Israeli forces shoot Palestinian journalist in head with tear gas canister

Nidal Eshtayeh, who has been attacked by Israeli troops and officers multiple times, is still recovering from the impact of the projectile that broke through his helmet.

Israeli Border Police officers shot Palestinian photojournalist Nidal Eshtayeh in the head with an extended-range tear gas canister last week, which shattered his helmet and left him with a concussion from which he has yet to recover.

The shooting took place during the course of a weekly protest against Israeli settlements in the Palestinian village of Kafr Qaddum. Like almost every week, the protest devolved into clashes between Israeli soldiers and Border Police officers, who shot tear gas and sprayed local homes with putrid “skunk” water, and young Palestinian protesters who threw stones at the armed and armored soldiers.

Eshtayeh, a freelance photographer who works with Chinese news agency Xinhua and who is accredited by the Israeli Government Press Office, was clearly identified as a journalist, wearing protective gear marked “PRESS” and carrying large professional cameras. According to his attorney, Itay Mack, who filed a complaint about the incident to the Israeli army and police Internal Affairs, Eshtayeh was standing in a group of photographers, making it impossible to misidentify him as anything but a news photographer at the time he was shot.

“I was standing behind the protest, not next to the protesters. I fell and wasn’t able to move, so they carried me to an ambulance and took me to Rafidia Hospital [in Nablus],” Eshtayeh told +972’s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. “More than a week later, my head is still spinning; I am in pain and I can’t work.”

“I have no doubt that if my client had not been wearing a helmet that he would have lost his life,” Mack added. “There was no justification for shooting directly at journalists.”

[Video of the clashes, from the Kafr Qaddum YouTube page. Eshtayeh and his damaged helmet are shown in an ambulance at minute marker 1:29]:

This was not the first time Nidal Eshtayeh has been injured by Israeli security forces. Just over a year ago, an Israeli soldier shot a rubber bullet at his face, shattering the protective glass on his gas mask and pushing a glass shard into his eye. His eyesight in that eye is still damaged.

In September 2013, Israeli soldiers attacked Eshtayeh, confiscating his cameras and handing them over to Israeli settlers, who broke them and stole his memory cards. An Israeli court ordered the Defense Ministry to pay Eshtayeh NIS 26,000 ($6,900) compensation in that case. (Hebrew)

As a rule, Palestinian journalists under Israeli military rule are subject to serious violence and violations of freedom at the hands of Israeli security forces, including imprisonment without trial, the closure of media outlets with no explanation, and cases like Eshtayeh’s, of physical violence.

An Israeli Border Police spokesperson sent the following in response to our request for comment:

An initial inquiry shows that this was a violent protest, during which dozens of protesters rioted and threw stones toward security forces. During the protest, security forces used riot dispersal means and did not identify any of the protesters being hit in the head. However, the allegations must be looked into by the relevant authorities.

It’s important to note that we asked the Border Police spokesperson specifically about projectile fire that struck a photojournalist, not “one of the protesters.” The response, which bundles journalists into the same category as the protesters they are covering, is reminiscent of the Israeli response to a lawsuit filed by two journalists who were filmed being attacked by Israeli army officers in Nabi Saleh.

In that case as well, the army found it fitting to put on trial and punish the two officers in question, but later, in a civil suit, the state claimed (Hebrew) that the professional photojournalists had joined the protesters and were endangering the lives of the soldiers.

This article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.