Palestinian journalist denied justice

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Demonstration after Palestinian photojournalist Yaser Murtaja was killed by Israeli forces in April 2018

A PALESTINIAN journalist shot in the leg by Israeli soldiers as he documented a demonstration in the West Bank in 2015 will not be paid damages, a Jerusalem court has ruled – despite the shooting’s violation of army regulations.

The Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court this week rejected the lawsuit against the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) brought by Palestinian photographer Ahmad Tal’at, who testified that he was shot in his right leg while covering and photographing the regular weekly protest in the village of Kufr Qaddum.
Although the court acknowledged that Tal’at had been shot by Israeli forces despite the army’s claims to the contrary, it ruled that the IDF is not obligated to pay him damages since the incident took place during an ‘act of war’.
According to the lawsuit, Tal’at was wearing a press flak jacket and helmet when he was shot.
He was also carrying three cameras with large lenses, which he argues made it easy for security forces to recognise him as a member of the press rather than a protester.
Attorney Eitay Mack, who represented Tal’at, provided the court with a copy of the IDF regulations relating to journalists and photographers. The procedures do not list any legal restrictions on photographing in the West Bank, nor on photographing IDF soldiers – including during operations.
As such, the procedures stipulate, ‘the authorities of the region, including IDF soldiers and Border Police officers, must act according to this understanding and in this spirit’!
The procedures also do not describe any scenario in which soldiers may open fire at photographers.
According to the lawsuit, Tal’at was shot approximately 20 minutes after clashes between the protesters and military forces subsided.
Tal’at says too that he was shot while standing away from the crowd on the side of the road, along with a number of journalist friends.
He demanded the Israeli army pay him NIS 40,000 in damages.
But IDF Attorney Ariel Ararat argued that the clashes in Kufr Qaddum that day posed a direct threat to the soldiers present.
Ta’lat’s lawsuit, the IDF said, was ‘another in a series of cases in which those who were among the rioters and those riling up the crowd to riot dare to file a lawsuit as if they are the victims.’
The army further denied that the shooting occurred after clashes had ceased, arguing that even if Tal’at was wounded that day, ‘it was in the context of attacks by the rioters that endangered the security forces there.’
Tal’at asserted in his lawsuit that he was hit in the leg by a Ruger bullet. But according to an affidavit filed by Commander A.N., the former deputy commander of the Border Police company stationed in the area, not a single soldier was using Ruger bullets.
A.N. also said that he did not witness anyone injured or evacuated from the area. ‘If a journalist was wounded, I would have seen it and reported it,’ stated A.N., adding that there was no mention of Ruger bullets or injuries in the army’s report from that day.
Judge Abbas Aasi, though, dismissed this claim and ruled that ‘according to the evidence provided, security forces used Ruger bullets.’
This was even noted in the DCO’s (District Coordination Office) operation log.
Furthermore, it was proven that the plaintiff was wounded by the gunshot. This also appeared in the Samaria Morning Report, which noted a ‘wounded Palestinian journalist … the medical records attached by the plaintiff, which include X-rays, show a bullet lodged in his right knee.’
A defence witness who was called to testify also told the court that the soldiers did in fact fire Ruger bullets.
Judge Aasi also noted that the army did not contradict Tal’at’s claims that he was dressed in a manner that identified him specifically as a journalist.
He plainly stated: ‘I believe that harming the journalist — the plaintiff — should have been avoided. The shooting of a journalist runs counter to open-fire regulations and the IDF’s directives on journalists.’
The judge, however, still ruled that the incident took place during an act of war for which the state enjoys immunity from liability for damages. The incident, he argued, included young men whose faces were covered and who were throwing stones, some using slingshots.
‘There is no doubt that protests and clashes take place on Fridays, and thus we must view the day of clashes as a whole, and the attempt to separate it into stages appears artificial,’ Aasi wrote.

  • Meanwhile, Israel is currently holding 15 Palestinian journalists, WAFA has reported.

The last one, Mujahed Bani Mifleh, was detained yesterday at an army checkpoint as he was travelling with his wife and two children from Ramallah to his home in Nablus, according to the Palestinian Prisoner Society (PPS).
It said the detained journalists include two women, Mays Abu Ghoush, who was interrogated and subjected to psychological torture for more than one month at the Russian Compound interrogation centre in West Jerusalem, and Bushra Tawil, from Ramallah, who is held in administrative detention.
The PPS said one of the detained journalists has a court hearing due, to be followed by four others next month.