The story of the January 7 2015 storming of the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical French publication with a history of racist, anti-Muslim caricatures, has inundated the Western media. The attack, tragically leaving at least 12 dead, has been touted as a “free speech” issue by the first government in the world to ban pro-Palestinian demonstrations. (This framing has distorted the fact that it was torture at Abu Ghraib and the US war on Iraq that left 100,000s of civilians dead, not cartoons, that radicalized the impoverished shooters, sons of émigrés from Algeria, a country that was a French colony until the end of a bloody war of independence in 1962.)
The subsequent taking of hostages in a Parisian kosher supermarket by an acquaintance of the shooters was an even more despicable act, leading to the deaths of at least four. Both incidents are horrific tragedies, and deserve harsh condemnation.
Yet they have exponentially overshadowed equally tragic recent attacks on journalists. In its November 2012 attack on Gaza, “Operation Pillar of Defense,” the Israeli government admitted that it was targeting journalists. This trend was revisited only months ago in Israel’s summer 2014 assault, “Operation Protective Edge,” an incursion that left 2,310 dead—over 1,500 of whom were civilians, including at least 500 children—and 10,626 wounded.
While the Western media has scrupulously tracked the Charlie Hebdo attack and subsequent hostage crisis for the scantest of updates, and while the calamity dominates discussions on social media—and also while the Fourth Estate ceaselessly speaks of ISIS’ heinous killings of Western journalists—both the press and popular culture continue to ignore August 2014 UN documents that inculpate Israel for engaging in very similar acts of terror.
The Press Emblem Campaign (PEC), a Geneva-based independent non-governmental organization aimed “at strengthening the legal protection and safety of journalists in zones of conflict and civil unrest or in dangerous missions,” carries special consultative UN status, conducting investigations on behalf of the body. In its 28 August report, “90 journalists killed so far in 2014: a new step is required by the UN in order to combat impunity,” it notes that:
Israel and the Occupied Territory of the State of Palestine: in the context of the operation “Protective Edge” launched by the Israeli forces on 8 July 2014 on the Gaza Strip, 15 journalists have been killed (some of them being purposely targeted), many others have been injured because of the shelling of their homes, 16 Palestinian journalists have lost their homes as a result of Israeli bombing and shelling, 8 media outlets have been destroyed, in addition the Israeli army deliberately disturbed the broadcasting of 7 radio and TV stations and websites (l), many journalists have been arrested by the Israeli forces.
(1) Al-Aqsa radio, Sawt Al-Quds radio, Sawat Al-Sha’eb, Filistin Il-Yom TV and website, Al-Ra’ei website
In a more detailed document from the day before, “15 journalists and media workers killed during operation “Protective Edge”: the responsible have to be held accountable,” the PEC and the UN indicate that the houses of 16 journalists that were destroyed in Israeli attacks were “often purposely targeted.”
The report also reveals that, of the eight Gaza media outlets Israel destroyed, five were deliberately bombed. Israeli forces shelled three headquarters of Al-Aqsa TV, where 325 employees worked, and “deliberately disturbed the broadcasting of 7 radio and TV stations and websites, and used these stations to broadcast inciting messages against the Palestinian resistance, as they did in their previous attacks on the Gaza Strip.”
The PEC states that the “Israeli violations against Palestinian journalists are the most dangerous, life threatening, and the most frequent” and flatly “denounces the harassment against journalists and media workers as well as the smear campaign of the Israeli diplomacy against foreign journalists falsely accused to work for Hamas that leads to a sneaky form of self-censorship.”
Most of the murdered journalists were in their twenties, with ages ranging from 21 to 59. All except for one, an Italian, were Palestinian. The majority worked for local Palestinian media networks, although two Associated Press reporters were killed, including the only foreign reporter killed. Some were wearing vests clearly marked “Press”; others were in media vehicles with “TV” plainly printed on the hood. In one case, a 21-year-old Palestinian photojournalist was taking pictures in the Al-Jineene neighborhood in Rafah when an Israeli drone shot him.
