‘Neither the Press Nor the Journalists Survived’
War crimes legal suits against Hamas and Israel
On Tuesday, November 7, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate marched to the United Nations headquarters in Ramallah in the West Bank in occupied Palestine, bearing empty coffins to represent the journalists killed in a month of shelling, bombardment and siege.
The asymmetrical war has claimed at least 39 journalists, and 3 are missing, according to a statement Thursday by the Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York.
In Ramallah, the Palestinian journalists handed a letter to a representative of UN Secretary-General António Guterres demanding “an international investigation into about 300 crimes committed against journalists and means and provision of international protection”.
The letter observes that “Historically, the Israeli occupation forces have been targeting Palestinian journalists systematically, as since the year 2000 more than 80 journalists have been killed by the Israeli occupation forces, more than 40% of them have been killed this month.”
It accuses Israel of “committing cruel crimes against journalists” and violating a Security Council resolution and plan of action adopted by UN member states to ensure the “fundamental aspects of prevention, protection, and prosecution”.
It calls on the UN to “take concrete actions according to its plans of action and resolutions to provide protection to Palestinian journalists and hold Israeli occupation leaders accountable through the International Criminal Court for perpetrating crimes against journalists.”
“32 journalist martyrs… and you will not silence the truth”
Their effort builds on a war crimes suit filed against Hamas and Israel by Reporters sans Frontières in the International Criminal Court October 31 for killing nine journalists and wounding two “in the course of their work,” and for “the deliberate, total or partial, destruction of the premises of more than 50 media outlets in Gaza.”
The RSF said it was their third complaint against Israel since 2018 for committing war crimes on Palestinian journalists. Earlier suits relate to the Great March of Return in Gaza in 2021 and to the murder of US-Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin in May last year.
The ICC is still investigating Israeli actions during its 2014 bombardment of Gaza, which killed 2,256 Palestinians and wounded over 17,000.
On November 4 Israel attacked the Burj al-Ghafry in Gaza, which houses the offices of Agence France-Presse, al-Jazeera, el-Sharq, Ain Media, and the Palestinian Media Group Foundation among others
A large number of journalists have been killed in their homes.
The morning of October 7, Hamas fighters killed Ynet photojournalist Roee Idan, 41, in the settler colony of Kibbutz Kfar Aza. They also killed his wife Smadar Mor Idan, 38. His employer Ynet News said he was working that morning and sent in some of the first photographs of the attacks that day.
Two other journalists, Ayelet Arnin, 22, and Shai Regev, 25, were killed by Hamas fighters at the Supernova Music Festival that day, while the photojournalist Yaniv Zohar was killed with his wife and their two daughters in the Kibbutz Nahal Oz.
As Israel stepped up its attacks on Palestine, at least one journalist has been killed in Gaza every day. Both Palestinian and international bodies allege Israel is targeting media facilities, journalists on duty, and journalists and their families at home.
On October 7, Israeli occupation forces shot dead Mohammed el-Salhi near the Gaza border where he was reporting the war. They shot dead Muhammad Jarghoun, who was reporting near Rafah. And shot dead Ibrahim Lafi, a photographer with Ain Media, near the Erez (Beit Hanoun) crossing with Israel.
On Thursday, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate shared a video of artillery shells targeting a tent outside the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City it said was housing reporters, as Israeli tanks encircle the hospital and three others in the north of Gaza.
And on Thursday, a group of 600 journalists in the United States issued a statement condemning Israel’s “deliberate targeting of journalists” and their families. “Taken with a decades-long pattern of lethally targeting journalists, Israel’s actions show wide scale suppression of speech… We stand with our colleagues in Gaza and herald their brave efforts at reporting in the midst of carnage and destruction. Without them, many of the horrors on the ground would remain invisible.”
The statement adds, “We also hold Western newsrooms accountable for dehumanizing rhetoric that has served to justify ethnic cleansing of Palestinians… the call for fair coverage has gone unanswered… Newsrooms have instead undermined Palestinian, Arab and Muslim perspectives, dismissing them as unreliable and have invoked inflammatory language that reinforces Islamophobic and racist tropes. They have printed misinformation spread by Israeli officials and failed to scrutinize indiscriminate killing of civilians in Gaza — committed with the support of the U.S. government.”
