In a 2 December letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Committee to Protect Journalists challenges the unsubstantiated claims made by Israeli military spokesperson Avital Leibovich that three Palestinian journalists killed by Israel in Gaza last month were “terror” targets.
Leibovich was quoted by the Associated Press saying that three men who were killed in two separate strikes on 20 November were “targets … who have relevance to terror activity.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists adds:
An unsigned entry posted on the Israel Defense Forces blog that day [20 November] asserted that an individual named Muhammed Shamalah, whom it referred to as a Hamas military commander, had been targeted in an airstrike that struck a vehicle identified as “TV.” Neither Leibovich nor the IDF blog entry provided any details to support the claims. Leibovich reiterated these unsupported claims in a letter to The New York Times published on November 29.
CPJ has contacted the IDF spokesperson’s office multiple times, beginning on November 20 and then again on November 27, 28, and 29, and we have sent three written requests seeking an explanation for its claims. We were directed to a Maj. Zohar Halevi who has not responded to our requests.
Alarmingly, spokeswoman Leibovich seeks to erase the crucial legal distinction between armed combatants and journalists covering the perspective of an adversary. “Such terrorists, who hold cameras and notebooks in their hands, are no different from their colleagues who fire rockets aimed at Israeli cities and cannot enjoy the rights and protection afforded to legitimate journalists,” Leibovich writes in the letter to The Times.
All journalists, whether local or foreign, regardless of the perspective from which they report, are afforded the same civilian protections under international law. The Israeli government does not have the right to selectively define who is and who is not a journalist based on national identity or media affiliation. International law also places strict limits on military attacks on all civilian sites, including media outlets. Article 51 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions prohibits attacks on civilian sites in which potential damage and loss of civilian life “would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”
The New York Times publishes unsubstantiated claims
Israel must be held accountable for its targeting and murdering journalists, and questions must be posed to The New York Times for irresponsibly and unethically publishing the Israeli spokesperson’s unsubstantiated claims.
In her 27 November letter to the editor, titled “Terrorist or Journalist?” Leibovich claims without giving support that a targeted car marked “TV” was carrying a “Hamas commander.” She also twice states that “terrorists” are “exploiting” journalists by using them as human shields, though she does not give any specific examples of this.
Leibovich’s letter was in response to David Carr’s 25 November column titled “Using War as Cover to Target Journalists,” which put Israel’s targeting of journalists in Gaza last into the wider “deadly trend” of government violence against journalists.
Carr criticized Leibovich, stating: “So it has come to this: killing members of the news media can be justified by a phrase as amorphous as ‘relevance to terror activity.’”
Carr rightly excoriates governments who “have decided shooting the messenger is a vialbe option.” But by printing her letter to days later, The New York Times editors allowed Leibovich to repeat her deadly claims, which the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Sunday the Government of Israel has yet to substantiate.