“The large number of targets and the way in which media organizations and journalists have been attacked by” Israeli forces, the UN statement reads, “suggest that a strategy has been finalized at the highest levels of the State of Israel. Targeting non-combatants is itself a war crime that, as such, must not enjoy impunity.”
The PEC concludes calling upon the UN to investigate “the violation of the fundamental freedoms and rights of journalists and media workers, with a particular attention on the violation of the rights of women journalists” and the UN Human Rights Council’s independent, international commission of inquiry “to investigate and identify those responsible for the crimes committed against media outlet, journalists and media workers.”
“Constant Pressures” on Journalists
In a footnote to its report, the PEC draws attention to a French-language Algerian Huffington Post article that went completely ignored by the Western media (all translations mine): “TVE [Spanish Television] Journalist Yolanda Alvarez Attacked by Israel, Spanish Journalists Protest.” The story notes that the “Spanish press is unanimous in supporting Yolanda Alvarez, TVE correspondent in Jerusalem, victim of virulent attacks by the Israeli embassy in Madrid.” It also states that Alvarez’ Twitter page was “full of tweets of support coming from journalists or associations of journalists that spoke of the intimidation and the threats from the Israeli embassy.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) divulged that, according “to the testimonies of other journalists and media, the Israeli embassy in Israel maintains an attitude of permanent intimidation of Spanish journalists.” RSF denounced the “constant pressures” Israel put on journalists, and asked that Israel stop using “its diplomats as agents of pressure and propaganda.”
US media networks also pressured their own journalists not to present Israel’s attack in a negative light. NBC went so far as to pull Ayman Mohyeldin from Gaza, a veteran reporter who garnered international praise as one of the only two foreign journalists who had been in Gaza during Israel’s 2008-2009 assault on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, in which the close US ally barred journalists from entering Gaza as it, in the words of Human Rights Watch, “repeatedly exploded white phosphorus munitions in the air over populated areas, killing and injuring civilians, and damaging civilian structures, including a school, a market, a humanitarian aid warehouse and a hospital.”
Institute for Policy Studies analyst Phyllis Bennis pointed out the irony that, as Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza, NBC “pulled the reporter who has done more than any other to show the human costs of the conflict there.” Because of popular pressure, Mohyeldin was eventually reinstated, yet there were numerous other incidents of the same forms of censorship and pressure occurring.
A Bad Year for Journalists
In its 2014 census on jailed journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) revealed that 2014 was the second-worst year for jailed journalists in 24 years of data collection. Internationally, over 220 journalists are imprisoned, 60% of whom are held on anti-state charges of terrorism or subversion. This comes in a close second to 2012, in which 232 journalists were imprisoned—although the 2014 figure may actually be higher, as the report excludes journalists being detained by nonstate actors such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Violence against journalists, and particularly against journalists in the Middle East, is at record levels. 2014 was one of the most dangerous years for reporters in recent history, with at least 60 deaths, roughly half of which were in the Middle East—although CPJ estimates are conservative, so the actual figures are likely even higher. 2012 to 2014 constitutes the most dangerous period CPJ has on record.
CPJ deputy director Robert Mahoney warned that the “targeting of journalists has been increasing to alarming proportions,” expressing worries that journalists “are now losing the protected observer status that they had, and now they’ve become the story rather than being the witness to the story to some groups.”
Only some of the stories about these persecuted journalists are told, nonetheless. Much of the Western media is speaking of the Charlie Hebdo shooting as a “free speech” issue, yet simultaneously ignoring Israel’s persistent stifling of Palestinian journalists’ right to not just free speech, but to life.
Explicit violent repression of journalists is not new behavior for Israel. In 2008, Israeli forces killed 23-year-old cameraman Fadel Subhi Shana’a. In the same year, Israel arrested award-winning journalist Mohammed Omer and brutally tortured him—a common practice. In 2004, Israeli occupation forces killed 22-year-old journalist Mohammed Abu Halima.
There are countless more instances of such stories; there is a plethora of such tragedies. Yet these tragic stories are not told in the Western media. The countless nameless faces of the now forgotten Palestinian journalists are only nameless and forgotten because they were ignored.
Editor’s Note: The post was slightly updated to reflect the events of January 9, 2015.