The toll continues to mount. October 8, an Israeli airstrike killed freelance journalist Asaad Abdel Nasser Shamlikh and members of his family in their home in Sheikh Ajlin. October 12, an airstrike on their home in Jabaliya killed radio correspondent Salam Meimah with her husband and three children, Hady, Ali and Sham. That same day, an airstrike on the home of journalist Ahmed Shehab, a radio presenter on Voice of Prisoners, killed him and his children and wife. October 17, an airstrike killed al-Aqsa journalist Issam Muhammad Bahr and his wife in their home in al-Sabra.
An Israeli airstrike killed Salam Meimah on October 12
US-made planes and bombs killed Meimah, who headed the Women Journalists Committee at the Palestine Media Assembly, in her home with her family
Reporters without Borders’ complaint to the ICC argues that “The attacks suffered by Palestinian journalists in Gaza correspond to the international humanitarian law definition of an indiscriminate attack and therefore constitute war crimes under Article 8.2.b. of the Rome Statute.
“Even if these journalists were the victims of attacks aimed at legitimate military targets, as the Israeli authorities claim, the attacks nevertheless caused manifestly excessive and disproportionate harm to civilians, and still amount to a war crime under this article.
“The Israeli journalist’s death [by Hamas fighters] constituted the wilful killing of a person protected by the Geneva Conventions, which is a war crime under Article 8.2.a. of the ICC’s Rome Statute.”
Last message of Ahmed Shehab, killed with his wife and children on October 12
Indeed, the genocide in Palestine continues to set records for its scale and indiscriminate sweep of destruction. The Gaza health ministry Friday said that 4,506 children had been killed since October 7, with over 1,300 missing and likely buried in the debris. Independent estimates by the Red Cross Red Crescent Society say that 3,826 children were murdered by November 4, a number expected to rise. Both figures dwarf the death toll of children killed in such a short time in any other conflict in recent history. The same is true of aid workers — the UNRWA Wednesday stated that Israel had killed 99 of its workers since October 7, “the highest number of United Nations aid workers killed in a conflict in the history of the United Nations.”
On Friday, the bodies of people killed by Israeli strikes lie on the ground outside Al-Shifa Hospital / Khoder al-Zaanoun, AFP
Releasing a report on October 31, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate said the month of October had been “the worst in the history of the World Press.”
They witnessed “the martyrdom of 40 colleagues working in press institutions, including 30 journalists and 10 administrative and technical staff working in the media sector, in addition to an unspecified number of social media activists targeted by the occupation by killing, arrest, bombing and prosecution.”
It said “The occupation targeted about 62 media institutions by bombing and total or partial destruction in the Gaza Strip, while some media institutions were targeted by closure and confiscation in the West Bank.”
More than “70 houses of journalists and their families were destroyed as a result of the deliberate targeting, which killed about 200 martyrs from the families of journalists.”
In the West Bank, “the occupation also continued its crimes and violations… the most prominent of which were:
37 cases of blocking coverage and detention of crews,
as well as 21 cases of targeting with tear gas bombs,
17 cases of physical assault and beating,
15 cases of confiscation of personal and professional tools and equipment for journalists,
13 cases of written and verbal incitement from various Israeli authorities,
8 cases of direct threats of shooting,
4 cases of closure of media institutions,
and two colleagues were injured by bullets from the occupation army,
in addition to various other forms of violations, the most prominent of which is the ban from moving between provinces and summoning to Israeli intelligence headquarters for the purpose of Investigation, threats and terrorism.”
Releasing the PJS report in Ramallah, the head of its Press Freedoms Committee, Mohammed al-Lahham, noted “the number of victims of the crimes and violations of the occupation may be greater and more dangerous than stated, due to the difficulty of working accurately in the Gaza Strip due to the sustained nature of rocket and artillery shelling, which limits movement and accurate follow-up.”
He added, “the fate of some colleagues is still unknown, most notably the journalists Nidal Al-Wahidi and Haitham Abdel-Wahed,” who disappeared without trace near the Beit Hanoun checkpoint in Gaza on the morning of October 7.
He said the reports of international institutions monitoring press freedom violations also showed that the world had not witnessed such a high number of journalists killed in its history. With 86 journalist victims in 2021-22 documented by international institutions, the Palestinian press in October alone lost nearly half that number.
“What happened is clear. This is a series of targeted attacks on children, women and civilians,” stated Wael al-Dahdouh, Gaza bureau chief of Al Jazeera, after an airstrike on their home in Gaza City killed his wife, teenage son, daughter, grandson, and eight members of the extended family on October 25.
