Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Palestinian Cameramen Covering Hebron Are Targeted by Israeli Soldiers and Settlers

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Palestinian Cameramen Covering Hebron Are Targeted by Israeli Soldiers and Settlers

Article excerpt

Palestinian Cameramen Covering Hebron Are Targeted by Israeli Soldiers and Settlers

Several cameramen and photographers gathered around the bed of Husam Abu Alam, a Palestinian cameraman working for Agence France Presse, at the Al-Ahli hospital in Hebron where he is recovering from emergency brain surgery to remove a rubber-coated plastic bullet from his head. Although they know his head is aching and he is obviously drowsy, his colleagues joke and try to cheer him up.

"We almost lost him and we want to be near him now," said one of the photographers as he passes a tray of juice around to visitors.

Husam, 42 years old and a father of four, was shot in the back of the head by an Israeli sharpshooter on Oct. 8 during violent clashes in Hebron.

"I was aware the sharpshooter was about 25 meters behind me but I never dreamed he'd fire. He could see we were filming an injured boy who'd just been shot," said Husam in a strained voice. "There was no reason for the soldiers to have shot at me."

Mazen Dana, cameraman and reporter for Reuters News, saw the shooting. "There were no stones being thrown at that moment when we were filming the boy who'd been shot. We heard a gunshot and Husam fell forward and landed on his forehead right on top of his camera lens. The close range and size of the bullet hole in his head made us think he was dead. We were stunned."

Husam was rushed in critical condition to the hospital, where he underwent lifesaving surgery for skull fractures, fragmented bone and hematoma in the brain. "Frankly, it's a miracle," said Abdula Hussein, head nurse at Hebron's Al-Ahli hospital. "He's lucky to be alive."

Mazen Dana said if the shooting had not been done by a sharpshooter, the official Israeli explanation that it was an accident might make more sense. "But given the history of treatment of Palestinian cameramen and photographers, it is quite clear that we are targets."

The astounding number of shootings, beatings, broken cameras, arrests and threats on Hebron-based Palestinians working for foreign media tells a story in itself.

Na'el Shyoukih, 27 years old and working as a Reuters cameraman for four years, was shot in the head, neck, back and leg on March 13 of this year. It was evening, the end of a day of disturbances. With the rioting over, nine cameramen and photographers were gathered together chatting in a well-lit spot on a street near the soldiers. Na'el was on his mobile phone informing the Reuters office in Jerusalem that the day's clashes were over and he and his colleagues were intending to leave the area.

"Just as I said goodbye to my office, the shooting started. I yelled in Hebrew that we are journalists and to stop shooting. They knew we were journalists...It was so obvious. Every one of us had cameras on our shoulders or hanging on our necks. Besides, they know us personally," said Na'el.

"I fell when the first bullet hit me in the head and they kept shooting at me. I was hit in the head, neck, leg and back. Before I lost consciousness, I realized three of my colleagues had come to help me and that the soldiers were shooting at them."

Mazen Dana took up the story: "Three of us put our cameras down to help Na'el, and the soldiers shot at us. We had to drag him out of the way behind a wall. Others immediately began filming. The entire incident is on tape."

Video tape of the incident shows all nine reporters were indeed in a well-lit spot and that the soldiers continued shooting at Na'el and those helping him. All nine reporters were hit with rubber-coated metal bullets that night. The incident created a stir in the Israeli media, but Defense Ministry officials said the nine reporters were mistaken for rioters.

"That is obviously a blatant lie and it's all on videotape. But we all know that Israeli soldiers, and settlers for that matter, can get away with murder," said Na'el, who spent one month in bed recovering from the head wound. …

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