The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday held an open discussion on a motion for a quick debate submitted by MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Camp) regarding the violence employed by security forces against reporters covering Judea and Samaria and other conflict areas throughout the country.
According to Svetlova, journalists are viewed as ”enemies or planted elements operating against the State of Israel.” The number of incidents involving violence against reporters has increased over the past few months, she noted, adding that the victims are mainly Palestinian journalists. This violence, the MK told the committee, ”tarnishes the State of Israel`s good reputation.”
Yair Tarchitsky, chairman of the Union of Journalists in Israel, said most of those who carry out the violence are low-ranking police officers, IDF soldiers and Border Police officers. ”The general feeling is that journalists are seen as a real nuisance. The security forces must understand the media`s role in a democratic state, even if the truth is unpleasant or uncomfortable for the state,” he said. ”Our job is to reflect reality as it really is, for the general public. The sense is that the violence stems from the general atmosphere which comes from the centers of power and trickles downwards. This is a dangerous public atmosphere.”
Archive photo: Moshe Milner, GPO
Gila Sugarman, secretary general of the Foreign Press Association, noted that ”on the ground there is a sense that whoever walks around with a camera is an enemy. The past two years have seen a worrying increase in the number of violent incidents towards journalists – physical violence, verbal violence or violence against the equipment and their personal documentation.”
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, IDF spokesman for the foreign press, said the army`s goal it to ”allow the press to act independently, within the operational restrictions,” adding that ”we make it a point to be on the ground to assist the media, and if needed we act to prevent violent incidents.”
Lerner told the committee that the IDF recently dismissed an officer who was involved in violence against journalists. ”We are aware that the forces on the ground occasionally have to deal with media `ambushes` or incidents that would not have even occurred had the media not been present,” he said.
MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) stressed that ”there is no justification for using violence against reporters and photojournalists, period. However, we cannot ignore the fact that the press takes an active, unilateral and tendentious role in covering the conflict, and therefore it is part of the game. We know for certain about several incidents that were staged and timed, so the press must ask itself if it is in fact balanced.”
MK Mordhay Yogev (HaBayit HaYehudi) said that despite the media`s important role in a democratic country, ”we mustn`t get confused and always give precedence to the operational freedom of the IDF, which works to save lives. There are more than a few cases where the media`s conduct is similar to unbalanced theater.”
According to MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism), ”the media, just like a car, can be efficient, but it can also be destructive. In cases where a journalist acts objectively, we must allow him to operate freely. But if he takes a certain side in the conflict, he must be moved away from the incident.”
Committee Chairman MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) called on the IDF`s Spokesperson`s Unit to examine the claims by members of the foreign and Israeli press and make certain that its representatives are present during sensitive events. ”IDF commanders are neither trained nor authorized to deal with the press. It is not their responsibility. They are focused on maintaining security and carrying out their operational duties,” he said.
Hanegbi said the committee would soon hold another meeting during which the IDF Spokesperson`s Unit will present its conclusions, prior to the publication of the committee`s findings.