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Monday, December 17, 2012

Journalists Punched by Israeli Officers After Fatal Shooting at West Bank Checkpoint

Two Palestinian journalists working for Reuters were punched, hit with rifle butts and forced to strip by Israeli soldiers on Wednesday as they tried to reach the scene of a fatal shooting at a West Bank checkpoint, the news agency reports. The soldiers then confiscated the crew's camera and gas masks before letting off a tear-gas canister which forced one of the men to seek medical treatment.

Although the journalists had press credentials, they were not allowed to show them by the officers, who accused them of working instead for an Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem, which provides video cameras to Palestinians to help document life under Israeli military occupation.

Someone who was does w ork with the Israeli rights group managed to record video at the checkpoint in the city of Hebron, just after the fatal shooting of Muhammad al-Salameh, 17.

Video recorded on Wednesday in the West Bank city of Hebron by a volunteer for an Israeli human rights group, just after a Palestinian was shot and killed by an Israeli officer.

The video includes a brief glimpse of the boy lying on the ground and, according to Ali Abunimah, the Palestinian-American founder of The Electronic Intifada, near the end of the clip, “medics can be seen attending to Muhammad as a voice calls for his father, ‘Abu Awad.' In the final moments of the video a man, possibly Abu Awad, is heard saying, ‘Ibni, ibni' â€" ‘My son, my son.'”

As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported, the officer who shot the boy said that she fired only after the boy attacked another officer and pulled out a toy gun that looked real. A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, Captain Barak Raz, posted an image on Twitter of what he said was the toy gun in the boy's possession on Twitter.

The dead boy's uncle told Agence France-Presse, “The plastic gun story isn't true and it is all fabrication,” adding that Muhammad was stopped by the officers on his way to a bakery to pick up a cake for his 17th birthday party. A photograph said to show Muhammad hours before he was shot and killed, grinning during a birthday celebration at school, circulated online after his death.

According to a report on the Israeli news blog +972, the dead boy's family said that “none of those who knew Muhammad had ever seen” the toy gun in his possession. The blogger added that while the two versions of events do not match, “Luckily, the checkpoints in Hebron are monitored by Israeli security cameras, and I am sure that if her story is true, the I.D.F. will release the video, showing a 17-year-old teen taking out a toy gun and holding it to the head of a soldier.”

The young female officer who fired the fatal shots, described in Israeli media reports as a 19-year-old, told The Jerusalem Post, “I know I did the right thing. This is what they taught us, to fire at the terrorist in order to neutralize them, fake gun or not.”

The Israeli security forces in Hebron are there in large numbers to protect several hundred Jewish settlers who moved to the city of nearly 200,000 Palestinians after it was occupied by Israel's military in 1967. The shooting took place near the boy's home and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site revered by Jews and Muslims as the traditional burial place of the founding fathers of both religions.

The Foreign Press Association in Israel said in a statement describing the incident that it “condemns in the strongest terms the assault by Israeli soldiers of two of our members in Hebron.” The statement continued:

Yousri Al Jamal and Ma'amoun Wazwaz, both highly experienced cameramen who work for Reuters, were stopped while driving to the scene of a shooting incident in the heart of the city. Their car was clearly marked ‘TV' and they were both wearing blue flak jackets with ‘Press' emblazoned on the front. The soldiers forced them to leave the vehicle at gunpoint, punching them and hitting them with the butts of their guns. The two men were not allowed to show their ID and were made to strip and kneel in the street with their hands behind their head. One of the soldiers then dropped a tear-gas canister in front of the men and the IDF patrol ran away. More tear gas was fired as Jamal and Wazwaz tried to escape the scene. Wazwaz was overwhelmed by the fumes and needed hospital treatment.

The group also welcomed Israel's promise to investigate the incident, but added that it is still waiting to hear the results of the Israeli military's investigation into an attack on a journalist in another part of the West Bank four months ago.

Paul D anahar, the group's chairman and the BBC's Middle East bureau chief, was distinctly downbeat about the possibility of the military's investigation in a message posted on Twitter shortly before the statement was released.