Letter to Israel's Ambassador to the Court of Saint James

His Excellency Ambassador Zvi Shtauber
Israeli Embassy
2 Palace Green

Dear Ambassador Shtauber,

The London Freelance Branch of The National Union of Journalists writes to express its deep concern and shock over the death of fellow freelance photographer Raffeale Ciriello. He died as a result of Israeli gunfire in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on 13 March 2002. Mr Ciriello, on assignment for the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, was hit by several bullets from a heavy calibre machine gun mounted on an Israeli tank, as he was covering an invasion into Ramallah by Israeli forces, near to the Al-Manara Square.

Together with TV journalist Amealo Ricucci, Mr Ciriello was in an alleyway, off the main street, 70 metres behind a group of armed Palestinians, when an Israeli tank suddenly opened fire in his direction. Ambulances were unable to reach the scene because of fierce gunfire; so young Palestinians took Mr Ciriello to the Arab Care Hospital where he subsequently died. The hospital revealed that he had been wounded in the chest, stomach and kidneys.

The London Freelance Branch of the NUJ urges the Israeli Government to carry out a full investigation into the circumstances of Mr Ciriello's death and bring to justice those responsible for the crime.

We are also, however, concerned that in the past 18 months, and more recently, that Israeli forces have been attacking reporters, cameramen and photographers. Press offices have been raided and journalists detained.

For example, on April 2, 2002, Andre Durand, a journalist who works for Agence France Press, together with Ata Awisat, who is a reporter for Gamma News, were stopped by Israeli soldiers in Beit Unia. After two hours, Durand was released, but Awisat was still being held. On April 1, 2002, Abas al-Moumani, a photojournalist, who also works for Agence France Presse, was driving his car, which had been clearly marked with "TV", in the main square in the centre of Ramallah. Israeli soldiers opened fire at his car and a live bullet hit the mirror inside the car. The driver was not hurt. The car was stopped and Israeli soldiers confiscated Moumani's camera. They forced him to put his hands behind his head and left him standing for three hours, after which they returned his camera and ordered him to leave the area.

That same day, April 1, 2002, Israeli forces, in Ramallah, fired on an armoured vehicle used by NBC. The car was clearly marked as a vehicle used by the foreign press. That same day, a BBC correspondent and her crew were shot at while covering a peaceful protest in Beit Jala.

In Bethlehem on April 2, an Israeli soldier fired one round toward the car of Reuter's photographer Magnus Johansson, which was clearly identified as a press vehicle. Johansson heard soldiers shouting at him. When he got out of the car, he was ordered back in. The shot was fired as he attempted to drive away.

We also note that Israeli soldiers fired stun grenades into a crowd of foreign television journalists, who were trying to report on the meeting between the American envoy Anthony Zinni, and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, in Ramallah on the 5th April 2002.

We deplore the victimisation of Palestinian reporters and demand an end to the targeting of foreign journalists.

We also protest at the decision by the Israeli authorities to declare the major towns and cities of the West Bank a closed military zone and to expel the media. We believe this amounts to censorship and will only lead to more ignorance, rumour and fear, and contravenes Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We would wish to remind you that:

Articles 50 and 51 of the Protocols Additional to the 1949 Geneva Convention emphasise the protection of civilians in time of war including journalists, since they are part of the civilian population:

The civilian population comprises all persons who are civilians.

The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations.

Article 79 of the Protocols Additional to the 1949 Geneva Convention stipulates:

Journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians within the meaning of Article 50, paragraph 1. They shall be protected as such under the Conventions and this Protocol, provided that they take no action adversely affecting their status as civilians.

We believe that journalism is becoming a victim in the escalating violence and therefore call on Israel to lift the obstacles to free reporting and to end all intimidation of Palestinian journalists and international media.

Furthermore we wish to remind the Israeli Army and Israeli authorities that they should respects the Articles of the Geneva Convention at all times.

Last modified: 14 April 2002 - © 2002 contributors
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