BOB GARFIELD: There are some stories that journalists can't seem to report without bringing down an avalanche of criticism. Certainly coverage of gun control and abortion inspires heated debate, but nothing like the rage that invariably follows stories about Israel. We have received letters asking us to look into American coverage of the Middle East, but for reasons that will soon be clear, this is a near impossibility. Instead we invite you to examine the perspectives of the critics. What follows is a report from the ground that we regard as balanced and fair about the challenges faced by reporters in the disputed territories. Afterwards we'll ask two critics for their reactions. First, our report on journalists caught in the middle from Rick Davis.
WOMAN ...and don't let me take it down, don't let me, don't let me.... And release.
MAN: Firm from gentle orders from a physical therapist at Jerusalem's Mount Scopus Hospital.
WOMAN ...stay, stay, stay--
MAN: Yola Monikoff [sp?] lifts her leg - but not much. Her pelvis is shattered; nerve endings severed. On November 11th this 26 year old freelance photographer was in Bethlehem on her first assignment for the Associated Press. It was a fairly quiet day she says -- young Palestinians were throwing a few rocks. The Israeli Army responded with one tear gas round. Then an Israeli soldier came around the corner. The Palestinians ran. Yola ducked into a doorway.
WOMAN I looked up and there he was. He was about 50 meters away, and I saw that he was a soldier; I saw that he was wearing a helmet; and I saw that his gun was aimed at us.
MAN: And then the soldier fired.
WOMAN I was screaming like a girl and I wanted to tell the sold--let the soldier know that, that - hey you - buddy you made a mistake--
MAN: A mistake the Israeli Army now admits; standing orders were violated. A soldier can only fire live ammunition when he is in immediate mortal danger.
WOMAN According to the Army there are two people to blame -- two people who broke the rules of engagement - a, as they put it -- an officer who first gave the order to shoot, which meant to shoot with live fire--
MAN: And the young man who fired the shot.
WOMAN -- the soldier who shot me got - received an order to go shoot the Palestinian wearing the gray tee shirt and jeans, and, and I, I think was you know very scared and did a very shoddy job and just came out - you know followed orders that were illegal--
MAN: Yola Monikoff calls the West Bank and Gaza the Mean Streets.
WOMAN Yeah. I mean I have a friend, an Israeli photographer who got - caught a Palestinian bullet in his lens. So of course it's dangerous everywhere, and you know you never know where it's coming from.
MAN: Journalists are often caught in the middle on the many days when Israeli tank fire responds to Palestinian gunfire and the constant rain of rocks. The New York-based Commission to Protect Journalists has raised the question: are reporters being singled out as targets? Many believe they are. The Israeli Army and the Palestinian Authority say no. But the Committee has documented a long list of shootings, beatings and harassment. [GUNFIRE] Example, October 31st. CNN's Cairo Bureau Chief Ben Weideman [sp?] was at the Gaza/Israeli border. It was a day of heavy fire. During a lull, Weideman was trying to take down a camera tripod. He was shot in the back. Mike Hanna [sp?] is the Jerusalem Bureau Chief for CNN.
MAN: The bullet was found in the flak jacket when it was subjected to ballistics analysis back in the United States, and it was an Israeli bullet. The Israelis have apologized if indeed they say they were responsible for the shooting. They insist that it was not intentional. I take their words on that particular element of trust given the circumstances on that particular day.
MAN: There are other times there is little doubt that violent action is intentional. Example, Lee Hochstetter [sp?] of the Washington Post. He wrote a story about the Israeli Army's use of lethal force. It was at night. He was at home.
MAN: We heard a boom or-- as we were preparing dinner, and-- unfortunately these days one hears booms in the evening in particular quite a bit, and so we thought nothing of it. As we sat down to dinner noticed the fire engine red lights flashing outside our living room window; went outside to see flames shooting up from our cars.
MAN: Now it seems more than ever in the Middle East you will be on someone's bad guy list -- maybe everyone's.
