December 29, 2008
Minister of Defense
Hakirya, Tel Aviv 61909
Via Facsimile: 972-3-697-6717
Dear Defense Minister Barak,
The Committee to Protect Journalists urgently demands an
explanation for the bombing of Al-Aqsa
TV headquarter in Gaza
City by Israeli Defense
Forces (IDF) on Sunday. We are also dismayed by the army's decision to declare Gaza's northern boundary with Israel and other parts of the
territory "closed military zones." This latest move, along with previously stated
restrictions, prevents journalists from effectively reporting from the Gaza
The dawn bombardment of Al-Aqsa destroyed the building that housed the station's
headquarters and studios. The bombing did not cause any fatalities, as the
premises had been vacated by station management the previous day. We are
alarmed, nonetheless, by the military's targeting of a media outlet.
International humanitarian law provides protections for
journalists and media installations even during military operations such as
those under way in Gaza.
It is not permissible to target journalists even if their coverage is openly
partisan. The only exception to this rule is if a journalist or a media
installation is making an effective contribution to a military effort. A review
of news and official Web sites shows that Israeli authorities have not provided
an explanation for targeting this media facility.
We are also disturbed by news that parts of Gaza,
most notably the strip's northern boundary with Israel, have been declared closed
military zones. An IDF spokesperson said today that the closed military zones extend
two miles into Israeli territory, effectively preventing local and foreign
journalists from reporting on developments in the area. This designation comes
on the heels of an order banning foreign reporters from entering the Gaza Strip
altogether. The ban, which has been enforced sporadically in the last two
months, as well as an existing two-year-old ban on Israeli journalists
reporting from Gaza,
prevents journalists from covering important news.
On December 27, Israeli authorities officially denied a
request by Gaza-based Ramattan news agency to transport cameras and other
equipment from Ramallah to Gaza in an effort to
cover unfolding events in Gaza,
according to the news agency's Web site. Members of the news media must be
allowed to report on the situation in Gaza
while retaining the protections guaranteed by Security Council Resolution 1738,
as well as other universally accepted instruments of international law.
Under international humanitarian law, journalists are
entitled to the same protections as all civilians. At least two journalists
have already been injured. Ihab al-Shawa, a cameraman for Ramattan, sustained
what have been described as "moderate" shrapnel wounds while covering the IDF
shelling of Al-Abbas police station in Gaza City,
according to a statement released by the news agency on Saturday. In a separate
incident, Al-Aqsa cameraman
Mustafa Bakir was injured as he filmed Israeli airstrikes on Rafah on Thursday.
We urge you, in your capacity as minister of defense, to
ensure that the civilian status of journalists and media installations be
respected, and that no undue restrictions are placed on the work of reporters
who are covering the latest developments in Gaza.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.