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Village Voice Photographer Denies He Threw Rocks at IDF Soldiers

March 18, 1988
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A New York free-lance photographer denied charges Thursday that he was throwing stones at Israeli soldiers who grabbed him by the hair, broke his cameras and seized a roll of film during demonstrations in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus on March 7.

William Biggart, 40, told reporters that he had been taking photographs during a 45-minute demonstration when Israeli soldiers closed in on rock-throwing rioters. Biggart stumbled while running from the soldiers, he said, and was detained by three soldiers who “went a little crazy.”

At a news conference at the offices of the Village Voice, the weekly newspaper for which Biggart had been under assignment prior to the incident, the photographer displayed two damaged cameras, one with the back torn off. He also displayed some of the pictures of Palestinian boys and women he took before and after the incident.

“They knew I was press and they just wanted to intimidate me,” Biggart said of the soldiers.

But the officer who apprehended Biggart, Ziyad Abu Yamin of the Combat Engineers Corps, told the Israeli daily Maariv on Wednesday that he started chasing “someone” who threw a rock that hit the leg of a fellow soldier.

“I started chasing after him and he ducked into the alleyways. But there were puddles there and lots of mud, and he slipped and fell into one,” said Abu Yamin. “I came up to detain him, and was amazed to see a number of cameras dangling around his neck.”

Biggart denied the officer’s account and other reports that he had been wearing a kaffiyeh, the checkered headdress worn by Arabs.

No charges have been brought against Biggart by the IDF or civilian authorities in Nablus, although they are continuing to investigate the incident, according to Barukh Binah, spokesman for the Israeli Consulate in New York. Binah said Biggart did not appear for questioning after being summoned to civilian court in Nablus.

Biggart said that he had given his own account to an IDF major at military headquarters, but the summons to appear in civilian court did not arrive until the day before he was scheduled to leave the country, five days after the incident. Biggart said he consulted the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and they approved of his decision to leave the country March 13.

EDITOR SENDS PROTEST LETTER

Martin Gottlieb, editor in chief of the Village Voice, sent a letter Thursday to Israeli Consul General Moshe Yegar protesting the incident. In the letter, Gottlieb asked for a withdrawal of the allegations against Biggart, the return of a press pass that was seized in the incident and an apology “for the unprovoked physical attack and the destruction of his film.”

Gottlieb told reporters at the news conference that the incident was “an act of misportrayal that will further a bad government policy” on press access.

Binah said Thursday afternoon that the consul general had not yet received the letter, and that it was “typical that the paper did not wait before a response came to gain support on an unfounded base.”

(Tel Aviv correspondent Hugh Orgel contributed to this story.)

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