Bullying the Press: The Israelis Have Taken a Very Tough, Sometimes Violent, Approach toward Journalists Covering the Country 'S Aggressive Response to the Wave of Suicide Bombings by the Palestinians

Article excerpt

On a gray Sunday, Boston Globe reporter Anthony Shadid made his way to the epicenter of one of the world's hottest stories--the Israeli assault on Yasser Arafat's compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Shadid wore a white flak jacket emblazoned with "TV" in bold red letters, the universal symbol for the press in conflict zones.

It was March 31, the third day of a fierce offensive into Palestinian territories after a rash of suicide bombings.

Around 5 p.m., Shadid tucked away his notebook and began the trek back to the hotel. The once-bustling hillside city was ghostlike as residents took refuge from the tanks and armored personnel carriers that roared through the streets, mangling cars, pulling down power lines and smashing water pipes. There was an eerie quiet as the sun began to fade.

Shadid felt pleased with his day's work, particularly making it past Israeli Defense Forces troops dug in around Palestinian Authority headquarters. He was walking down the middle of a deserted street, talking with a colleague, as someone in the shadows took aim. The high-velocity bullet tore through his left shoulder, missing his spine by a centimeter.

The reporter crumpled into a heap, unable to move his arms or legs. "At first I thought I was hit by a stun grenade because my whole body locked up," recalls Shadid, 33, a veteran Middle East reporter. Suddenly, the white flak jacket was soaked with blood. The bullet entered at the edge of the protective gear and exited through his right shoulder, leaving two gaping wounds.

Israeli medics administered morphine and stopped the bleeding. They put Shadid on a stretcher and wheeled him across the street to the Arab Care Hospital. His ordeal was far from over. A few hours later, the reporter once again faced terror in a region that Ann Cooper, director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, calls "the most dangerous assignment in the world right now." An avalanche of evidence supports that grim assessment.

On March 29, Carlos Handal, a Palestinian cameraman working for Egyptian Nile TV, was shot in the face while filming from inside a van driving through Ramallah. It is unclear who fired the shot. On April 1, NBC's Dana Lewis described on air how he felt as bullets fired by Israeli soldiers smashed into his armored vehicle that had "television" painted on it. "We thought we were going to die there," Lewis said. "The only thing we could do is jam the car into reverse and get out of there." Four days later, Israeli troops threw stun grenades and fired rubber-coated bullets at journalists waiting for U.S. Mideast envoy Anthony Zinni to arrive at Arafat's headquarters.

There have been accounts of strip searches by Israeli forces, confiscation of press credentials and expulsion from West Bank towns declared closed military zones. So far, one journalist has been killed: Italian photographer Raffaele Ciriello, 42, was shot in the stomach by Israeli machine gun fire on March 13, according to witnesses.

Operation Defensive Shield, Israel's largest military operation since the 1982 Lebanon war, has included an iron-fisted lockdown of the media. "The government's intent is clearly to intimidate reporters and prevent them from covering a story of great international importance," says CPJ's Cooper. Despite the hellish conditions, dozens of correspondents continued to operate in the region.

Some Middle East correspondents called attempts to bully the press the worst they have ever seen by the Israeli military. The Boston Globe quickly filed a complaint with the Israeli government over the shooting of Shadid. So did the BBC after one of its Middle East correspondents was pinned down by gunfire while covering a demonstration in the West Bank.

Overnight, the international press corps became part of the news. A headline from London's Guardian read: "Israeli troops attack foreign journalists. …