Harper's security team accused of roughing up journalist on Middle East tour

For years, Team Harper has been accused of strong-arming the media in this country. They're now being accused of doing that — literally — in the Middle East.

As part of his one-week tour to the region, Harper and his entourage made a stop at the Nativity Church in Bethlehem on Monday.

According to a statement by 'The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) — a labour organization used to promote the rights of media — that's where Harper's security team physically assaulted a cameraman.

Mousa Al Shaer/ Journalist reported to MADA that he went with about 7 of his colleagues to cover Harper's visit, after coordination with the Department of Information in the Office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. When they arrived to Bethlehem at the Nativity Church, the Canadian press and media accompanying Harper were allowed entrance first by his Guards, and then they allowed the Palestinian Press and journalists to enter the Church.

Al Shaer added: “once we entered the church we were prevented from filming, so we protested against that, but the guard punched Al-Mahid TV cameraman Amer Hijazi by a metal piece on his fist to Hijazi’s chest. Al Shaer also reported that the journalists are protesting against the attack on their colleague in front of the Nativity church right now.

The vice president of the Palestinian Journalist Syndicate Nasser Abu Bakir reported to MADA that the Syndicate calls on all journalists not to cover Harper’s visit, and they are demanding a formal apology by Harper to the Palestinian Journalists.

MADA is also asking for the Harper government to "investigate the incident and to hold the aggressor accountable."

[ Related: Stephen Harper’s ‘historic’ trip reignites debate about his staunch support of Israel ]

Sun News reporter David Akin, who is with the prime minister in the Middle East, has a very different take. He shared what he saw on Twitter:

There also doesn't seem to be any verifiable video evidence — despite the existence of cameras inside and outside the church — that the incident occurred as MADA described it.

Nevertheless, on social media, anti-Harperites are using the 'dispute' as another example of the prime minister's penchant to 'control the media.'

Indeed, there has been a recent string of 'run-ins' between Harper aides and the media.

In June an accredited press gallery journalist from China's state-run newspaper triggered a shoving match with a PMO staffer after he was told that he couldn't ask the prime minister a question.

In October, a public spat erupted when the PMO announced that cameras would be welcome inside a Harper speech to caucus but not reporters. According to the Globe and Mail, some TV stations responded by refusing to cover the event at all.

And last month in South Africa, a local reporter accused Canadian officials of attempting to exclude South African reporters from an event on an airport apron.

[ Related: Harper visits Ramallah, offers $66 million in new aid to Palestinians ]

Despite the media 'distractions', the prime minister had a busy day.

Earlier in the day, on Monday, he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pledging $66 million in economic aid. He then became the first ever Canadian prime minister to speak at the Israeli parliament known as the Knesset.

During the historic address, Harper spoke about the bond between the two countries and described what Canada's support for Israel entails.

"First, Canada finds it deplorable that some in the international community still question the legitimacy of the existence of the state of Israel. Our view on Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is absolute and non-negotiable," he said.

"Second, Canada believes that Israel should be able to exercise its full rights as a UN member-state and to enjoy the full measure of its sovereignty. For this reason, Canada has spoken on numerous occasions in support of Israel’s engagement and equal treatment in multilateral fora.

"Third, we refuse to single out Israel for criticism on the international stage."

As explained by the Canadian Press, Ahmad Tibi and another Arab member of the Knesset, heckled Harper as he spoke about the "twisted logic of calling Israel an apartheid state."  Both MKs exited the chambers under their own accord.

The prime minister's Middle East tour concludes on Saturday.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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