Hussam Salama, a Palestinian cameraman for the Hamas-run station Al-Aqsa TV, and fellow Al-Aqsa cameraman Mahmoud al-Kumi were killed when an Israeli missile hit their car in central Gaza on November 20, 2012, the station and other news organizations reported. Al-Kumi and Salama had completed an assignment at Al-Shifaa Hospital as part of their coverage of Israeli air strikes in the neighborhood, Mohammed Thouraya, head of Al-Aqsa TV, told The Associated Press. The journalists’ car was marked "TV" with neon-colored letters, the station said. Al-Kumi and Salama suffered severe burns and died at Al-Shifaa Hospital later that day, news reports said.
The deaths came during eight days of violence along the Israel-Gaza border that included Palestinian cross-border rocket strikes and Israeli bombardments of Gaza. Two days earlier, Israeli air strikes targeted two buildings housing several local and international news organizations, injuring at least nine journalists and causing significant damage.
The Associated Press quoted Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, as saying the two journalists were Hamas operatives. An entry posted on the Israel Defense Forces blog asserted that an individual named Muhammed Shamalah, whom it referred to as a Hamas military commander, had been targeted in an airstrike that struck a vehicle identified as "TV," as CPJ reported at the time.
Neither Leibovich nor the IDF blog entry provided any supporting details for the assertions. Samir Abu Mohsin, head of programming for Al-Aqsa, told CPJ that the IDF allegations were false, that the two cameramen performed no military functions, and that they were on assignment in a civilian area when they were killed.
In December 2012, CPJ wrote a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requesting supporting evidence for the IDF’s claims of militant activity on the part of the journalists. On January 29, 2013, Aaron Sagui, then-spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., responded in an email that provided general context on the war against Hamas and on the nature of programming at Al-Aqsa TV but did not specifically address CPJ’s question of how Israel determined that those targeted did not deserve the civilian protections afforded to all journalists, no matter their perspective, under international law.
In a report issued on December 20, 2012, Human Rights Watch said it found no evidence to show that Salama and al-Kumi had been Hamas operatives or had engaged in any military activity. The group said the killings of the two cameramen and the attacks on the Gaza media centers were violations of the laws of war.
CPJ asked the IDF about Salama and other cases of IDF killings of journalists in an April 2023 email. The IDF did not respond to the query about Salama’s case but said “it sees great importance in preserving the freedom of the press and the professional work of journalists.”
This report was updated on April 25, 2023.