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Is Israel Systematically Silencing the Media?

Victoria Schneider Victoria Schneider
24th December 2023
Is Israel Systematically Silencing the Media?
Israel's actions in Gaza raise concerns about lack of accountability (Getty)

Israel’s genocidal assault on the Gaza Strip since October 7 marks the deadliest time for reporters and media workers since the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) started collecting data 31 years ago. (The second most deaths of journalists in one geographic location occurred in 2006, when 56 journalists were killed in Iraq.)

According to the CPJ, as of December 230, 698 journalists and media workers had died since the violence escalated on October 7, most of them by Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip which also claimed the lives of dozens of their family members. Three journalists were killed in Lebanon, and four in Hamas’ October 7 attack. 15 were reported injured, three missing and more than 20 arrested. 

Other numbers are even higher: according to AlJazeera, the Gaza Media Office Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) as well as the International Federation of journalists (IFJ) counts 100 95 reporters and media workers killed in Gaza alone, while the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate spoke of 95, which translates to 8 percent of all journalists working in the Gaza Strip. Most of them were killed by Israeli missiles alongside their families, some, however, were killed by snipers such as Ibrahim Mohammad Lafi, Mohammad Jarghoun and Mohammad Al-Salhi.

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International organizations, including the CPJ, Reporters Without Borders and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have raised concerns that there is a pattern of systematically undermining the coverage of the ongoing violence by the Israeli Forces by displacing, arresting, and killing media professionals as well as destroying their houses or media buildings.

According to the Palestinian news agency Wafa, Israel has destroyed the premises of more than 50 media houses, including Al-Ghafry Tower in Gaza City which hosted the offices of Agence France Presse, Al-Jazeera, Al-Sharq Channel, and the Palestinian Media Group Foundation. Early into the war, the Palestine Tower was destroyed, the headquarters of the Al-Ayyam newspaper, Shehab Agency, and Gaza FM Radio.

Beyond that, there have been numerous incidents of threats and intimidation of reporters, hindering them to pursue their work. 

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In a report released this week, the Committee to Protect Journalists highlighted the high number of severe incidents against journalists working in the Gaza Strip, where the continuing violence is impeding the possibility to conduct thorough investigations.

The CPJ says it looks into each case of lethal violence against journalists in order to determine whether a killing was deliberate or happened in crossfire or a situation of combat. Currently, all deaths of reporters in Gaza have been labeled as “dangerous assignments.” Upon an inquiry by Misbar about the misleading connotation of this category, CPI senior communications associate Zoe Simbolon said that the label may be changed in the course of an investigation.

However, Simbolon told Misbar that “such investigations are extremely difficult given the devastation in Gaza, the difficulties of communication, and several situations where sourcing is difficult because families have died along with the journalist.” 

Despite this, the one case that has been investigated, as well as evidence emerging around other cases points towards many of the incidents being intentional. Reporters have been killed despite being identifiable as press at the time of their death and there is proof of many of them receiving threatening or intimidating messages and calls.

The following are some cases that illustrate that Israel’s violence against journalists is most likely not coincidental. 

The Case of Issam Abdallah

The case of Issam Abdallah, a Reuters photojournalist who was killed in an Israeli double-strike on October 13 while reporting in southern Lebanon, is the only one that has been investigated thoroughly, and serves as proof that Israel does systematically target journalists. 

Abdallah’s killing was investigated by four different entities, the news outlets Reuters and Agence France Presse (AFP), as well as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW). All of them concluded that Abdallah’s death and the severe injury of AFP reporter Christina Assi was the result of a targeted Israeli attack on a group of seven journalists, all wearing press jackets and helmets, who were filming Israeli operations.

The organizations interviewed some of the journalists who were there with Abdallah, analyzed video footage, photo and audio material, satellite imagery as well as munition pieces found on site. As many of the journalists were filming at the time of the strikes, five cameras captured the incident, providing crucial evidence for its examination. 

In its findings, Human Rights Watch said that “the Israeli military knew or should have known that the group of people they were firing on were civilians.” All of them were wearing press jackets and helmets, they had a white car with PRESS written on it with doors opened to show that there was no threat coming from them. There was no armed group in the vicinity of the reporters.

HRW found that light in the footage that was taken directly before the first strike appeared “to be either static, blinking, or absent, depending on the camera.” This could suggest the use of infrared targeting or range-finding technology, they said, “suggesting the Israeli military was actively observing the journalists and proceeded to target them.” 

Analysis of sound and video showed that the direction of the strikes came from where the Israeli military was stationed. The journalists themselves confirmed the findings, leaving no doubt that it was a deliberate attack by Israel. 

