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Why is Israel at war with journalists?

Palestinian journalists during the aftermath of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, Oct. 15, 2023. (Getty Images)
Palestinian journalists during the aftermath of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, Oct. 15, 2023. (Getty Images)
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01 Dec 2023 01:12:35 GMT9
01 Dec 2023 01:12:35 GMT9

The idea that truth is the first victim of war has never sounded as true as it has since Oct. 7. The lies that have been fabricated and regurgitated so many times without the minimum of fact-checking has embarrassed even the president of the US multiple times. He was duped several times in a brief period, forcing his staff to walk back and clean up the gross errors. Joe Biden completely bought the Israeli lie of Hamas beheading Israeli infants and the totally false claim that Palestinians exaggerate the numbers of their dead and injured, among many other claims.

Major global media organizations like the BBC and others have been forced to apologize publicly, while many others have simply erased or stopped repeating many of the lies.

Perhaps the biggest and most costly falsehood, in terms of Palestinian human life, was the Israeli insistence (with photos and graphics) that Hamas had its entire headquarters beneath Gaza’s major hospital, Al-Shifa. This particular lie could have been easily debunked had Israel allowed international journalists into Gaza. Imagine if CNN’s Ben Wedeman or a BBC war reporter had stood at Al-Shifa Hospital and told the world that this Israeli claim was totally untrue. Imagine how many Palestinians, including infants, would be alive today if international journalists were simply allowed entry into Gaza.

Israel would not even have had to directly permit such entry. All that was needed was for Israel, the overwhelming power in and around Gaza, to have allowed Egypt to allow journalists into the Gaza Strip of their own volition. Instead, Israel, with its powerful media machine and vast number of journalists based in its country, has been able to create the propaganda narrative it wanted, fully supplied with lies, manufactured stories, artificial intelligence-produced gimmicks, and graphics.

Israel not only forcefully barred Egypt from conducting any sovereign act on its border with Gaza, including twice shelling trucks attempting to enter the Rafah crossing, but it also conducted a wicked campaign against Palestinian journalists and media workers.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has reported that, as of Wednesday, its “preliminary investigations showed at least 57 journalists and media workers were among the more than 16,000 killed since the war began on Oct. 7.”

Rafiah Al-Talei, the editor-in-chief for Sada in Carnegie’s Middle East Program, this week wrote: “Israel’s assault on Gaza has quickly become the deadliest for journalists covering conflict zones since 1992. No other war in the 21st century has been so lethal for journalists, with 34 killed just within its first two weeks.”

The Vienna-based International Press Institute has said that it is “horrified by the continually growing death toll suffered by journalists and civilians amid the Israel-Gaza war.” It strongly urged Israel “to uphold journalists’ rights to cover the conflict in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law, and to protect the safety of reporters, media workers, and their families.” A number of journalists’ families have been killed, including that of Wael Dahdouh, whose wife, daughter, son and grandchild were killed while he was covering the conflict for Al Jazeera.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has stated that the laws of war, specifically the Third Geneva Convention, cover journalists reporting on armed conflicts and pointed out that they must be treated as civilians. “Article 79 formally states that journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in zones of armed conflict are civilians within the meaning of Article 50 (1). As such, they enjoy the full scope of protection granted to civilians under international humanitarian law.”

Imagine how many Palestinians, including infants, would be alive today if international journalists were simply allowed entry into Gaza.

Daoud Kuttab

More than 60 Palestinian media facilities have also been targeted by Israel, another war crime, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. It stated that: “Radio and television facilities are civilian objects and as such enjoy general protection. The prohibition on attacking civilian objects has been firmly established in international humanitarian law since the beginning of the 20th century and was reaffirmed in 1977 Protocol I and in the Statute of the International Criminal Court.”

International media organizations are said to be documenting cases of the killing of journalists and attacks on media facilities with the goal of presenting a complaint to the International Criminal Court.

Meanwhile, as the current humanitarian pause continues, it is important that Arab and international media be allowed into Gaza to report on the volatile situation of Palestinians, who are the targets of a relentless, revengeful assault by an uncontrolled Israeli army and radical politicians who want to use their deaths as a guarantee for staying in power.

Egypt and the international community, especially the US and Europe, along with major media outlets, should not take no for an answer from the Israelis. The Egypt-Gaza crossing point at Rafah is an Arab-Arab border and the sovereign country of Egypt should have the right and responsibility to allow in any Arab or international journalists who want to enter the Strip.

  • Daoud Kuttab is a former professor at Princeton University and the founder and former director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University in Ramallah. X: @daoudkuttab
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