Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Journalist or terrorist? Why choose when you can be both!

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Recently it has been reported that the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, blaming Israel for allegedly targeting Palestinian journalists during operation "Pillar of Defence" in the Gaza Strip ("Israel called to explain targeting reporters," Herald Sun, 3/12). The letter refers to two cameramen for Hamas' al-Aqsa television station and the director of the private al-Quds Educational Radio. In the letter, CPJ complains that while Israeli officials argued that the those killed had connections to terrorist activity, their explanations lacked sufficient substantiation. The letter urges the Israeli government to "... provide an immediate and detailed explanation for its actions."

New York Times journalist David Carr in his column ('Using war as cover to target journalists,' 25/11) went even further, as he accused Israel of intentionally targeting journalists, and then re-defining them as military targets, presumably because of their journalistic work. When referring to the incident in which the al-Aqsa TV cameramen died he argued that:

"Rather than suggesting it was a mistake, or denying responsibility, an Israeli Defense Force spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, told The Associated Press, 'The targets are people who have relevance to terror activity.' So it has come to this: killing members of the news media can be justified by a phrase as amorphous as 'relevance to terror activity' ..."

First and foremost, both the CPJ and Carr are misleading when they claim that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) were targeting journalists without providing an explanation of their terrorist links. The IDF published the following post on its blog on November 20:

"When terrorists disguise themselves as civilians, it can only end badly for civilians. Today, a senior Islamic Jihad operative was targeted while driving a press vehicle, effectively disguising himself as a reporter. By doing so, he risked the lives of all journalists in the Gaza Strip.

Over the past several days, the IDF has carefully pinpointed and targeted sites used by terror groups in the Gaza Strip, most notably the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Terrorists complicate the task by systematically using civilian facilities and locations as a cover for their operations.

The "human shield" method, as it is commonly known, has forced the IDF to target seemingly non-military targets, resulting in some of the civilian casualties. It has also endangered all residents of the Gaza Strip who, without their consent, were unwittingly dragged into the conflict.

One such example came in today, when a senior Islamic Jihad operative was targeted while driving a press vehicle. Muhammed Shamalah, commander of Islamic Jihad's forces in the southern Strip and head of Islamic Jihad's militant training programs, was targeted by an Israeli air strike while driving a car clearly labelled "TV", indicating it to be a press vehicle, abusing the protection afforded to journalists."

Two main issues are mixed up in the story. Firstly the use of journalists and press as human shields for terrorist activity, further endangering journalists reporting from conflict zones. And secondly- terrorists' use of journalist status to cover up for their violent activities. Those two issues were clearly exposed during operation "Pillar of Defence," in precisely cases the CPJ and David Carr were complaining about.

Alana Goodman responded to Carr, and first questioned the so-called non-involvement and journalistic independence of Hamas-affiliated "journalists" ('Using journalism as a cover to target Israel,' 26/11, Commentary):

"As Carr notes, al-Aqsa is a Hamas-owned TV station. What he leaves out is that al-Aqsa TV has also been designated a terrorist organisation by the U.S. Treasury Department. So we already know these "cameramen" were working for a terrorist group."

(See also 'NYT's Carr defends article accusing Israel of targeting journalists,' 27/11)

This is an important point which has legal implications over the classification of Hamas "journalists" as protected civilians, as was indicated by Elder of Ziyon in a blog post ('Using war as a cover to target journalists, or journalists as a cover for waging war?,' 26/11):

"It is also important to understand that the broadcasts of terror organizations are not considered protected under international law. As NGO Monitor notes:

Under international law, there is no restriction on targeting communications infrastructure that are part of the "military command and control system" or that because of their "nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose partial or total destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage." These include "the installations of broadcasting and television stations of fundamental military importance as military objectives." [...]

Moreover, under international law, there is no international legal protection for incitement to violence or hate speech. Most countries have laws criminalizing this speech. The Nuremberg Tribunals found that incitement can constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity...

Are these media outlets in fact part of the military apparatus of the terror groups? Today, Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh answered this with a resounding "yes," characterizing the Hamas media as "Fedayeen (commandoes) of truth." He never says that he considers them as independent; he considers them soldiers. While this in itself is probably not enough to target the terrorist "reporters" themselves, it shows how Hamas and Islamic Jihad use the profession of journalism as a cover for their own terror aims."

But this is just the beginning. Those "journalists" were not only targeted for being employees of a terror organisation's propaganda channel. They were also fully pledged terrorists, independent of their work as "journalists", as Elder of Ziyon explains:

"Carr is making a really sickening assumption: that when the IDF targets so-called "journalists" that they are trying to stifle the free exchange of ideas. It doesn't even cross his mind that the "journalists" themselves are actually militants.

In the case of Mohamed Abu Aisha, he clearly was a uniform-wearing member of Islamic Jihad. Islamic Jihad doesn't describe him as a journalist, but as an instructor for the Mujahideen of Al-Quds Brigades in Deir al-Balah Battalion Brigade. Similarly, Hamas message boards refer to Hussam Salama as a "mujahid." That is not a word used to describe civilians.

I can understand how journalists may be sensitive to others who are purportedly of their profession being targeted. But Israel was clearly aiming at terrorists, not at "journalists." Carr's dismissive attitude - and his very biased assumption that the IDF's message really meant that the army was targeting those whose opinions it disagrees with - is quite reprehensible".

Elder of Ziyon made another point, related to Carr and another Israeli attack which took place on Nov. 19. In that attack, Israel struck a building housing media offices, and was publicly criticsed for this by Reporters without Borders - before Islamic Jihad confirmed Israel's claim that senior military figures from Islamic Jihad had been using the building to meet. Indeed, the only Palestinian killed in the attack was a senior Islamic military leader named Ramez Harb. Of course, under international law, a civilian building - including a media centre - becomes a legitimate target if used for military purposes, such as housing senior combatants. Moreover, using it for such purposes is a war crime. As Elder of Ziyon notes with respect to Carr:

"It is also notable that Carr, supposedly so sensitive to the safety of journalists, cannot find a bad word to say about terrorist organizations who were clearly using the building housing journalists in order to try to shield themselves from attack. Apparently, that is not worth a comment from this defender of journalists. I wonder why?"

Or Avi-Guy

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