Israeli Forces Continue to Target Journalists Despite "Press"-Marked Vests

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Al Mezan Center for Human Rights notes with deep concern the prevalence of Israeli forces’ attacks on Palestinian journalists who are covering the Great March of Return, which began on 30 March 2018. One Palestinian journalist has been killed and nine others have been injured by Israeli forces within the context of continued use of lethal and excessive force considered unlawful under international human rights law.

Al Mezan’s documentation shows that Yaser Murtaja, a 31-year-old photojournalist working for Ain Media Production Company, was shot in the left side of his abdomen at 1:45pm on Friday, 6 April 2018. He was covering a demonstration in the east of Khuza’a in the Khan Younis governorate. While wearing a flak jacket marked “PRESS” and a helmet, Murtaja was targeted on Palestinian territory, about 150 meters from the border fence. At 1:20am the following morning, Murtaja was pronounced dead as a result of the injury. Officials from the Ministry of Health in Gaza stated that his injury caused a laceration and internal bleeding.

Ashraf Abu Amra, a 31-year-old photojournalist, gave Al Mezan the following testimony:

“At 8am on Friday, 6 April 2018, I went with Ibrahim Abu Mustafa, a photographer working for Reuters, and Hatem Amr, a photographer working for Xinhua News Agency, to eastern Khuza’a in eastern Khan Younis to cover the ‘Return’ march there. I reached a distance of about 350 meters from the eastern border fence and I saw tens of protesters, including children and women, arriving. I also saw that there were a number of Israeli soldiers and jeeps behind the fence. I began taking photos as more protesters showed up.

At around 12:30pm the same day, I saw Yaser Murtaja, whom I know as a fellow journalist and who works for Ain Media; we were both engaged in our work covering events on the ground […] I started hearing the sound of shooting, and I witnessed injuries among protesters. We were now about 150 meters away from the fence. With thick, black smoke rising from burnt tires and amidst the increase of casualties among protesters, Yaser and I began moving to different corners to be able to take photos. Then, I heard the sound of shooting and shortly afterwards one protester said that a journalist had been injured. This was 30 minutes after the Friday sermon.

The protester had the helmet of a journalist. Protesters started calling for help from paramedics, who began arriving. I went with them a couple of meters towards the east. I found Yaser lying on the ground with his left abdominal side bleeding. Paramedics delivered some aid to him then swiftly carried him on a stretcher for 20 meters towards the west. They put him into an ambulance that rushed him further westward. I stayed in the area to continue covering events, and I took photos of casualties and the events that were going on in the eastern area [of Khuza’a]. At 4pm the same day, I left the place because of the heavy fire that was used. At 1:15am of the following day, 7 April 2018, I heard through colleagues and the media the news of Yaser’s death.”

Al Mezan’s documentation shows that since the beginning of the Great March of Return on 30 March 2018, nine journalists have been injured by live fire and live fire shrapnel. The documented individuals are: Ibrahim Al Zanon, 22, Alaa Al Namla, 34, Ahmed Qaffa, 23, Mahmoud Maddokh, 23, Ahmed Barbakh, 23, Khalil Abu Athera, 28, Mahmoud Murtaja, 22, Wisam Mousa, 32, and Ali Al Adawi, 22.

Al Mezan condemns the Israeli military’s attacks on journalists and recalls that since the Al Aqsa Intifada in 2000 the Israeli military and security forces have treated journalists as legitimate targets. This trend has been taken as an attack on freedom of expression and an effort to minimize reporting by both Palestinian and international journalists covering the occupation.

International human rights law requires that Israel’s law enforcement officials refrain from using lethal force within the context of the demonstrations unless strictly unavoidable in order to protect their own or others’ lives. In order to use lethal force, the Israeli forces’ safety must be in actual danger—yet, the unarmed journalist, who posed no threat, except for the power of his camera, was targeted and killed.

Al Mezan asserts that the Israeli forces’ lethal and injurious targeting of protected civilians corresponds with the crime of wilful killing, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which Al Mezan is cooperating with. Al Mezan also documents whether a crime is committed within the context of a widespread and systematic attack, in the case that it may also amount to a crime against humanity.

Al Mezan calls on the international community to enable an effective and independent investigation into the killing of Murtaja and the injury of the other journalists, and recalls the years of impunity for serious international law violations that are the result of Israel’s judicial system. Al Mezan reiterates its call on the international community to take immediate and effective action to enable the protection of unarmed protected persons who are practicing their rights of freedom of expression, assembly, and association by taking part in the demonstrations.