Israeli security forces fire tear gas towards Palestinian protesters on May 16, 2015 next to Huwarra checkpoint south of Nablus. (AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh, File)Israel has barred a Palestinian photographer allegedly shot in the eye by Israeli forces from entering occupied East Jerusalem for specialist treatment, the injured photographer told AFP on Wednesday.
Nidal Shtayyeh, who works for Chinese news agency Xinhua, was wounded while covering a small demonstration at Huwarra checkpoint, near the northern West Bank city of Nablus, on May 16.
As he was covering the rally, Shtayyeh was hit in the face by a rubber bullet which entered his eye, causing serious damage, he told AFP.
‘The march was peaceful and no stones were thrown, no photographers were taking any pictures,’ he said, accusing soldiers of firing sound bombs at the photographers without any provocation.
‘I raised my camera to my right eye to take a picture, but a soldier shot me in my left eye with his rifle, and the rubber bullet went through my gas mask’s glass eye cover and into my eye.’
An Italian camerawoman was also injured during the same demonstration which came as Palestinians commemorated 67 years since the Nakba, or ‘catastrophe’, when an estimated 760,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes during the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
At the time, Israeli forces said at least 100 Palestinians had been throwing stones and petrol bombs, and that the forces had responded with ‘riot dispersal means.’
Shtayyeh’s injury comes as rights groups criticize Israel for disproportionate use of force against unarmed civilians during such demonstrations.
While crowd control weapons are intended to be non-lethal, many methods used by Israeli forces can cause death, severe injury, and damage to property, according to Israeli rights group B’Tselem.
Shtayyeh was rushed to Rafidiya hospital in Nablus for initial treatment but was prescribed specialist help at St John’s eye hospital in occupied East Jerusalem.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 in a move considered illegal by the international community, and Palestinians living in the West Bank, are often barred by Israel from crossing into the city, which they consider their capital.
As a Palestinian living in the West Bank, Shtayyeh had to apply for an Israeli permit to enter, however Israeli authorities turned down his request.
He tried again two more times — once through the Red Cross and once through a private Israeli lawyer. But both requests were rejected.
A spokesman for the Shin Bet internal security agency did not have an immediate response.
Shtayyeh’s lawyer, Itai Matt, told AFP that his client had been informed it was the Shin Bet preventing his entry, despite his having been granted such permission in the past.
According to Matt, Israeli security services ‘regularly bar entry to anyone wounded by the army’.
‘They even bar entry to wounded children seeking treatment in Jerusalem, because they are worried that anyone wounded will try and take revenge after their treatment,’ he said.
Xinhua did not respond to AFP’s requests for a comment on the incident.
Shtayyeh is one of nearly 1,000 Palestinians to be injured by Israeli forces since the start of 2015, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Israeli military courts rarely prosecute members of Israeli forces who cause injury or death . From 2000-2012, only 117 of 2,207 investigations opened by the Military Police Criminal Investigations Division were indicted, about 5% of the total files opened, according to Israeli human rights group Yesh-Din.
Shtayyah’s injury and inability to access treatment comes as groups Foreign Press Association and Reporters Without Borders have alleged that Israeli forces deliberately target press covering demonstrations.