Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Targeted as Terrorists: The Fourth Estate in Gaza

By Dylan Collins - December 01, 2012
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [IDF] [Gaza]

RAMALLAH – “I don’t think I have ever been in a conflict where so many media buildings were deliberately targeted by a government,” read a tweet from Paul Danahar, BBC’s Middle East Bureau Chief, on Tuesday 20 November 2012.

Danahar’s tweet came on the second to last day of Israel’s eight-day long military assault on the besieged Gaza Strip, titled operation “Pillar of Defense,” during which 166 Palestinians and 5 Israelis were killed according to Al-Jazeera English.

Now, as the Egyptian mediated ceasefire tenuously holds and the dust begins to clear, local and international human rights groups are beginning to call for investigations into what Reporters Without Borders has deemed Israel’s “deliberate” targeting of journalists in the Gaza Strip.

Three of the 166 fatalities in Gaza were Palestinian journalists, targeted and killed by Israeli airstrikes.

On Tuesday, the same day as Danahar’s statement, Mahmoud al-Koumi (29) and Husam Salameh (30)—cameramen for al-Aqsa TV—were on their way to al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City to document the admission of new casualties when their car, reportedly marked with neon letters reading 'TV”, was directly struck by an Israeli F-16 fighter jet killing both of them on the spot.

Subsequent Israeli government press statements indicated that journalists working for al-Aqsa TV, a Hamas affiliated television channel, are not considered real journalists and instead constitute legitimate targets of war.

We obviously knew there were journalists in the building, so we did not attack other floors in the building. But my advice to journalists visiting Gaza is to stay away from any Hamas position, site or post for their own safety

That same day, Muhammad Abu Aisha, director of Al-Quds Educational Radio, was killed in a similar airstrike on his car.

In response to these killings, Israeli officials said their initial investigations have led them to believe the three targeted individuals were “Hamas operatives,” while Reporters Without Borders condemned the killings, stating that Israel had deliberately attacked journalists.

Systematic Suppression

The deaths of these three men represent the height of Israel’s attacks on the media during its “Pillar of Defense” operation; however, its targeted assault on the press during this round of violence had begun two days earlier.

In the early morning hours of Sunday 18 November 2012, 20-year old Khader al-Zahhar, a cameraman for al-Quds TV, had just laid down to take a quick nap in the channel’s office on the 11th floor of the al-Shawa building in downtown Gaza City when an Israeli missile crashed through the rough and into the office. The rocket severed al-Zahar’s leg and left seven other journalists wounded.

Four hours later that same day, the al-Sharuq building—commonly known as the journalists’ building in Gaza City—was struck in a similar manner, injuring three journalists and killing Ramiz Harb, the media director for Islamic Jihad. The building houses the offices of numerous press agencies, including al-Arabiya, Agence France Presse, Russia Today and the Palestinian news agency Ma’an.

“We obviously knew there were journalists in the building, so we did not attack other floors in the building. But my advice to journalists visiting Gaza is to stay away from any Hamas position, site or post for their own safety,” army spokesperson Avital Leibovich told the press later the same day.

“We do not target journalists, we target Hamas…. We surgically hit the target we wanted to hit, not targeting the journalists at all,” said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev about the Tuesday morning’s strikes in an interview with Al-Jazeera English.

“Maybe we’ll have a discussion about who is a journalist,” continued Regev, a statement which Al-Jazeera’s correspondent followed up by saying, “so what are you saying, that a local Arab journalist’s life is any less than an international journalist?”

Right after the initial attacks on the press on Sunday morning, Ofir Gendelemen, the official spokesman of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was quick to assure the world that, “no western journalists were hurt.”

Tuesday’s uproar surrounding the three deaths did little to prevent further Israeli attacks of a similar nature.

Early Wednesday morning, the final day of operation “Pillar of Defense”, the Israeli army revealed that it had hit another one of Hamas’ command centers; however, what it really hit was just another media building, housing the offices for both the Associated Press (AP) and Al-Jazeera, reported AP’s Sarah El-Deeb.

Israel’s Continued Impunity and the Dissipation of Red Lines

Israel’s latest attacks directly correlate to its policies implemented during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 when it refused all foreign journalists entry into the Gaza Strip.

Shortly after Operation Cast Lead ended, Daniel Seaman, then director of the Israeli Government’s Press Office, justified Israel’s refusal by saying: “Any journalist who enters Gaza becomes a fig leaf and front for the Hamas terror organization, and I see no reason why we should help that.”

Indeed, Israel’s most recent widespread targeting of media offices throughout the coast enclave may simply represent a continuation of its policy of information suppression.

“They have classified journalists as enemies. They don’t want the world to know what they’re doing in Gaza, what the crimes of the Israeli soldiers are. I think they didn’t want the information to go from Gaza to outside,” said Abdal Nasser Najjar, chairman of the Palestinian Journalists’ syndicate, in a recent interview with Mondoweiss.

“There aren’t any red lines anymore,” argued Issam Younes, director of Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights. “Everything might be a target, as long as there is this political cover and as long as [the Israelis] believe that they are immune, above the law, and can do whatever they want without being investigated.”

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