His Excellency Ariel Sharon
Prime Minister of the State of Israel
Office of the Prime Minister
3 Kaplan Street
Via facsimile: 972-2-651-2631
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to express its alarm at official Israeli attempts to restrict media coverage in the West Bank, as well as several incidents in which Israeli troops have fired on working journalists.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman confirmed today that the IDF had declared the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Qalqiliya "closed military areas" and therefore off-limits to the press. This action comes four days after a similar order was issued for the West Bank city of Ramallah. While the ban in Ramallah has been sporadically enforced since Friday, several journalists have been prevented from entering the city or from moving freely within it.
Today, Israeli authorities revoked the press credentials of two Abu Dhabi TV reporters, locally based correspondent Leileh Odeh and visiting correspondent Bassam Azawi, and threatened legal action against CNN and NBC for broadcasting from Ramallah in defiance of military orders, The Associated Press reported.
While we recognize the potential dangers involved in covering the current crisis in the Occupied Territories, it is the duty of journalists to report on the crisis and the obligation of the Israeli government to let them work freely. Attempting to prevent journalists from witnessing events on the ground is a flagrant act of censorship.
CPJ also protests in the strongest terms several recent incidents in which IDF forces have opened fire on, or in the direction of, journalists attempting to cover events in the West Bank. These incidents increasingly appear as attempts by the IDF to intimidate the press from covering the IDF's widening military campaign in the territories.
In a shocking incident yesterday, NBC correspondent Dana Lewis and his two-person camera crew came under IDF fire in Ramallah at dusk while driving in an armored car that was clearly identified as a press vehicle. After an initial burst of gunfire hit the car, a lone IDF soldier opened fire with a second burst from a range of about 50 to100 feet (15 to 30 meters).
The journalists then stopped the car, turned on an interior light to make themselves visible, and placed their hands on the windshield. After 15 to 20 seconds, the soldier fired a third burst, hitting the windshield. The NBC crew escaped by driving away in reverse.
During the last week, two other journalists, Boston Globe reporter Anthony Shadid and Palestinian cameraman Carlos Handal, who works for Egyptian Nile TV and Abu Dhabi TV, have been wounded by unidentified gunfire in areas controlled by Israeli forces.
We condemn these attacks on the press and urge you to ensure that IDF forces halt them immediately. We further urge you to ensure that the restrictions now in place on journalists in the West Bank are lifted and that Israeli forces allow the press to report the news without further hindrance.