Why is it so dangerous for journalists in the West Bank?
Because the conflict is inside the cities, in the populated areas, in the streets, everywhere you are.
You don't know when it’s going to happen. It’s very quiet – and suddenly the shooting starts.
You don’t know why. You don’t know if you are the target.
And it goes on like this almost every day.
You have to be ready all the time, wherever you are – always on standby, always alert.
The Palestinian gunmen or suspected gunmen and political and military activists are in the streets, targets for undercover Israeli special forces, snipers and planes.
An attack could happen at any moment, just beside you, so you must exercise caution.
Learn from local journalists about your location, vulnerable positions or any house or building where wanted people live in or nearby.
You will see many different armed people in civilian clothes.
Try to find out from locals who they are -- security forces or Palestinian gunmen who are called Tanzeem , Fatah or Hammas, or any other Palestinian organisation.
You want their pictures, and you can film most of the time, but you have to be very careful.
Beware of angering the gunmen by taking the picture they don’t want.
They don’t trust journalists or any foreigners very much.
Sometimes you may have to get permission to film from the local commander.
Local journalists can help you.
Some policemen in the streets don't mind if you film them, but some do. Most of them don’t speak English.
Your local contact can translate and help explain who you are and what your story is.
It helps when they understand what you are doing.
It is very important to be with a local person when you go to film demonstrations.
Mostly the gatherings comprise hundreds or thousands of people from all types of community factions. They are NOT all the same.
Some are happy to have the media to cover their activities, but some are not.
Here is my 16-point guide to help stay alive:
1- The first thing you need when entering any Palestinian area is to be clearly identified. Your vehicle should have very clear, large signs saying FOREIGN PRESS (or TV ), separately in English and Arabic. The signs should be fixed to the windows at the front and back of your car. When you finish in the Palestinian area and want to go to an Israeli area you can take remove the Arabic sign and keep the English one in view .
2- Your safety uniform should comprise a flak jacket and helmet. Keep the flak jacket on all the time and use the helmet when you are out of your car.
3- Never forget your first aid bag. Keep it in the trunk of your car. The area is very small and often you can have an ambulance in 10 or 15 minutes. But sometimes the ambulance can’t get through and you may need to perform first aid until help comes.
4- Keep some food, water, a blanket, torch and spare clothes for daytime and night, in case you are trapped in an area.
5- Use the right documentation in the right place. If you go to a Palestinian area try to show your Palestinian press card. Do not show it in Israel. There, you use your Israeli press card, which you get from the government office in Jerusalem. If you have any problems, you can just show your foreign press card.
6- Try always to be with other journalists. Two or three press cars are good for security, to help one another and deter attack. It is important to have contact between each car while driving. Keep the local journalists in the front vehicle if you are going to cover a Palestinian event like a funeral or a demonstration. Better you drive in front if you know where you are going and you might meet with Israeli forces.
7- Use local journalists extensively. They can translate, they know where the dangers lie, they can help you meet and interview the people you need for your story, help you out of trouble. They know which road is safe. You can also help them. They will use you for their protection when approaching Israeli military positions. They not only feel safer with you, they can move more freely.
8- At night, drive slowly so you will not surprise any forces in the area. Keep your car roof light on so you can be clearly seen and indentified as a civilian. Keep your hazard lights on – this means something special to all. You could be a journalist or a doctor or you could be carrying someone for medical attention. But it means you are not fighter, that you want to pass openly and in peace.
9- If an Israeli soldier gives you a document saying you are in a closed military area, leave immediately and do not try to film.
10- Be extra careful filming tanks. Don’t try to get close. Their vision is restricted. If a soldier on top of a tank asks you to stop filming, do so. Put your camera down and your hands up. Be even more careful if smoke comes from a tank or APC. Diesel smoke from the engine can damage your camera. White smoke is emitted to giove the tank cover as it moves.
11- Don't ever try to have anyone who is not a journalist in your car. That is extremely dangerous, and could put you in big trouble with the Israeli army, especially when there is a curfew. For all you know your companion might have a problem with Israeli security. The same applies to the other side. Stick to press people whom you know.
12- Be careful when your story is about religion. It’s a sensitive issue here. Learn from locals about traditions and customs in every place you go. For example, it’s not nice to light your cigarette in a public place during Ramadan, or for a man to dress in shorts and enter a house where there are women, or for a female journalist to enter a mosque wearing a short skirt, and so on…
13- Do not leave your vehicle unattended. Best to use an assistant or a friend but if you have no one, ask a shopkeeper or a local family to look after it.
14- Never, ever even think of carrying any kind of weapons, in Israel or the Palestinian Territories. This will really endanger your life.
15- Never forget your local friends (journalists or guides). After you leave they may get in trouble because someone doesn’t like what you wrote or filmed. You are gone, but your helper may be in trouble. Think about him.
16- In trouble, journalists help each other. If the worst happens and a colleague is attacked and wounded or killed, keep your camera running. The tape or the picture can be used as evidence. Pick up any spent cartridge cases.