- RAMALLAH, West Bank - The
Israeli army has taken harsh action in recent days against news media covering
its campaign in the West Bank, employing intimidation and other drastic
measures to keep journalists away from its largest offensive in a generation.
Reporters have been strip searched, deported from the battle zone and threatened
with permanent expulsion from Israel.
- IN THE LATEST move against journalists, Israeli forces
detained a French reporter on Wednesday, forcing him to strip to his underwear
at the side of a road. Later, a crew from an Arab-language television channel
- The measures are part of a larger plan, Israeli officials
say, to lock the media out of a military operation that has caused apprehension
among some Israelis and provoked rage in the Arab world. Since Friday,
the military has taken over several West Bank towns and kept Palestinian
leader Yasser Arafat a virtual captive in his compound in Ramallah.
- "This is no game," an Israeli government source
said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "You people are in a war
zone. The army has no time for journalists to get in its way."
- Earlier this week, NBC's armored car was fired on 15
times as it moved down a Ramallah street. Although the vehicle was well
marked as a press car, an Israeli soldier fired directly into the windshield.
- Such incidents are becoming routine in the streets of
this West Bank town. Other American television networks and print journalists
also have been fired upon. Ý Ý Ý Ý MEDIA LOCKDOWN
- The result has been a virtual lockdown for journalists
in Ramallah - not unlike the curfew confining the city's residents to their
homes. Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers rumble down streets,
stopping to raid apartment blocks where Palestinian militants are believed
to be hiding.
- Israeli officials say the military was moved to act against
the media after being stung by a weekend incident in which 40 peace activists,
followed by journalists, managed to enter Arafat's compound even while
surrounded by Israeli commandos. After that embarrassing episode, the military
banned journalists from entering Ramallah.
- On the streets of the city, journalists encounter all
sorts of intimidation. On Thursday, an Israeli armored personnel carrier
and jeep pulled up in front of a hotel housing foreign journalists. An
officer pulled out a map and appeared to mark the building's location on
a military grid. The hotel's water supply was cut - and Israeli soldiers
riddled reserve water tanks with gunfire. Ý Ý Ý Ý
OLD ARMY TACTIC
- The army has also revived an old tactic from the days
of the first Palestinian intifada - the 1987-1992 uprising - by designating
Ramallah and other West Bank regions "closed military areas."
- But unlike the days of the first intifada - when soldiers
were required to display an official order closing an area to the media
- Israeli troops this time around simply fire first.
- Foreign journalists are not the only casualties of Israel's
war on the media. Notably absent from the war zone are Israeli journalists.
Once able to travel with the military on missions, Israeli reporters have
been told by the army to stay away from the West Bank.
- "We have been warned to stay away, not to come in
under any circumstances," said Ron Benishai, a veteran correspondent
for Israel's Channel 1. "This is a very frustrating situation."
- The Israeli media ban derives from a report that aired
on Israel's Channel 2 three weeks ago in which Israeli soldiers openly
expressed doubt over their deployment in Palestinian areas.
- The interviews, accompanied by video of Israeli forces
blowing down a wall that killed a Palestinian woman, were distributed to
several television outlets as pool material. Later, the government sought
to keep the video from being broadcast.
- Channel 2 was the only station that did not comply with
the government's request. Its editors said they were committed to showing
both the good and the bad in times of war. ___
- Editor's note: While attempting to cover the Friday meeting
between Arafat and U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, Israeli troops fired rubber
bullets at Dana Lewis and later deported him from Ramallah.