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French judge dismisses journalist's complaint against Israeli military

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is appalled to learn that a French judge has dismissed French journalist Jacques-Marie Bourget's complaint against the Israeli authorities on the grounds that the lack of Israeli cooperation prevented him from pursuing the investigation.

The former "Paris-Match" correspondent in Ramallah, Bourget was seriously injured while covering the Second Intifada in October 2000. He sustained a gunshot injury that was operated on locally after the Israeli military refused to transfer him. He was subsequently repatriated to France with great difficulty and hospitalised there.

French doctors consider him to be 45 per cent permanently disabled. Forensic examination of the bullet that was withdrawn from his lung on 29 June 2001 established that it was Israeli-made and had been fired from an M-16 assault rifle, a gun widely used by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). This finding supported Bourget's claim that Israeli soldiers had deliberately fired on him, as did the murder of his interpreter, Abdel Hamid Khorti, a few days after his repatriation. Witnesses also said the shot was fired from Ramallah's City Inn Hotel, where Israeli soldiers had taken up positions.

Bourget filed a complaint in France in early 2002 accusing the IDF of "attempted homicide," but it was only on 7 September 2005 that a French judge, Michèle Ghanassia, activated the investigation by sending the Israeli judicial authorities a formal request for cooperation. He also issued a summons to the IDF colonel in charge of the area at the time, but the colonel did not respond. In fact, the Israeli authorities did not cooperate in any way.

In a ruling issued on 24 May, the French judge said: "International letters rogatory were sent to the Israeli authorities who refused to execute them. This lack of cooperation prevented identification of the person who fired the shot. The case will therefore be dismissed."

"Having registered as a civil party in this case from the outset, we are outraged by this decision, and the resulting failure to shed light on this shooting," Reporters Without Borders said. "Jacques-Marie Bourget has been demanding justice for nearly 10 years. A lot of different evidence points to Israeli responsibility. Although France and Israel have signed a judicial cooperation accord, Israel did not cooperate. This is unacceptable."

This is not the first time that a journalist has had no cooperation from the Israeli courts. A journalist with the French TV station TF1, Bertrand Aguirre was fired on by an Israeli border guard in May 2001, surviving thanks only to his bullet-proof vest. The incident was filmed but four months later, an Israeli court closed the case for "lack of evidence."

The ruling in the Bourget case has again highlighted the almost systematic impunity for attacks on the media in armed conflicts. Despite the protection that international law affords journalists in war zones and despite the UN Security Council's adoption of Resolution 1738 in 2006, reminding member states of their obligation to bring anyone responsible for grave violations of international humanitarian law to justice, injured journalists and the families of journalists killed in the course of their work never obtain justice.

For protection and respect for the work of war reporters to progress, it is essential that the fine words and declarations by governments be followed up by action and by a real determination to prosecute, try and convict those responsible for acts of violence.

Bourget's lawyer, William Bourdon, said there would be no appeal against this decision because of the impasse resulting from Israel's complete refusal to cooperate. "It is regrettable that this refusal, which violates Israel's international obligations, is serving to prolong the impunity of those responsible for this murder attempt, namely Israeli military officers."

Bourdon added that an attempt is being made before the Israeli courts to obtain "fair compensation" for Bourget's serious injuries.

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