A Palestinian journalist inspects his work car in Gaza City on November 18, 2012.
(Photo: Mohammed Abed/ AFP)
New York Times media reporter (and erstwhile movie star) David Carr is being criticized by Israel supporters for his column yesterday claiming Israel intentionally targeted journalists during its recent attack on Gaza. He focuses on the deaths of Al-Aqsa TV cameramen Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama who were killed when an Israeli missile destroyed their car, and Mohamed Abu Aisha of Al-Quds Educational Radio, who was killed in a similar manner (although these weren’t the only examples of Israel targeting media). Here’s the nut from Carr:
On the same day as the Waldorf event, three employees of news organizations were killed in Gaza by Israeli missiles. Rather than suggesting it was a mistake, or denying responsibility, an Israeli Defense Forces spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, told The Associated Press, “The targets are people who have relevance to terror activity.”
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.”
Predictabily, Carr immediately came under attack from Israel’s supporters. Alana Goodman defended Israel in Commentary by saying the reporters Carr mentioned were in fact terrorists not journalists, because Al Aqsa TV is affiliated with Hamas, and besides the U.S. does the same thing so why pick on Israel? Goodman wrote, “Apparently, Israel is the only country that’s expected to treat terrorists-posing-as-reporters the same way it treats actual reporters.” Tablet‘s Adam Chandler took a similarly contradictory tack arguing that Israel was both justified in killing the reporters and that Carr shouldn’t focus on Israel because there are worse offenders when it comes to targeting media such as Syria, Russia or Mexico. Chandler then does one better and uses a report from the IDF blog to defend the claim by IDF Spokesperson Avital Leibovich that the journalists were terrorists.
Carr responded to the critics in Buzzfeed:
“The three men who died in missile strikes in cars on Nov. 20 were identified by Reuters, AP, AFP, and Washington Post and many other news outlets as journalists,” Carr told BuzzFeed in an email. “The Committee to Protect Journalists, which I treat as a reliable, primary source in these matters, identified them as journalists. (as did Reporters without Borders.)”
“I ran my column by reporters and editors at our shop familiar with current events in the region before I printed it,” Carr said. “And I don’t believe that an ID made by the IDF is dispostive or obviates what the others said. Doesn’t mean that I could not have gotten it wrong, only that the evidence so far suggests that they were journalists, however partisan.”
Here is an excerpt from the November 20 statement from the Committee to Protect Journalists:
Two Israeli airstrikes killed three journalists in the Gaza Strip today, according to news reports. The fatal attacks followed a series of Israeli strikes earlier in the week that injured at least nine journalists and damaged news outlets.
Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama, cameramen for the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV, were covering events in the Al-Shifaa neighborhood of central Gaza when a missile hit their vehicle at around 6 p.m., according to a statement by Al-Aqsa TV. The statement said the journalists’ car was marked “TV” with neon-colored letters. The journalists suffered severe burns and died in a nearby hospital, the statement said. Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesman for the Gaza health ministry, confirmed the journalists’ deaths to Agence France-Presse.
“We’re alarmed by the mounting toll on journalists in Gaza,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Israeli airstrikes continue to put journalists in harm’s way. This reflects the risks journalists face while reporting on conflict, especially in such a densely populated area.”
A third journalist was killed when his car was hit by a missile this evening, The Associated Press reported citing a Gaza official. Initial local news reports identified the journalist as Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio. The reports said his vehicle was hit while he was driving in the Deir al-Balah neighborhood, but did not say whether Abu Aisha was reporting at the time. CPJ continues to investigate the circumstances of his death.
And the condemnation from Reporters Without Borders:
Reporters Without Borders condemns Israeli air strikes targeting news organizations in Gaza City today and calls for an immediate end to such attacks. At least nine journalists were reportedly injured and several local and international media were prevented from operating.
“These attacks constitute obstruction of freedom of information,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “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.
“Even if the targeted media support Hamas, this does not in any way legitimize the attacks. We call for a transparent investigation into the circumstances of these air strikes. Attacks on civilian targets are war crimes and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions. Those responsible must be identified.”
Israel’s supporters could have a valid point if these were isolated incidents, but the truth is that Israel has been harassing, imprisoning and targeting journalists for years. Nora Barrows-Friedman broke down the recent history at Electronic Intifada:
Since 2008, as The Electronic Intifada has reported, nearly a dozen Palestinian media outlets have been raided, and fourteen media stations have had their equipment stolen and confiscated by the Israeli military.
The Committee to Protect Journalists have issued reports on the Israeli military arresting Palestinian journalists in the occupied West Bank during demonstrations against Israel’s wall, settlements and land confiscations. CPJ also reported on the arrest by Israel of the head of the Palestinian prison news service earlier this year.
And EI’s Asa Winstanley reported last March that Israel refused to release two Palestinian journalists it had arrested, after the International Federation of Journalists appealed to Israel to do so.
In April 2008, Israel’s army killed Palestinian journalist Fadel Shana’a, a cameraman for Reuters, in a targeted tank shelling attack. Israel then exonerated itself for the killing.
After the first missile that killed Fadel, a second tank missile directly hit the Reuters vehicle in which Fadel had been traveling, killing two children and another civilian close by, and injuring 12 others, including five children. Wafa Abu Mezyed, 25, a Reuters sound man, was injured.
As Rami Almeghari reported shortly after Shana’a’s killing, “The Israeli military advocate-general stated in a 12 August letter to the Reuters news agency that it had found Israeli soldiers had acted properly in the April killing Fadel Shana’a.”
Indeed, Israel’s entrenched policy of literally shooting the messenger continues to go unchallenged.