In fog of war, when are the media human shields?

Analysis: IDF and International Federation of Journalists have different interpretations of what constitutes a legitimate target.

By
December 10, 2012 23:10
2 minute read.
Office of Hamas’s al-Aksa television channel

Office of Hamas’s al-Aksa television channel 370. (photo credit: Majdi Fathi/Reuters)

 
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From November 18-20 there were at least six incidents in which the IDF targeted media locations or vehicles. The fog of war hangs over the facts surrounding the incidents like an impenetrable shroud.

In each case, there are opposing narratives, with the International Federation of Journalists accusing the IDF of deliberate targeting of journalists to silence criticism, while the IDF claims in each case that it was attacking terrorists or military targets.

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The two sides also focus on different incidents to the extent that in many summaries on the issue one can lose focus on which incident is being discussed.

The IFJ focuses heavily on the details of a November 18 attack on the main foreign media building in Gaza, saying the IDF hit the 11th floor and other nearby floors of a 15-story building, as well as another attack that day on a different media center injuring six journalists.

The IDF said it hit an antenna on the rooftop that Hamas was using militarily as part of its command and control, but also does not highlight the November 18 incident as much.

It “targeted” four significant Islamic Jihad terrorists on the second floor of a foreign media building, at least one of whom was killed.

The IFJ does not mention this incident in the press releases on its website, although it denied any knowledge or evidence of terrorists in the building.

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Here, the disagreement is about what actually happened: what got hit and which incident better tells the overall story of what happened in the media incidents in Gaza.

Next, there were three attacks on media vehicles.

Here, at least in two incidents, the sides agree about who was killed. Both sides say that Hussam Salama and Mohamed Abu Aisha were killed on November 20.

But whereas the IFJ said these individuals and any passengers with them were straight journalists, the IDF said they were terrorists or dual actors, moving between journalism and terror at different times.

The IFJ said it is “very important, in our view and based on the experience of our members in Gaza, to resist the temptation seeking to label all Gazan journalists as being at the beck and call of Hamas.”

It added, “Our members are constantly harassed by the Hamas administration and were even thrown out of their offices which were taken over by the militants.”

On the flip side, the IDF either cannot or has not yet revealed the basis of its conclusions that the journalists it targeted were not journalists at all or functioning as “journalists by day, terrorists by night.” It is unclear when or if the IDF will reveal this basis, since such revelations could blow the cover of human intelligence on the ground or communications intelligence to the extent it may have cracked a terror group’s communications frequencies.

With issues like intelligence and dual identities in play, in the fog of war, it can be almost impossible to know who has the correct facts and if there really is an objective truth.

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