Israel Using Severe Intimidation
Against News Media

By Dana Lewis NBC NEWS

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 was deported.
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.

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