Israel fails to support decision to target Gaza journalists

By Sherif Mansour/CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator on February 13, 2013 1:53 PM ET

After two months of asking Israeli authorities to explain their decision to attack journalists and media facilities in Gaza in November, CPJ has received an official response. Our inquiries--in the form of a letter and blog by Executive Director Joel Simon, as well as phone calls and emails to the office of the Israeli prime minister, the Public Appeals Office of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and the Israeli Embassy in the U.S.--sought evidence to support Israel's assertion that the individuals and facilities it targeted had connections to terrorist activity. 

The response, received on January 29, came in the form of an email from Aaron Sagui, spokesman for the embassy Washington, D.C. The email provided general context on the war against Hamas and on the nature of programming at Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas's official television station, but did not specifically address CPJ's central question: how did Israel determine that those targeted did not deserve the civilian protections afforded to all journalists, no matter their perspective, under international law? As we stated in our letter, our central concern is that governments must not have unilateral discretion to target media facilities they deem to be supporting terrorists, because this would render meaningless the civilian status conferred on journalists under international humanitarian law.

Sagui's email made two other assertions we would like to address. First, he claimed that Israel takes unparalleled measures to avoid civilian deaths, and that the IDF "investigates every single operation, takes responsibility for accidents and mistakes, and punishes its soldiers when they violate its code of conduct."

But a look through CPJ research turns up examples to the contrary. In 2001, the Board of the Foreign Press Association condemned an IDF report on the shootings of several journalists in 2000, noting that the investigation took 14 months, and with a single exception turned up no guilty parties. In 2008, we urged Israel to release results of its army investigation into the killing of a Reuters cameraman; in 2009, we condemned the IDF for firing a missile directly at a Gaza City building housing multiple news organizations. In 2010, CPJ protested IDF attacks on several journalists in the West Bank and demanded an investigation, but no explanation has been given.

Secondly, Sagui questioned CPJ's record when it comes to similar situations involving the United States military and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen. "There is no indication on CPJ's website that it took exception to these U.S. operations as attacks on journalists," he wrote. In fact, CPJ documented and protested cases of journalists killed and detained by U.S. military forces in Iraq; CPJ also objected to U.S. airstrikes on a media office in Afghanistan that the U.S. military claimed to be an Al-Qaeda facility.

In Yemen, CPJ has continually protested U.S. President Barack Obama's interference in keeping Abdulelah Hider Shaea, a freelance reporter who covered Al-Qaeda, in prison with a five-year sentence for "belonging to an illegal armed organization."

As we promised, we are publishing Sagui's response on our website; you can read it here in its entirety. At the same time, we urge the Israeli government to engage in a productive dialogue with CPJ on how to bring its record on freedom of the press in line with international standards.


A terrorist is a terrorist despite anything you "people" say. If you want to be a member of the media then you WILL act within the local laws, once you stop reporting the news and either create it or become involved with it you MAY become a legit target. You are NOT above the law and you are NOT something are NOT exempt because of purported press credentials. The media wing of Hamas are Hamas and therefore legit targets.

Not all people are idiots. Some of us know that Israel acts with impunity and could care less what anyone thinks. Stay on them and keep reporting their crimes. They WILL be held accountable one day.

Mr Rowley seems to not understand a very simple line from Geneva convention: ALL members of the press deserve protection no matter their perspective, under international law. Governments and armies all over the world are very eager to call anyone a terrorist, especially if that person doesnt share their views. Journalists are a service industry- they provide awarness. IDF response - two months after the attacks on journalists can be interpreted as their bad will or lack of concern for international law. This is very unfortunate and adds to mounting international outcry. I wish IDF would take such incidents more seriously.

Mr Rowley,
Your reference to "you 'people'" implies that Gazans and journalists are somehow less than people. It's alarming to see someone so heedless of the lessons of history.

The protections afforded by the Geneva Conventions safeguard all civilians, Israelis and Gazans alike. Trying to erase those protections, as your comment and those of the IDF do, harms us all.

Sebastian Freemont February 14, 2013 8:20:39 AM ET

Malicia Dabrowicz: "ALL members of the press deserve protection no matter their perspective, under international law". Oh I don't think journalists have to right to support terrorists nor do terrorists purporting to be 'journalists' deserve protection. The 'BBC Staffer' whose child was killed in Gaza - and evidence suggests by a Gazan rocket - was clearly a terrorist. His son was given a Hamas funeral and wrapped in the Hamas flag, whose Charter calls for the annihilation of all Jews because 'their religion is an affront to Islam'. You report that two 'journalists' were killed by israel 'in occupied Palestinian territories'. Since when was Gaza occupied? Since when is the 'West Bank' occupied? The West Bank was taken and controlled by Jordan (Palestine) for a time and not once did the 'Palestinians' make a claim on the land when it was. The West Bank is disputed, not occupied, territory. with this kind of 'journalism' not only do you deserve no respect, but actually you need to be held accountable.

CPJ correspondents completely ignore the content of the reply from IDF:
1. In the first case, the target of the attack was telecom equipment placed on the rooftop of the building by Hamas, and utilized by this organization for operational purposes during the fighting.
2. In the second case, a whole floor of another media building was taken over by Hamas operatives, and used as operational center for military purposes

What kind of journalism is this exactly????

CPJ - you are losing your credibility - how unfortunate.

You must not have read the entry, or you're purposely misrepresenting it.

The IDF did not respond to CPJ. In fact it's been conspicuously silent about questions revolving around its decision to target two journalists for killing and media facilities for damage. It has stonewalled questions from Human Rights Watch too.

But the IDF was not nearly so reticent at the time of these attacks when it claimed without offering a shred of substantiation that these individuals and facilities were terrorists.

Now the IDF and the prime minister have nothing to say when the simple question is posed: What is your evidence?

The natural conclusion is that they never had evidence. Now the best they offer is a polemic from the Washington embassy.

And by the way, questioning the credibility of people who ask essential questions is not an honest manner to engage in an important discussion about matters of life and death.

What's your problem? Israel attacked a Hamas radio connection site and some journalist under the flat had been wounded. Why the journalist came at the first place near Hamas command post? Why Hamas uses civilian facilities (as civilians public spaces) to fight Israel?

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