“I was just reporting from Yarmouk about such an attack, and the Israeli raids have targeted many areas, including Nuseirat… We had our doubts that the Israeli occupation would not let these people go without punishing them. And sadly, that is what happened. This is the ‘safe’ area that the occupation army spoke of,” he said.
October 19, an airstrike on al-Nasr near Rafah killed al-Aqsa cameraman Khalil Abu Athrah and his brother in their home. October 22, an airstrike on his father’s home killed Rushdi al-Sarraj, UNRWA photojournalist and co-founder of Ain Media. October 23, an airstrike on his home in Sheikh Radwan killed Muhammad Imad Saeed Labad, a journalist for the Resala Media Foundation. October 25, an airstrike on his home in Khan Younis killed Jamal al-Faqawi, a journalist with the Mithaq Foundation. That same night, an airstrike on her home killed freelance journalist Salma Mukhaimer along with her child, her parents, and members of the extended family. October 26, an airstrike on the home of radio presenter Duaa Sharaf in Gaza City killed her and her daughter.
Recently, Israel killed three journalists on the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, November 2. It killed al-Aqsa journalist Mohammad al-Bayari by bombing his house in Gaza City, freelance journalist Majed Fazl al-Arandas in his home in al-Nuseirat, and veteran Palestine TV correspondent Mohammad Abu Hatab by an airstrike killing him and 11 family members in their home in Khan Younis.
Obituary tribute to Mohammad Abu Hatab
Palestine TV correspondent Salman al-Bishr on the murder of Mohammed Abu Hatab. “We are dying one after the other, and no one looks at us anymore… We do not benefit from any protection, from any international protection.”
“CPJ emphasizes that journalists are civilians doing important work during times of crisis and must not be targeted by warring parties,” stated Sherif Mansour, regional program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Thursday. “Journalists across the region are making great sacrifices to cover this heart-breaking conflict.
“Those in Gaza, in particular, have paid, and continue to pay, an unprecedented toll and face exponential threats. Many have lost colleagues, families, and media facilities, and have fled seeking safety when there is no safe haven or exit.”
Meanwhile, Wednesday, a website called Honest Reporting insinuated that four freelance journalists who documented the attacks of October 7 near Gaza were somehow party to the attacks. Hinting that the publications using the work of these Palestinian freelancers (Reuters, CNN, the Associated Press and the New York Times) were also privy to the attacks, the article was quickly latched onto by an embattled Israeli administration.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office tweeted that it “views with utmost gravity that photojournalists working with international media joined in covering the brutal acts of murder perpetrated by Hamas terrorists… These journalists were accomplices in crimes against humanity; their actions were contrary to professional ethics.”
Likud MP and former UN ambassador Danny Danon joined in, tweeting, “Israel's internal security agency announced that they will eliminate all participants of the October 7 massacre. The ‘photojournalists’ who took part in recording the assault will be added to that list.”
The following day it was reported that CNN and the AP had cut ties with one of the freelance photographers. The Times strongly defended the journalist whose work it had used, adding: “The accusation that anyone at The New York Times had advance knowledge of the Hamas attacks or accompanied Hamas terrorists during the attacks is untrue and outrageous. It is reckless to make such allegations, putting our journalists on the ground in Israel and Gaza at risk.”
Yesterday, the newspaper itself faced protests by media workers at its office, for its “biased” coverage of Palestinians under attack.
In Paris Thursday, Palestinian civil society organisations based in Gaza brought war crimes allegations against Israel at the ICC, demanding arrest warrants be issued for senior Israeli officials.
Al-Mezan Centre, Al-Haq and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights called for “urgent attention to the continuous barrage of Israeli airstrikes… the suffocating siege imposed… the forced displacement of its population, the use of toxic gas, and the denial of necessities,” saying that these “actions amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide and incitement to genocide.”
They said the file submitted to the ICC “strongly urges the Office of the Prosecutor to:
1. Consider the inclusion of crimes against humanity, notably apartheid, and the crime of genocide, in the ongoing investigation into the situation in the State of Palestine.
2. Issue arrest warrants expeditiously for those suspected of these crimes within the Israeli political, military, and administrative apparatus, especially President Isaac Herzog, prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu, defence minister Yoav Gallant and others.”
They are represented by the attorney Emmanuel Daoud, who secured an ICC arrest warrant for Russian president Vladimir Putin for that state’s actions in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, journalists in occupied Palestine continue to report these crimes.
Hitching a ride in an ambulance
‘In Gaza, the press is also a target’