An Israeli eyewitness has contradicted the dramatic account of an Israeli reporter that he and a colleague were “seconds away from being beaten to death by a mob of Palestinian masked men” near the Ofer military prison in the occupied West Bank town of Beitunia during a demonstration on Friday.
Two Palestinian youths were shot dead with live ammunition by Israeli occupation forces during a Nakba Day protest at the same location the previous day.
“I’m not prone to exaggeration,” the journalist Avi Issacharoff wrote in The Times of Israel of the Friday incident. “It was a case of life and death, and I was within moments of falling victim to the kind of lynch that saw two Israeli soldiers who strayed into Ramallah in 2000 beaten to death by a baying mob.”
“I was saved by pure good fortune,” Issacharoff adds. “Two plainclothes members of the Palestinian Authority security forces happened to be nearby and waded in to extricate me. I was already being hit and kicked from behind when they rescued me.”
In a more detailed Hebrew account of the incident in Walla! News, Issacharoff claims that he was attacked because he is Israeli and that the incident indicated that Palestinians were intent on forcing Israeli journalists to stop covering protests in the West Bank.
Issacharoff alleges conspiratorially that Palestinian journalists are behind these attacks in order to “punish” their Israeli counterparts for Israeli refusal to allow them into Israel.
Noa Shaindlinger, an Israeli eyewitness, says that Issacharoff was grossly exaggerating what she called a “non-incident” and that at least four other Israeli journalists who habitually cover such protests – David Reeb, Yisrael Puterman, Haim Schwartzenberg and Miki Katzman – were present and none of them raised the ire of the protestors.
The area where Friday’s protest took place sees frequent demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinians held at Ofer military prison. The protests take place along a street leading to a hill where Israeli soldiers take positions to prevent protestors reaching the prison.
Shaindlinger told The Electronic Intifada in a Skype call that she had been close to the hill but fell back along the road after Israeli occupation forces fired many tear gas rounds.
“I was by a gas station and I heard a commotion,” she said. “I went over and saw what I realized were the Israeli journalists [Issacharoff and Walla! News photographer Daniel Bock] and a whole group of protestors who had run up to the journalists. I ran right in. I asked, ‘What happened?’ Someone told me, ‘There are two Israeli journalists here and they are taking photos of people’s faces.’ That was the main concern. Another person said, ‘They have two Palestinian mukhabarat [intelligence men] with them.’”
Fear of photography
Because Israeli occupation forces use videos of protests to carry out night raids and arrests, Palestinians who participate in protests often cover their faces.
“Israeli journalists who come there come with a very clear understanding that they need to protect those guys,” Shaindlinger explained.
She points out that Israeli journalist David Reeb’s video (above) from the protest (it does not show the incident with Issacharoff) uses pixelation to obscure the faces of protesters who are not covering their faces.
Another video of the protest by Yisrael Puterman shows an Israeli armored vehicle firing what protestors call “popcorn” – multiple rounds of teargas in quick succession.
Shaindlinger added: “There was a lot of shouting and shoving. And the two journalists went to their car. They were sitting in the car for a minute or two. A couple of guys went and kicked the car. And then they drove away and that was it.”
Anger over boys’ killings
Shaindlinger says that tension was particularly high on Friday because of the killings at the same place the day before. Shaindlinger was also there at Thursday’s protest and recalled one of the shootings:
“I couldn’t see him being shot down. As soon as we heard the live bullets – everybody knows what live ammunition sounds like – we all started running back because no one wants to get hurt. As soon as we started running we heard the shouting and so people rushed back [towards the sound of the fire].”
An ambulance which was nearby came quickly and took the victim away. Shaindlinger said she does not know which of the two teenagers was hit at that moment.
But she saw a friend who had carried one of the victims “soaked in blood. There was so much blood and he was screaming. He obviously he was in shock. People tried to calm him down. And then he collapsed from shock.”
The two victims were named as 17-year-old Muhammad Odeh Abu al-Thahir and 15-year-old Nadim Siyam Nuwara. Amnesty International strongly condemned their killings.
Many people had come directly to the Friday protest from the boys’ funerals so “people were angry,” Shaindlinger said.
In his torrid accounts in English and Hebrew, Issacharoff does not acknowledge the killings the day before or the role they might have played in the heightened tension.
In his Hebrew account he says that Friday’s incident began with a “provocation” by Palestinians who approached him and his photographer and asked them to leave. He refused to do so and the situation escalated from there and the pair found themselves surrounded by angry young men.
“Then someone approached me from behind and kicked me. Then two more came and hit me in my back and leg. That’s it. They did not hit me in the face, nor cause me any other injury.”
He even acknowledges that many in the crowd were urging that no one harm the two Israelis.
But Issacharoff still insists the atmosphere was one of a “near lynch.” After he and Bock got in their car – with the two Palestinian intelligence men who he says “rescued” them – they went to a Palestinian Authority security headquarters where they were plied with “coffee, tea, sweets and cigarettes” and kind words from the PA men. “An hour later I was on the Israeli side of the checkpoint.”
For Shaindlinger, Issacharoff’s grossly exaggerated account shows contempt for Palestinians: “He wanted to make himself the center of the story and take the attention away from the two Palestinians who were killed.”
Update, 18 May: Issacharoff backs away from claims
Since this post was initially published, another eyewitness, French photojournalist Julie Couzinet, has corroborated that Avi Issacharoff’s account of the assault on him was “exaggerated”:
Issacharoff has also published an English version of his account of the incident, first published in Hebrew in Walla! News.
But in a series of tweets this afternoon he has backed away from some of his more lurid claims. Significantly, he acknowledges that Palestinians believed him to be an agent of the Israeli secret police Shin Bet and this – not the mere fact he is Israeli – is what motivated their suspicions.
But Issacharoff has still said nothing to acknowledge the killings the previous day by Israeli occupation forces of two Palestinian teenagers.
His lack of concern may be explained by his work with “Friends of the IDF,” a group that raises money for and propagandizes on behalf of the Israeli occupation forces.
Issacharoff has, for instance, spoken for the group in Arizona and California.
He has also contributed numerous articles to a publication of the anti-Palestinian advocacy group The Israel Project.
While Issacharoff had claimed he is “not prone to exaggeration,” in his latest tweets he asserts that some have denied an incident ever took place. This post, at least, never denied that an incident occurred but provided eyewitness accounts contradicting his self-serving version.