Group demands UN probe IDF strikes on journalists

International Federation of Journalists claims IDF deliberately targeted journalists in Gaza during Operation Pillar of Defense.

Smoke from explosion in Gaza Strip [file] (photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)
Smoke from explosion in Gaza Strip [file]
(photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a Brusselsbased organization, is asking for an international inquiry into what it calls the deliberate targeting of journalists in Gaza.
The allegation follows IDF airstrikes on a building housing several media organizations as well as targeted missile strikes on cars, which led to the deaths of three Palestinian journalists.
The strikes took place during Operation Pillar of Defense earlier this month.
“First of all, we want an independent international inquiry into what we consider to be a targeting of media in this last conflict, and then we need proper action to be taken. We have no idea on what level it was decided to attack those facilities. But it’s the responsibility of Israel to ensure the safety of journalists. They attacked a media building without even warning people,” said Ernest Sagaga, head of the human rights and communications department at the IFJ, which says its represents more than 600,000 members in 134 countries.
The organization said it requested that the United Nations carry out an investigation following Operation Pillar of Defense, during a UN meeting on media safety issues last Friday in Vienna.
During the meeting, which focused on a new UN “plan of action” for improving the security of journalists, UN officials condemned Israel’s attack on media facilities in Gaza. UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Frank La Rue said that governments should have the “political will to investigate attacks on journalists and put an end to impunity.”
Sagaga said that in addition to their request to the UN, the IFJ would like to carry out its own research into the matter.
“It is the responsibility of the UN to conduct such an investigation.
But naturally, if it is at all possible, we would also like to organize a visit to Gaza to find out for ourselves what happened,” Sagaga added.
He noted that the group sent a delegation to Gaza in 2009, after Operation Cast Lead, and found that both sides had targeted journalists.
“In 2009 we produced a report, and we were able to corroborate very clearly that the media was targeted, both by Israel and by Hamas. We learned on the ground that Hamas was intimidating journalists who were operating there,” Sagaga said.
Sagaga noted that in the case of the targeting of a building housing several local and international media organizations – an November 18 IDF airstrike injured several Palestinian journalists and caused one, cameraman Khader al-Zahhar, to lose a leg – there was no attempt by the army to warn innocent journalists working in the building.
“We think it’s really important to find out what happened.
Journalistic facilities are not military targets,” he said.
“Israel will have to figure out at what level it was decided to hit that building and who took the decision. It’s up to the government of Israel to decide who’s to blame,” said Sagaga Agence France-Presse (AFP), the French news agency, was also housed in the building hit on November 18. The organization filed a formal complaint with the Israeli ambassador to France, “vigorously protesting at the airstrike against the Gaza City building in which the agency has its offices,” AFP’s Jerusalem bureau chief Philippe Agret said.
The actual letter went a step further, suggesting that the IDF had targeted the building knowing full well that it was full of local and international reporters.
“The Israeli authorities were well aware of the location of our bureau and they therefore deliberately put the lives our journalists in danger,” head of information at AFP in France Philippe Massonnet said in a letter to Yossi Gal, the Israeli Ambassador to France.
The building, the Al-Shoroq Tower – also known as the “Journalists’ Tower” — is 15- story building in Gaza City which houses both local and international media agencies, including Al Arabiya, Al-Quds TV, Sky News, France 24 and Russia TV.
One of the local agencies it houses is Ma’an News, headquartered in Bethlehem. The Gaza bureau manager said that he was at work when he heard an enormous explosion.
“Suddenly I heard the boom. I looked out the window because I didn’t realize that it had hit our own tower,” said Iyad Eid of Ma’an, who had been sleeping at the office because it was too dangerous to travel to his home in Tel el-Hawa in the southern Gaza Strip.
“I grabbed my clothes and tried to escape to the street, but then someone told us that some people in the building were killed or injured, so I turned around and decided to go upstairs to help my colleagues.”
His office is on the fifth floor, but it was the 11th floor that took the direct hit, he explained.
“Downstairs I saw that my colleague from Al-Quds television was injured and there was blood all over the stairs, and many of the team from Al- Quds TV were in shock,” he said.
The sense among journalists in the building, he said, is that they were targeted because of the work that they do.
The day following those airstrikes, IDF spokeswoman Avital Leibovich told reporters, in a statement recorded by the BBC, that the army knew there were journalists in the tower, suggesting that the strike was targeting Al-Quds television because, as a Wikipedia entry puts it, “it is considered by many to be the mouthpiece of Hamas.”
“We obviously knew there were journalists in the building, so we did not attack any other floors in the building,” Leibovich said, “but my advice to journalists visiting Gaza is to stay away from any Hamas position, or Hamas site or Hamas post for their own safety.”
Two days after the attack on the building, on November 20, two Palestinian cameramen from Al-Aqsa TV were killed when an Israeli missile hit their car, which was marked with the letters “TV.”
The two journalists, Hussam Mohammed Salama, 30, and Mahmoud Ali al-Koumi, 29, were on their way to Gaza’s Shifa Hospital to interview injured people, the station said.
Later, a third journalist, Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of Al-Quds Educational Radio, was killed when a missile hit his car.
It was not the first time that the IDF has target journalistic offices affiliated with Hamas.
During Operation Cast Lead, the IDF fired missiles into the offices of the Hamas-affiliated Al-Risala weekly newspaper. It also bombed al-Rantisi printers, the printing press that publishes Al-Risala.
Asked for a response, an IDF spokesperson said, “The IDF works within the scope of international law and aims its attacks at legitimate targets while doing its utmost to minimize harm to uninvolved people.
Any specific complaint received will be examined according to its substance.”