As is now widely known, in the early morning hours of 18 November during Israel’s continued escalation of its military assault on Gaza, the army targeted two buildings in Gaza City that housed international and Palestinian media outlets. The attacks left at least eight journalists injured. Twenty-year old cameraman Khader al-Zahhar had his right leg blown off when a rocket shot through the roof. At the time of writing, Israel has killed 72 Palestinians — 26 just today — since Wednesday, 14 November.
According to a press release today by the human rights organization Adalah:
“The Israeli army bombed Al-Shoroq Tower (or the “Journalists’ Tower”) in Gaza City. The 15-story building housed both local Arab and international media agencies such as Al Arabiya, Al Quds TV, Sky News, France 24, and Russia TV. Local media sources reported that eight journalists were injured in the initial attack. According to [Palestinian human rights group] Al-Mezan field reports, building occupants later received warnings about the Israeli army’s intent to demolish the entire building, and were told to evacuate.”
By the Israeli army’s own admission, they knew journalists were in the building at which they fired: “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 today (BBC Middle East Bureau Chief Paul Danahar recorded her admission).
According to Protocol 1, Article 79 of the Geneva Convention, it is a war crime to target journalists. Furthermore, to suggest that anyone can “stay away from” anything at all during this relentless assault on tiny, sealed-off Gaza is patently absurd. But to instruct journalists to stay away from the conflict on which it is their job to report points to Israel’s reckless disregard for the public’s right to information and the journalist’s duty to provide it. Israel seems clearly bent on preventing information from getting out of Gaza.
Same Israeli army lies
Utilizing the same lie it employed for bombing a UNRWA school, a mosque and a hospital during the “Cast Lead” attack on Gaza in 08-09, the Israeli army has justified this most recent attack on journalists by saying Hamas was using them as “human shields.”
“By placing communication infrastructure on roofs of media buildings, Hamas uses the foreign journalists as human shields,” one army spokesperson said.
The Israeli army’s tumblr site states: “The IDF surgically targeted Hamas’ operational communications capabilities on the roof of a civilian building in the Gaza Strip. The IDF did not target any other parts of the building.”
Reporters without Borders condemned Israel’s attacks today. “Even though the outlets targeted are linked to Hamas, it does not legitimize the attacks,” said secretary-general Christophe Deloire. “Attacks against civilian targets constitute war crimes.”
The recent attacks are, in fact, a continuation of Israel’s policy to target the media and reporters. In Israel’s 2008-09 assault it refused foreign journalists entry to Gaza. In January 2009, Daniel Seaman, director of the Press Office of the Government of Israel, defended Israel’s refusal to allow journalists into Gaza 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.”
By this logic, any journalist in Gaza right now is an unacceptable “fig leaf” for Hamas. Therefore Israel’s assault on journalists may be indiscriminate and part of the war against information that Seaman declared in 2009.
Israel unchallenged in mainstream media
Israel’s line of defense has not been challenged by mainstream media sources such as The New York Times and the Washington Post, even though Israel’s incessantly-repeated and mendacious justification for bombing civilian infrastructure for serving as “human shields” for Hamas operations was not corroborated by the Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (also known as the Goldstone Report).
Instead, the September 2009 UN report found that it was Israel who used Palestinians as human shields once it began its ground invasion into Gaza – just one of the many violations of international humanitarian law committed by Israel during the massacre that left 1,417 Palestinians dead, 926 of which were civilians and 313 children, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. (For discussion of Israel’s use of human shields see Page 19 of the Goldstone report.)
Targeting media is not a new tactic for Israel, and it is a policy it shares with the United States. The US military has targeted media outlets in Iraq in 2003, Afghanistan in 2001 and Kosovo in 1999 under the justification that these outlets operate as “propaganda.”