RAMALLAH (IPS) - As people anxiously wait to see if the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas will hold, local and international human rights groups are calling for investigations into Israeli human rights abuses committed during its eight-day assault on the Gaza Strip, including flagrant attacks on journalists.
“We want an international investigation into what happened in Gaza,” Abdal Nasser Najjar, chairman of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, said. “We want to put an end to this [Israeli] policy of killing and injuring journalists. There is no difference between a journalist: Israeli, Palestinian, or international. We want to do our jobs only, as journalists.”
In its most recent assault on the Gaza Strip, which Israel called Operation Pillar of Defense, 162 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,100 injured. Three Palestinian journalists were killed and more than a dozen injured in targeted Israeli air strikes.
According to MADA, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, the Israeli army has killed 18 journalists, including two foreign journalists, in the past decade.
“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,” Najjar, who is managing editor of the daily newspaper Al-Ayyam, said.
On 20 November, two Palestinian cameramen from al-Aqsa TV were killed instantly when an Israeli missile hit their car, which was reportedly marked with the letters “TV” in neon letters. The two journalists — Hussam Mohammed Salama, 30, and Mahmoud Ali al-Koumi, 29 — were on their way to al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City to document the admission of injured Palestinians.
The same day, a third journalist, Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of al-Quds Educational Radio, was killed when a missile hit his car.
Reporters Without Borders called the Israeli attacks “deliberate” and, in a statement released Wednesday, stated that “journalists are entitled to the same protection as civilians and should not be regarded as military targets.”
Almost a dozen reporters were also injured when Israeli air strikes hit buildings housing local and foreign media offices in Gaza City on three separate occasions. These buildings housed the offices of al-Arabiya, Agence France Presse, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, and Russia Today, among others.
“We demand the United Nations set up a committee to carry out a full investigation into these attacks and take action against the Israeli government. Moreover, the international community must respond immediately to this heinous act,” Jim Bomelha, the president of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), said in a statement.
On 21 November, the Israeli military spokesperson’s office posted the following message on its official Twitter feed: “Warning to reporters in Gaza: stay away from Hamas operatives & facilities. Hamas, a terrorist group, will use you as human shields.”
The Israeli government also insinuated that since al-Aqsa TV — one of the media outlets targeted by the Israeli air strikes — is affiliated with Hamas, its employees are not real journalists.
“There is the al-Aqsa station, which is a station that is a Hamas command and control facility. Just as in other totalitarian regimes, the media is used by the regime for command and control and also for security purposes. From our point of view, that’s not a legitimate journalist,” said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev in a heated televised interview on Al Jazeera. “We don’t target journalists. We target Hamas,” Regev said.
“Just a pretext”
According to Issam Younes, director of the Gaza-based Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, Israel’s questioning of Palestinian journalistic standards is only a pretext to justify its destructive attacks on the Gaza Strip.
“Imagine if Hamas said that those commentators on [Israeli news stations] Channel 2 and Channel 10 are [Israeli intelligence agency] Shabak people, then they are legitimate targets for Hamas to attack? It’s just a pretext,” Younes said.
Movement in and out of the Gaza Strip is almost entirely controlled by Israel; Egypt operates the southern Rafah border crossing. At the start of its latest military offensive, Israel allowed the entry of dozens of international journalists into Gaza.
This was a change from past Israeli policies. During its 2008-09 military operation in Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead, Israel barred the entry of foreign journalists into Gaza, and declared the Israel-Gaza boundary, including a two-kilometer zone inside present-day Israel, and large areas inside Gaza as “closed military zones.”
It also used extreme violence against local journalists who were documenting the three-week Israeli assault from inside Gaza.
Al-Aqsa TV’s Gaza offices were completely destroyed during the offensive, resulting in a financial loss of approximately six million dollars, and the offices of the weekly newspaper al-Risala were also damaged.
“There aren’t any red lines anymore,” Younes said. “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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