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Reuters also looked at the munition found on site. Working with the The Hague based Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), which tests and analyses munitions and weapons, it found: “The large piece of metal was the tail fin of a 120mm tank round fired by a smoothbore tank gun positioned 1.34 km away from the reporters, across the Lebanese border.” Since Hezbollah and other armed groups in Lebanon don’t fire 120mm tank rounds, it left the Israeli military as the only possible force using this munition. 

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The Israeli military announced it would investigate the incident but has not published any results. In a response to Misbar a spokesperson wrote: “The IDF is aware of the claim that journalists who were in the area were killed. The area is an active combat zone, where active fire takes place and being in this area is dangerous. The incident is currently under review.” Israel did not indicate when the review would be concluded, or findings published. 

Threats, Intimidation and Arrests

Due to the ongoing heavy bombardment of Gaza, investigations like the one of the killing of Abdallah are impossible. 

However, documentation collected and shared by reporters in Gaza indicates that they are exposed to elevated threats of being killed by the Israeli forces. Not long before the killing of AlJazeera journalist Anas AlShareef’s father on December 11, the journalist who reports from the north of the strip, received written and audio messages by Israeli Officers asking him to stop his reporting from northern Gaza. 

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Another Al Jazeera correspondent, Youmna ElSayed, reported that her husband received calls from the Israeli army ordering him to move south. 

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Youmna El-Sayed in a personal account for the Nation on 21 November
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Al-Araby Al-Jadeed’s Gaza office chief Diaa Al Kahlout was arrested by the Israeli military on December 7 and has been detained ever since despite outcries over his unlawful arrest. The journalist’s house, as well as the house of his brother was burnt down, according to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed. On December 11 an airstrike close to his family home killed several of his family members. 

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From an article published by Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on XX

Killings Before October 7
The targeting and killing of journalists by the Israeli forces did not start on October 7. In fact, Israel is notorious for killing journalists with impunity. The CPJ has documented more than 20 journalist killings by the Israeli military since 2001, 18 of whom were Palestinian, and at least 13 of whom were clearly identifiable as journalists. “No one has ever been charged or held accountable for these deaths,” the organization wrote in a report released earlier this year, describing it as a “deadly, decades-long pattern.”

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In its analysis, the CPJ found that Israel discounts evidence and witness claims and pushes false narratives like in the case of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh who was killed by an Israeli sniper in 2022. After Abu Akleh was targeted, however, the Israeli Foreign Ministry claimed that it was Palestinian terrorists that killed her. 

The CPJ also remarked that Israel does not probe incidents, even if they say so, and that inquiries are slow and untransparent. 

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The killing of reporters constitutes a war crime under international law. In November and December, Reporters without Borders submitted two cases at the International Criminal Court (ICC) urging the prosecutor to investigate “all of the deaths of Palestinian journalists killed since the start of the war, which currently total 66, according to RSF’s information.

Seven cases of journalists are explicitly named as the organisation said that they have “reasonable grounds to believe that [they] were the victims of attacks amounting to war crimes.”: 

Asem Al-Barsh, an Al Najah radio journalist killed by sniper fire; Bilal Jadallah of the Palestinian Press House, who was killed in a direct missile attack on his car when leaving his workplace; Montaser Al-Sawaf, whose home was targeted twice by missile fire; Rushdi Al Siraj, whose house was targeted; Hassouna Salim of Quds News agency, killed by a missile after receiving death threats; Sari Mansour, a photo-journalist for Quds News, who died in the same attack; and Samer Abu Daqqa, an Al Jazeera correspondent who “appears to have been killed by a precision shot fired from a drone that also wounded Al Jazeera bureau chief Wael Dahdouh.”

RSF said in a statement that the journalists may have been deliberately targeted as journalists. “It is for this reason that RSF is describing these deaths as intentional homicides of civilians.”

The organization, which was criticized by the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate for downplaying the numbers of killed journalists in Gaza, mentioning only 45 in its 2023 annual report,  had filed two complaints before; one in 2018 after the targeted killing of Gazawi journalist Yaser Murtaja by an Israeli sniper, as well as one in 2021 when 20 media offices were targeted by Israeli airstrikes. 

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In a statement released on October 14, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called for the full and transparent investigation of the reported incidents, explicitly citing the killing of well-known poet and writer Rifa’at Al A’reer, the targeting of Momen Al Sharafi and 22 members of his family, Mohammad Abu Samra, who was killed by a sniper, Ola Attallah who was killed alongside nine members of her family and the founder and Director of the Gaza Now News Agency, Mustafa Ayyash who was killed together with at least eight members of his family. 

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