The killing by an Israeli sniper of Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja last Friday at the Gaza fence, even as Murtaja wore a PRESS flak jacket, is drawing international outrage. Not as much outrage as it should draw, to be sure. But it is mounting, and Israel is on the defensive in countless venues.
The New York Times has editorialized sternly about Murtaja’s killing, the General Federation of Arab Journalists wants the case prosecuted at the International Criminal Court, and the AFP is reporting that Murtaja was detained and beaten by Hamas just three years ago, in a thorough rebuke to the Israeli government’s claim that Murtaja was a Hamas officer.
The Federation of Arab Journalists will ask “the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israel and demand the Palestinian Authority institute a lawsuit at the court” for the shootings of six journalists last Friday, according to a statement from the group. Following “an extraordinary meeting at its Cairo headquarters,” the Arab journalists blasted the world’s complacence about the attacks.
“What is more dangerous is what we see now, which is an unjustified silence from the Arab world and silence from the world in general about these crimes,” the statement said.
Says Muayyad al-Lami, an Iraqi who is the general secretary of the federation:
“If an Arab citizen were killed in an Arab country, we would see statements and condemnations. But when a large number of unarmed Palestinians are killed, we do not see anyone speak up. The Palestinian people were not carrying knives in this uprising. Land Day and Nakba Day are holy days.”
Michael Moore also called on journalists to denounce the killing:
A documentary filmmaker, Yaser Murtaja, was shot dead by Israeli soldiers on Fri. while wearing helmet & vest w/ “PRESS” marked on them. He was filming a nurse, a doctor & a 12-yr old student who were protesting. I ask the documentary community 2 pls speak up about this travesty.
Here is the AFP story on Murtaja’s detention by Hamas:
A case file from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) documented how Murtaja was detained and beaten by Hamas security forces in 2015 while filming.
The file, seen by AFP, said Murtaja and three other colleagues were filming the demolition of a home near the Israeli border when a man demanded to see their documents.
After they refused, a jeep belonging to the Hamas security forces arrived and “pulled the photographer Yasser Murtaja into their jeep without explaining what was going on.”
It said inside the van he was beaten by Hamas police, leading to his eventual hospitalisation. After an interrogation, his photographs were eventually seized.
Lastly, here is the New York Times editorial that focuses on Murtaja, published yesterday: “Israel’s Violent Response to Nonviolent Protests.” The Times concedes that the protests have been nonviolent by and large– so (are you sitting down?) Israel shouldn’t use live ammunition.
[I]n general, the protests have been peaceful, with many demonstrators staying far back from the heavily fortified fence to picnic and hold a tent camp sit-in. There has been no apparent reason for Israel to use live ammunition.
The Times points out the obvious contradiction in Israeli statements, as well as the ugly claims by the Israeli defense minister:
The Israeli military has said its forces did not intentionally shoot journalists. But that assertion was undercut by Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli defense minister, who said on Tuesday that Mr. Murtaja was a Hamas captain who had used a drone to collect intelligence on Israeli forces. That volatile charge is at odds with independent news reporting and, if it is false, could put other journalists at grave risk. Mr. Lieberman provided no proof for the claim and further demonstrated his disdain for justice, rule of law and the role of a free press by arguing on Sunday that there are “no innocent people” in Hamas-run Gaza.
It slams the Trump administration for not affirming the right to demonstrate:
An independent investigation into the killings is needed. But on March 31, after the first deaths, the United States, in support of Israel, blocked a proposed United Nations Security Council statement condemning the Israeli response, urging a transparent inquiry and affirming the right of Palestinians to demonstrate peacefully.
Such ideas should not be controversial. But ordinary Palestinians have few defenders, and much of the world has been shockingly mute about what’s happening in Gaza. Journalists have a right to work, and people have a right to demonstrate peacefully — and to assume that responsible authorities will ensure that they can do so without being shot.
Donald Johnson, a hasbara spotter for us, writes that the Times editorial is a “step forward,” but he’s not celebrating.
I am not going to get too excited about this, because they are so gingerly about it. What it shows is that Israel hasn’t adapted to the reality that everyone has a camera now.
Back during the Second Intifada, Israel killed thousands of Palestinians. Mohammed al-Durrah, 12, was killed in a famous incident in Gaza and Israel claimed he was shot by Palestinians in a crossfire and James Fallows at the Atlantic wrote a sympathetic account of how Israel was accused and might not be guilty. Back then the mainstream thought it was shocking and out of character for Israel to kill civilians deliberately. And accusations were easily denied. It is harder to do so now.
The real problem for Israel is the open arrogance. They are barely even trying to deny their brutality. They give the NYT no cover. If they had some halfway sane liberal Zionist who made the right noises about peace and wasn’t so blatantly pro settlement they wouldn’t have any problems with the NYT.
I’d note that the usual chorus of Israel supporters, from Jeffrey Goldberg to Tamara Cofman Wittes to Jennifer Rubin, is still silent about the killing of Yaser Murtaja and 30 other Palestinians by snipers. Usually they offer some kind of defense. Israel is losing its cover in the west. Part of Yaser Murtaja’s legacy as a journalist is that he is accelerating that trend.
Thanks to Allison Deger for translation.