Israel to pay photographers attacked by IDF soldiers in Nabi Saleh

Two photographers, one Israeli and one Palestinian, were attacked and had stones thrown at them by Israeli officers and soldiers in 2015. Despite sending one the officers to jail, the state had said the journalists ‘led a riot,’ a claim it retracted as part of the settlement.

Israel has agreed to pay compensation to two photojournalists who were attacked by two Israeli soldiers, including a commissioned officer, in the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh four years ago. The state had initially claimed that the pair had led violent riots that day, despite clear video evidence to the contrary, first published by +972 Magazine, and despite the fact that the army convicted and punished the two officers involved back in 2015.

As part of the settlement, the state has retracted its claims that the two were involved in any riot.

That day, on April 24, 2015, two photojournalists, Israeli Haim Schwarczenberg and Palestinian photographer for AFP, Abbas Momani, were covering the weekly anti-occupation protests in the village at the time.

In a video of the event, first published on +972 Magazine, a soldier can be seen throwing a stone at the two photographers as they attempt to comply with soldiers’ orders to leave the area.

As he walked away, an officer ran after him and pushed Schwarczenberg to the ground. When he got up and moved further away from them, the officer threw another stone at Schwarczenberg and the AFP photographer.

Schwarczenberg told +972 Magazine and Local Call at the time that he was standing on a hill photographing Palestinian stone throwers when Momani told him to get close to the ground because soldiers were shooting live bullets at the stone throwers.

“One of the soldiers suddenly appeared from behind us and shouted, ‘get out of here before I shoot you’,” Schwarczenberg said at the time. “Abbas and I got up to go but then the soldier shouted, ‘lay down!’, and pointed his weapon in our direction [at the stone thrower behind us].” The stone thrower escaped.

“At that point [the soldier] began pushing me and Abbas, another soldier joined him and threw a stone at us that didn’t hit me,” he continued. “Right after that he threw me and my cameras to the ground.”

The day of the incident, an Israeli army spokesperson contacted by +972 Magazine described the soldiers’ attack on the journalists as “reasonable force.” Just hours later, apparently after viewing the video, the spokesperson said that the incident would be investigated.

Less than a week later, the two were tried and sentenced for the attack in a brigade-level disciplinary hearing. One officer was given two weeks in prison and the other was sentenced to one month’s confinement on base.

Schwarczenberg and Momani filed a civil suit against the Israeli army in 2016 seeking NIS 100,000 ($28,000). In the Israeli state’s response to the suit, it claimed: “The plaintiffs themselves were an inseparable part of the severe riots,” and that “they attempted to obstruct the actions of the security forces, cursed at the soldiers, implored the rioters to come out of the village, exposed the location of the [military] force, and even directed the rioters to harm the soldiers, and were absolutely not engaged solely in documentation.”

The state stuck to that line of defense in the civil suit, even through the case’s evidentiary phase, despite the fact that the army itself convicted and punished the two officers for attacking Schwarczenberg and Momani. When called to testify, the officer and the soldier gave accounts that were contradicted by the video evidence.

In the settlement between the two sides, which was accepted by the court on Tuesday, the state retracted its claims that Schwarczenberg and Momani led riots, and agreed to pay the pair a total of NIS 9,300 ($2,500) in damages.

“What was unique about this case was that the state went too far and claimed that the photographers led the riots, and that claim wasn’t backed up by any [evidence],” Eitay Mack, the attorney representing the two said after the settlement was reached.

Despite winning damages for the two photographers, Mack said the result was not encouraging.

“There is a problem with the way the army treats journalists,” he continued. “If in the past they were cautious about harming them, when the consideration was the image of Israel and the army, today journalists, and particularly Palestinian journalists, including those working for foreign agencies, have become legitimate targets.”

Mack is currently suing the army in several other cases on behalf of Palestinian journalists who were harmed and attacked by Israeli soldiers while reporting.

As long as Israeli and international journalist organizations don’t work on behalf of Palestinian photojournalists, “they will continue to be targets for attack and harm for soldiers,” Mack said. “Unfortunately, journalist organizations aren’t interested in protecting the equipment, bodies, or lives of journalists in the West Bank.”

Some of the background material in this article was taken from +972 Magazine’s original report on the incident.