance photographer who works with Chinese news agency Xinhua and who is accredited by the Israeli Government Press Office, was clearly identified as a journalist, wearing protective gear marked “PRESS” and carrying large professional cameras. According to his attorney, Itay Mack, who filed a complaint about the incident to the Israeli army and police Internal Affairs, Eshtayeh was standing in a group of photographers, making it impossible to misidentify him as anything but a news photographer at the time he was shot.

“I was standing behind the protest, not next to the protesters. I fell and wasn’t able to move, so they carried me to an ambulance and took me to Rafidia Hospital [in Nablus],” Eshtayeh told +972’s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. “More than a week later, my head is still spinning; I am in pain and I can’t work.”

“I have no doubt that if my client had not been wearing a helmet that he would have lost his life,” Mack added. “There was no justification for shooting directly at journalists.”

[Video of the clashes, from the Kafr Qaddum YouTube page. Eshtayeh and his damaged helmet are shown in an ambulance at minute marker 1:29]:

This was not the first time Nidal Eshtayeh has been injured by Israeli security forces. Just over a year ago, an Israeli soldier shot a rubber bullet at his face, shattering the protective glass on his gas mask and pushing a glass shard into his eye. His eyesight in that eye is still damaged.

In September 2013, Israeli soldiers attacked Eshtayeh, confiscating his cameras and handing them over to Israeli settlers, who broke them and stole his memory cards. An Israeli court ordered the Defense Ministry to pay Eshtayeh NIS 26,000 ($6,900) compensation in that case. (Hebrew)

As a rule, Palestinian journalists under Israeli military rule are subject to serious violence and violations of freedom at the hands of Israeli security forces, including imprisonment without trial, the closure of media outlets with no explanation, and cases like Eshtayeh’s, of physical violence.

An Israeli Border Police spokesperson sent the following in response to our request for comment:

An initial inquiry shows that this was a violent protest, during which dozens of protesters rioted and threw stones toward security forces. During the protest, security forces used riot dispersal means and did not identify any of the protesters being hit in the head. However, the allegations must be looked into by the relevant authorities.

It’s important to note that we asked the Border Police spokesperson specifically about projectile fire that struck a photojournalist, not “one of the protesters.” The response, which bundles journalists into the same category as the protesters they are covering, is reminiscent of the Israeli response to a lawsuit filed by two journalists who were filmed being attacked by Israeli army officers in Nabi Saleh.

In that case as well, the army found it fitting to put on trial and punish the two officers in question, but later, in a civil suit, the state claimed (Hebrew) that the professional photojournalists had joined the protesters and were endangering the lives of the soldiers.

This article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. Ben

      The Israeli military’s unspoken contract with its soldiers
      Soldiers cannot be expected to carry out the crimes necessary for the occupation unless the state tacitly agrees not to prosecute them. This is the true reason the army brass is coming to Elor Azaria’s defense.
      David Zonsheine

      Reply to Comment
    2. Average American

      It’s hazardous to be in front of armed forces, no matter who they are or who you are. They didn’t aim for you, their aim isn’t that good. Get a better helmet. Don’t stop filming.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      ” They didn’t aim for you, their aim isn’t that good.”

      Why is it then that they never ever hit rampaging settlers in the head? Why are you so naive and taken in, American? And why is it that the main business of the Israeli army for many years now has not been defense of the country but maintaining a brutal occupation by relentlessly suppressing the indigenous population and staging fake “military exclusion zone/practice range exercises” in the service of land grabs that push Palestinian civilians off the land that they own and live and work on, then shortly, voila, these “practice ranges” turn into “legalized” civilian Israeli settlements? Yes, they did aim for the journalist.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Baladi Akka 1948

      @ Average American
      Here’s what the article says: “Eshtayeh was standing in a group of photographers, making it impossible to misidentify him as anything but a news photographer at the time he was shot.
      “I was standing behind the protest, not next to the protesters.”
      Of course the bastards aimed at him (or the other photographers).
      Do you realize if someone hadn’t filmed the execution in Hebron, Elor-Whatever-His-Name-Is would never be on trial ? Like the soldier who executed the second presumed attacker just before also with a bullet to the head.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      “It is impossible to rule over people who are denied their rights without resorting to severe violence and committing many crimes, and you cannot use soldiers to carry out these crimes without making a contract with them: You carry out missions that any reasonable person would avoid, and we will keep most of the crimes from reaching court. Perpetrators who somehow wind up in the courtroom receive light punishment… Retired senior officers such as reserve generals…[e]ven if they must be criticized for standing alongside Azaria’s defense team, it is more important to see their words in the context of defending the contract. All three know that Azaria is the system’s result. They realize the contract is beginning to unravel, and don’t want foot soldiers to pay the price. Not because they fear for these soldiers’ fate – if they were really concerned for them, they wouldn’t have played a part in the system that sends them on missions that cannot be carried out without committing such severe crimes. The top officers are worried because they know that if the army and leadership violate this contract, it will bring violations by soldiers – meaning refusal to serve…. The phenomenon that journalist Itai Vered identified shows that after so many years of violent rule over the Palestinians, the contract that Dayan and others are trying to defend has been undermined. And the system, which refuses to talk about the source of the many killings, has been sentenced to revealing it and how it is implemented. The growing number of documented incidents will force the system to prove to soldiers that it intends to maintain its part of the contract. They will not allow anything less.”

      Reply to Comment