[Video] ‘Israeli forces impersonating news crews endangers journalists’

Undercover Israeli troops, reportedly impersonating a news crew, arrest a Palestinian student leader at a major West Bank university. Israeli journalists’ union issues strong condemnation.  [Update appended below]

According to a number of reports in the Israeli and Palestinian media, undercover Israeli security forces impersonated a news crew in order to arrest a student leader at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank on Wednesday.

The Union of Journalists in Israel issued the following in response to the reports (full disclosure, I am a member of the union’s secretariat):

The Union of Journalists is troubled by undercover forces impersonating a news crew at Bir Zeit University. Such behavior is likely to endanger real journalists doing their jobs and strikes a blow at freedom of the press. Journalistic work is important and journalists must not be endangered, even in order to conduct security operations. The Union of Journalists will demand clarifications from the commander of the Border Police in order to ensure such impersonations are not repeated.

Armed forces and combatants impersonating reporters puts genuine journalists, Israeli and Palestinian alike, in real danger. In a tweet published shortly after the news broke, Palestinian affairs reporter for Israel’s Channel 2 News, Ohad Hemo, noted how such operations can create antagonism and suspicion toward reporters in the field, putting them in real danger. “[I say that] as somebody who has been forced by masked stone throwers to strip in order to prove that I am not an undercover operative!”

Of the Hebrew-language news outlets that had covered the incident at the time of publication, Channel 2 News and Ynet seemed to celebrate the operation instead of condemning impersonation of journalists. “Fauda at Bir Zeit,” screamed one headline, referring to the popular television show about undercover Israeli forces who impersonate Palestinians. Neither outlet saw fit to highlight the danger such operations pose to journalists, including those in their employ.

+972 Magazine sent a series of questions to the spokesperson of the Israeli Border Police, which is responsible for Israel’s undercover units. Their response, if and when it is received, will be published here.

Two-and-a-half years ago, a Palestinian man pretending to be a journalist stabbed Israeli soldiers near the West Bank city of Hebron. The Palestinian journalists’ union put out an immediate and unequivocal condemnation of the man’s actions and his attack (Hebrew).

Update (March 13, 2018):

In the days after the arrest, Bir Zeit University and the Border Police spokesperson denied that the Israeli forces had impersonated journalists, and said that the troops had impersonated students.

This article also appears in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.