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Conflicting Stories over 'Assault' of Journalist in Hevron

Photographer denies leftist outlet fabricated assault by local Jews, but community leader asks 'where's the proof?'.
By Ari Soffer
First Publish: 5/21/2014, 4:18 PM

Lag Baomer bonfire in Jerusalem (illustrative)
Lag Baomer bonfire in Jerusalem (illustrative)
Reuters

A photographer who claimed to have been assaulted by Jews celebrating Lag Baomer in Hevron has responded to allegations that the incident was fabricated, insisting that he was indeed attacked as he tried to film the event.

Emil Salman, who was covering the celebrations in the ancient Judean city on Saturday night, along with veteran Haaretz journalist Amira Hass, told Arutz Sheva the incident lasted "for about 40 seconds", and began when he tried to approach the Jews' traditional Lag Baomer bonfire.

At first, he said, he was told to "get lost" by a local woman, who then "drew the attention of some men... and suddenly I was surrounded. They pushed me very violently and kicked me and punched me in the head".

Salman said the incident ended when police intervened, but he criticized them for removing him from the scene without arresting those involved in the fracas.

Surprisingly, he said he hadn't suffered any injuries in the attack, apart from a "pain in the back of my leg".

But Hevron resident and the community's youth coordinator Anat Cohen, who arranged the Lag Baomer event, challenged his version of events. 

"There were lots of police around - if he was assaulted he should have told the police, or let him lodge a formal complaint," she said. "The truth is no one got hit; let's not mess around".

Cohen claimed that, ironically, Arab activists had attempted to provoke the group by surrounding them and filming, and questioned where the footage of the alleged attack was.

"There were about five video cameras - they filmed the whole lighting ceremony and bonfire from a variety of angles. If he got hit there would surely be footage," she retorted, and added that the police "didn't even let them go down from the hill" they were filming from.

Jewish residents of Hevron say Arab and leftist activists often attempt to spark provocations by filming local Jews - including young children - in an attempt to goad them into reacting.

Cohen's claims echo those made by Arutz Sheva blogger Ryan Bellerose, who blasted the Haaretz report as "complete fiction".

Provocations

Cohen also shed light on another claim made in the leftist paper's report: that "settlers" had provocatively chosen to light their bonfire in a "Palestinian olive grove", without permission from authorities to do so.

Since the initial story was published, Haaretz was forced to issue an apology for falsely claiming that "settlers" had actually "torched a Palestinian orchard" in the article's original title.

After a complaint from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), the leftist daily's English website changed the initial title from "Lag Ba'Omer in Hebron: Setters torch Palestinian orchard" to "Lag Ba'Omer: Settlers light Bonfire in Palestinian orchard".

But Cohen insisted that that assertion, too, was false. She said the Jewish community had been using that same site for the past 25 years and had never received a single complaint until this year when, just a day beforehand and "two hours before Shabbat", Arab and left-wing activists "complained that the area is private land, and [demanded we] remove the wood from there".

The police and IDF looked into the claim and gave permission for it to go ahead, she said.

Cohen claimed that the land in question had belonged to Jews prior to the 1929 Hevron Massacre, in which violent Arab mobs ethnically-cleansed the ancient indigenous Jewish population.

67 Jews were murdered and scores more injured in the attack, after which local Arabs simply seized Jewish-owned property in the area as their own.