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November 18, 2012

Israel’s Targeting of Media Is a War Crime

Posted in: Press Freedom,US Foreign Policy

Photo by Palestinian Human Rights Center

Early Sunday, as widely reported, Israeli warplanes launched air strikes, which hit two complexes with media offices. The strikes wounded ten journalists or media persons. One person, Khader al-Zahhar, a cameraman for Al-Quds TV, had to have his leg amputated and suffered shrapnel wounds.

The first complex attacked around 2 am was the Al-Shawa Wa Hassri Tower. According to Reporters Without Borders, fifteen reporters and photographers wearing vests with “TV Press” on them were on the building’s roof trying to cover Israel’s air strikes on Gaza.

Five missiles hit the 11th floor offices used by Al-Quds TV and injured four employees— Darwish Bulbul, Khadar Al-Zahar, Muhammad al-Akhras and Hazem al-Da’our. Hussein Al-Madhoun, a freelance photographer working for the Ma’an News Agency was wounded. The office had been serving as a headquarters for various foreign and Palestinian media organizations, including Ma’an News Agency.

Hours later, around 7 am, a building Reporters Without Borders claims was known as the “journalists’ building”—the Al-Shorouq building—was hit. The two missiles that struck the building wounded three Al-Aqsa TV employees and damaged the offices of Sky News Arabia, the German TV station ARD, Arab TV stations MBC and Abu Dhabi TV, Al-Arabiya, Reuters, Russia Today and Ma’an News Agency.

“These attacks constitute obstruction of freedom of information,” stated Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire. “We remind the Israeli authorities that, under humanitarian law, the news media enjoy the same protection as civilians and cannot be regarded as military targets.”

The Foreign Press Association (FPA) expressed their “concern” with Israel’s strike on a “media building housing FPA members Sky News, Sky News Arabia, MBC TV, Al-Arabiya, ORF and other European broadcasters.”

Predictably, Israel tried to justify hitting buildings being used by journalists by claiming it was “infrastructure of Hamas’ operational communications” were located inside the civilian building. It targeted the communication devices on the rooftop to “minimize damage.” And, it hit the second building because that building was also “part of Hamas’ operational communications.” They “deliberately located” the devices on the roof of the building, the army claimed.

Deloire did not accept this official statement, “Even though the outlets targeted are linked to Hamas, it does not legitimize the attacks…Attacks against civilian targets constitute war crimes.”

Ofir Gendelman, spokesman of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeted that “No Western journalists were hurt” in the attacks on the media buildings, which suggests the lives of non-Western journalists are meaningless to Israel. They can be wounded or killed and that will be fine because it will be easy to suggest they were Hamas sympathizers or were working for the Hamas.

The Israel army warned journalists to stay away from “Hamas.” In a tweet, the Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson stated, “Advice to reporters in Gaza, just like any person in Gaza: For your own safety, stay away from Hamas positions and operatives.” But, how is one to know what does and does not constitute a Hamas position or operative?

As demonstrated in a post I wrote yesterday, Israel operates under a broad concept that a UN fact-finding mission in 2009 rejected. The concept allows Israel to transform just about any civilian or civilian target into a military target by simply alleging or suggesting a link to Hamas.

Israeli military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich preposterously claimed Hamas had been using the journalists as “human shields.”

“Hamas chose, out of all the buildings in the Gaza Strip, to choose this building – the media, civilian building – to place its electronic infrastructure and communications on the rooftop,” Leibovich stated. “The target was on the roof and only that target was hit.”

All of which is lunatic because the building is one of the taller in Gaza City and a good place for antenna communications. So, too, is her claim that the “entire building” and “entire floors stayed safe.” Windows did not only break. Journalists’ were injured and at least one suffered a life-changing wound, as his leg was amputated. But, to Israel, “If Hamas commanders in Gaza can communicate with each other, then they can attack us”—so bomb journalists.

After the attack, Sky’s Middle East Correspondent Sam Kiley, who happened to be in the second media complex when it was attacked, said “there was reason to disbelieve Israel’s reason for the attack.” He found the attack showed “no one in Gaza can feel safe” because “it is very hard for civilians to know what locations are being used by Hamas.”

Palestinian National Initiative leader Mustafa Barghouti reacted stating Israel was “trying to frighten the press. He called the strikes a war crime.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) reported that Israeli forces had requested journalists leave the Al-Shorouq building. Effectively, this was an order to outlets like Fox News, Abu Dhabi Satellite Channel, Dubai Channel, al-Arabiya News Channel, MBC and PMP to find another location (which Israel may or may not determine later to have some link to Hamas).

PCHR added, “In the early morning, Israeli forces jammed the broadcasts of a number of local radio stations, and broadcast messages on the waves of these stations.  Further to this, 4 local news websites were hacked by Israeli forces on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. “ Which begs the question, why couldn’t Israel do this with the “Hamas antenna”? Why not simply jam or interfere with communications?

The truth is Israel intended to send a message to journalists. They want the press to clear out. They want press to have only a few sources for information on Gaza attacks and any ground invasion: the appointed spokespeople of Israel.

Israel has committed violations of international human rights law like this before. On December 28, 2008, as Reporters Without Borders documented, “A bomb dropped by an Israeli aircraft struck the building housing the offices of Al-Aqsa TV. The building consists of five floors, was completely destroyed. Several people were injured, but no deaths were reported in the strike. The channel continued to broadcast its programs.” This occurred during the Gaza conflict of 2008-2009.

In an interview posted on July 27, 2010, a legal expert for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Robin Geiss, generally outlined:

…Inasmuch as they are civilians, journalists are protected under international humanitarian law against direct attacks unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities. Violations of this rule constitute a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I. What is more, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian – whether in an international or in a non-international armed conflict – also amounts to a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court…

The targeting of journalists is a war crime. If the world is to be outraged at every rocket fired by Hamas or Palestinian militants, then the world should also be outraged at any attack on facilities being used by journalists in Gaza. And the world should be aware that this is all part of Israel’s PR or propaganda policy to ensure eyewitness accounts from reporters or journalists on the ground do not interfere with whatever official statements they wish to feed citizens around the globe.

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