MAN: Feelings run so high that you simply-- cannot convince people that there is any such thing as an impartial, dispassionate observer. Everyone's convinced that if you're not with them, you're agin 'em.
MAN: And that leads to attempts by both the Israelis and the Palestinians to control how a story is covered and at times prevent any coverage. [CROWD CHANTING]
MAN: Ramala, a West Bank town, October 12th. Two Israeli soldiers were captured and taken to a Palestinian police station. A group of young Palestinians forced their way into the building. The police seemed to do little to stop them. The mangled body of one Israeli was thrown from the building. The other was lowered by rope. The killers leaned from a window showing their bloody hands to a cheering crowd. [CROWD CHANTING] There were many photographers there that day, most of them Palestinians. But the only images ever seen came from one Italian cameraman. Why only one? Nassar Attah [sp?], a Palestinian producer for ABC News describes the day.
MAN: Well the day started with us physically by putting our cameras down; some people - their cameras were taken from them. They were confiscated. And some were beaten to stop filming. The youth were so angry there and they were out of control, actually really out of control. I think we just said we would stop filming instead of us being beaten or stabbed or anything like this.
MAN: Mob rule is not the only thing Palestinian reporters faced from their fellow Palestinians. Some have been arrested and jailed. Newspapers, radio and television stations have been closed by the ruling Palestinian Authority. The dangers can be far greater for an Israeli journalist.
MAN: I do the cover - the coverage of the West Bank and Gaza since '67; I never remember such a time.
MAN: Danny Rubinstein is one of Israel's most acclaimed reporters, but he seldom goes to the West Bank or Gaza now where no one believes any Israeli can be a neutral observer and anyone can be a spy.
MAN: And if you don't serve them, they look on you as their enemy! And if - and also here, my people, if I write something that doesn't serve the interests of the Israeli Government, they say what are you doing? We are at a state of war. So I, I would say really it's one of the most-- problematic period in my career as a journalist. No doubt about it.
MAN: And you've been at this a long time.
MAN: Yeah, since the War in '67, which means--almost 34 years.
MAN: Many Israelis are convinced that the Western media are a tool in a propaganda war and Major Yardeen Vatachai [sp?], the foreign press officer for the Israeli Army says the Palestinians are winning that war!
MAN: I believe that since the very beginning everything that they organized was with the vision to be covered and to be-- viewed by all the world - their image of this conflict -managing better than us - managing to control the press and the products of the press more than us.
MAN: But Paul Adams of the British Broadcasting Corporation says when it comes to propaganda, the Israelis win hands down.
MAN: The Palestinians remain hopeless at it, which comes as a - as a surprise to Israelis who believe that there is a very slick Palestinian propaganda operation going on. There simply isn't.
MAN: And Adams says it's Israel and its supporters that are running a propaganda campaign with letters of protest in e-mail messages. An example: his BBC crew was pushed around and punched a couple of times at a confrontation with Palestinians. Adams says it was too insignificant to report, but--
MAN: Before I knew it, the BBC in London was receiving dozens of e-mail messages accusing the BBC of covering up a brutal assault on a BBC crew by Palestinian officials. It all came from an organization in the States - pro-Israel, right wing organization that monitors media coverage of the Middle East. They had encouraged their supporters to, to send these messages and in due course they all came sounding all rather similar.
MAN: Mike Hanna of CNN says you have to get used to it.
MAN: We have criticism from the Israeli government. We have criticism from the Palestinians. A lot of the time their job is propaganda. Our job is news. They are two sides that actually don't co-exist very happily.
WOMAN ...force, force me, force up, up, up-- and release.
MAN: Yola Monikoff is just one journalist who may have been caught in that unhappy co-existence. She faces months, perhaps years of therapy to repair a body shattered by a gunshot.
WOMAN ...stay, stay, stay--
MAN: So after all this do you think you chose the right profession.
WOMAN Yeah, I chose the right profession. I mean you have to do what you have to do to record events that happen, I think. But of course you know I - I'll have more regrets if my foot doesn't start working than if it does.