A virulently anti-Palestinian Israel lobby group is blackmailing the Newseum in Washington, DC, over its recognition of two Palestinian journalists extrajudicially-executed by Israeli forces.
The two journalists, Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama, were targeted and killed last November by Israeli occupation forces in the Gaza Strip, during Israel’s assault that killed 162 persons, the majority noncombatant civilians.
Cliff May, president of the neocon “think tank” Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), is threatening that his organization will pull its annual conference from the Newseum because the Palestinians are named among more than two thousand journalists killed while performing their work, who are to be honored at an event on 13 May.
FDD claims that the journalists worked for a “terrorist organization” because their channel is affiliated with Hamas, thus implicitly justifying Israel’s decision to kill them, a position firmly rejected by human rights organizations and media freedom watchdogs.
Executed in the line of duty
On November 20, the [Israeli army] targeted a car on a Gaza City street with two cameramen from al-Aqsa TV, Mahmoud al-Kumi, and Hussam Salama, killing them both. The deputy head of al-Aqsa TV, which is the official television station of the Hamas government in Gaza, told Human Rights Watch that al-Kumi and Salama were cameramen covering the conflict and were returning from filming in al-Shifa Hospital in a car marked “TV.” The two men’s families, interviewed separately, said the men were neither participating in the fighting nor members of any armed group. Human Rights Watch found no evidence, including during visits to the men’s homes, to contradict that claim.
Human Rights Watch said that the official justifications Israel provided for targeting the journalists – echoed by FDD – amounted to “evidence of war crimes because they show intent.”
“Hamas-run media are protected from attack under the laws of war unless directly taking part in military operations,” Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch noted that Israel had produced no evidence to back its claims that the men were “Hamas operatives” and had “provided no specific information that the men were Hamas fighters or otherwise directly participating in the hostilities.”
Newseum stands by inclusion
Jonathan Thompson, a spokesman for the Newseum, a journalism museum at which media and other organizations hold public events, responded to FDD in a statement quoted by the website BuzzFeed:
The Newseum Journalists Memorial recognizes 2,246 journalists who died or were killed while reporting the news. To be listed on the memorial, an individual must have been a contributor of news, commentary or photography to a news outlet; an editor or news executive; a producer, camera operator, sound engineer or other member of a broadcast crew; or a documentary filmmaker.
Hussam Salama and Mahmoud Al-Kumi were cameramen in a car clearly marked “TV.” The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers all consider these men journalists killed in the line duty.
The Journalists Memorial selection committee conducts case-by-case reviews using the above criteria.
Wave of deliberate attacks on journalists
The killings of Salama and Al-Kumi were part of a wave of deliberate Israeli attacks against Palestinian journalists and media organizations during the Israeli assault.
In November, The Electronic Intifada’s Rami Almeghari interviewed Khader al-Zahhar, 20, a cameraman for Al-Quds TV, who was severely injured in an Israeli bomb attack on his channel as he and his exhausted colleagues were resting.
In another incident cited by Human Rights Watch, Israel attacked the Naama building housing numerous media organizations on 21 November 2012 in Gaza City. Shrapnel from the attack killed two-year-old Abdelrahman Naim, who lived across the street.
Palestinian journalists have demanded accountability and an international investigation into Israel’s attacks on them, but this has not materialized due to the iron-clad impunity Israel enjoys from the international community.
“On its website, the Israeli army says it is committed to certain values,” Reporters Without Borders notes. “However, these fine principles are contradicted by the facts.”
FDD’s attempt to pressure the Newseum to exclude Palestinian journalists who are victims of Israeli violence can be seen as part of a strategy to further dehumanize the Palestinian people and justify or cover up Israeli crimes.
Update, 13 May: Newseum surrenders to pressure after all
Following intense pressure from Israel lobby groups, the Newseum has reversed its position and decided to exclude Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama, the two Palestinian journalists extrajudicially-executed by Israel last November in Gaza, from its memorial event for fallen journalists today.
The Newseum today issued this statement on its website announcing its surrender:
JOURNALIST MEMORIAL UPDATE
Serious questions have been raised as to whether two of the individuals included on our initial list of journalists who died covering the news this past year were truly journalists or whether they were engaged in terrorist activities.
We take the concerns raised about these two men seriously and have decided to re-evaluate their inclusion as journalists on our memorial wall pending further investigation.
Terrorism has altered the landscape in many areas, including the rules of war and engagement, law, investigative and interrogation techniques, and the detention of enemy combatants. Journalism is no exception.
To further our First Amendment mission to provide a forum where all may speak freely, the Newseum will establish a new initiative to explore differing views on the new questions facing journalism and journalists.
Of course, comprehensive investigations were done by Human Rights Watch, as explained above.
In light of Human Rights Watch’s findings, the Newseum’s suggestion that al-Kumi and Salama were engaged in “terrorist activities” is really a craven justification of Israel’s claim that it has the right to murder journalists it doesn’t like at will.
What the Newseum really means is that al-Kumi and Salama’s status has already been reassessed in order to bring the Newseum’s policies in line with the propaganda and talking points of the Zionist groups that attacked it.
Adam Horowitz at Mondoweiss has a good post on the Israel lobby campaign.