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 Strip.
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.