Press slams gunmen for using TV jeep

Journalists' associations: Our jobs will now be more difficult than ever.

terrorists in TV van 298 (photo credit: AP)
terrorists in TV van 298
(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian gunmen who used a vehicle disguised as a television truck to assault an IDF position at the Kissufim crossing between Gaza and Israel on Saturday drew sharp condemnations from journalists who charged that the incident, the first of its kind, would make their jobs more dangerous than ever. Both the Foreign Press Association in Israel and the Palestinian Journalists Association have issued statements condemning the Gaza gunmen who used a vehicle with TV markings to facilitate access to the border so that they could launch an assault on military personnel stationed there. In Saturday's attack, four gunmen drove a white jeep with press markings in English and Arabic up to the Gaza-Israel border, penetrated the border fence and assaulted a guard tower in what Islamic Jihad and the army said was a failed attempt to capture an Israeli soldier. IDF troops killed one gunman, while the others escaped. The attackers, from Islamic Jihad and the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, abandoned the jeep. AP photographs show a white armored vehicle of a type used by reporters, its windshield pocked by bullet holes, bearing red markings reading "TV" and "Press." The FPA in its statement declared that it condemns the use of a vehicle marked with TV insignia in an attack against IDF positions in Kissufim. "Armored vehicles marked with TV are an invaluable protection for genuine journalists working in hostile environments," the statement said. "The FPA has long campaigned for the continued availability of armored vehicles for its members, despite official opposition in some quarters. The abuse of this recognized protection for the working journalist is a grave development and we condemn those that carried it out. Such an incident will reduce the protection offered by marked vehicles." The FPA pledged to continue to campaign for the legitimate use of these vehicles for its members, a job which it believes has been made more complicated by Saturday's incident. Government Press Office director Daniel Seaman noted that there had been a similar incident nine months ago in which one of the people in the car was a Hamas terrorist. At the time, Seaman wrote to Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shin Bet, to point out the misuse of armored vehicles that are legally in the hands of the foreign press. "Nobody is taking responsibility," he wrote. Seaman told The Jerusalem Post he had been concerned for some time that such cars would be used in a terrorist attack. "They do everything to take advantage," Seaman said of Palestinian terrorists. "They know the measures that Israel takes in its efforts not to hit journalists. They see this as a tactical advantage in their plans to attack Israel. The terrorists know that Israel is a country that respects freedom of the press. These people have no respect for human rights so why should they respect the sanctity of journalists," said Seaman. He was quick to reassure journalists that despite the dangerous situation that had been created by the misuse of armored vehicles, the guidelines for media would not be changed and would remain in place in accordance with international treaties regarding journalists and journalism to which Israel is a signatory. Palestinian terrorists are not the only ones who have trespassed in this respect, according to Conny Mus who reports for RTL 4 and RTL 5 Holland and is a former chairman of the FPA. "It's not a new thing," he said, explaining that in the past Israeli undercover units drove around in vehicles marked with press insignia as did settlers in the territories. "It's endangering the lives of independent reporters," declared Mus, who added that there was no law that prevents people from putting TV markings on their cars. "But it is an ethical issue," he said. "Anyone who is not authorized to put TV markings on his car but does so, is not only making our lives difficult, but is placing us in real danger." In Gaza, the Palestinian Journalists' Association released a statement Sunday condemning the attackers' use of press cover, which it said "puts the life of journalists in danger ... limits their ability to undertake their professional and national duties, and harms their journalistic work, which is protected by international law." No Gaza journalist would go on the record condemning the attack, however, with many saying they feared retribution from gunmen. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mentioned the Gaza attack at the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, saying the gunmen tried to "trick the army" and "take advantage of the special sensitivity that exists in a democracy like ours for the right of the media to operate freely in sensitive security areas." IDF spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovitch said the gunmen's "cynical exploitation of the protection given to journalists endangers the lives of soldiers and civilians." Only vehicles registered with the government are given protection, she said, but the jeep used by the gunmen closely resembled several accredited vehicles.