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DON’T QUOTE ME: Israel, Battling Palestinians, also Targets a Hostile Media

By Thalif Deen*

NEW YORK (IDN) — The destruction of a 12-storeyed building in Gaza City on May 15—which was home to several news organizations including the Associated Press (AP) and Al-Jazeera—has triggered a loaded question: was it a deliberate Israeli airstrike to silence the media or was it an avoidable accident?

Norman Solomon, Executive Director of the Institute for Public Accuracy in Washington, D.C., told IDN Israel has doubled down on its ongoing war crimes against Palestinian people by bombing media offices in Gaza.

“The message from the Israeli government is clear—exerting deadly force to underscore an assertion of impunity.”

Not only does the Israeli regime claim an absolute right to subjugate Palestinians with methodical disregard for their basic human rights, he argued, Israel’s leaders are also determined to reduce as much as possible the journalistic coverage of that subjugation and systematic abuse of human rights.

Despite all its claims to democracy, Israel has expanded the workings of its nonstop spin machinery to include bombing mainstream media organizations.

The Associated Press is a de facto enemy of the Israeli agenda to the extent that AP engages in journalistic activity in Gaza or elsewhere in the occupied territories, said Solomon, who is also Director of and author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death”.

The published stories in most of the mainstream media have been very critical of Israel for its attacks on civilian targets. The bombing of newspaper offices is apparently not considered accidental because Israel is armed with precision-guided weapons which rarely miss their intended targets.

Joel Simon, Executive Director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says this latest attack on a building, long known by Israel to house international media, raises the specter that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is deliberately targeting media facilities in order to disrupt coverage of the human suffering in Gaza.

“We demand that the Israeli government provide a detailed and documented justification for this military attack on a civilian facility given the possible violation of international humanitarian law,” he noted.

Journalists have an obligation and duty to cover unfolding events in Gaza and it would be illegal for the IDF to use military means to prevent it, Simon declared.

Ian Williams, President of the New York-based Foreign Press Association (FPA) said his Association “condemns the Israeli airstrike on the building that housed our colleagues of the AP and Al-Jazeera, among others”.  

“There is no justification for the destruction of an entire residential building which also housed media organizations reporting on the conflict. This was clearly a calculated assault on the media and as AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said, “The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”

It is a reasonable conclusion that this was one purpose of the raid, said Williams.

Solomon told IDN what Israel is doing to Palestinian people as a whole is so cruel and unrelenting that virtually any accurate and balanced reporting is antithetical to the Israeli agenda.

“Killing, wounding and terrorizing large numbers of Palestinians is routine policy, so the perpetrators of that policy seek to neutralize media outlets that illuminate the consequences of that policy in human terms”.

One way to aim to neutralize journalistic institutions, he pointed out, is to flood them with nonstop onslaughts of distortions and outright lies; the Israeli government is proficient at generating such floods.

“Another way to neutralize—or at least undercut—journalistic institutions is to interfere with on-the-ground reporting and to use military assault on journalists as a means of intimidation and debilitation,” he noted.

“Israel has shown that its murderous contempt for human rights is parallel with its explosive hostility to media organizations that are in a position to show what that murderous contempt does to human beings,” declared Solomon.

Meanwhile, a statement by five UN human rights experts* on May 18 “condemned the Israeli attack on a civilian apartment building which housed the offices of several international news agencies”.

“Violence or threatened violence against journalists, particularly those reporting in a conflict zone, breaches the freedom of expression and the right of the media to report unhindered,” they said.

As of May 17, about 211 Palestinians in Gaza, including at least 59 children, have been killed, along with 10 Israelis, including two children.

And at least 10 Palestinians in the West Bank protesting the violence in Gaza have also been killed by Israeli security forces. Almost 40,000 Palestinians have been displaced from their home, sheltering in UN compounds, the experts said.

“The firing by Israel of missiles and shells into heavily populated areas of Gaza—particularly with the rising civilian toll and property destruction—constitute indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians and civilian property.”

“These attacks likely violate the laws of war and constitute a war crime,” the experts said.

At the UN’s daily press briefing on May 17, one of the questions that came up involved a demand by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Israel’s bombing of buildings housing media organizations as a possible war crime. The media watchdog said, in a letter to the court’s chief prosecutor, that the offices of 23 international and local media organizations had been destroyed on May 15

Asked about the bombing and the ICC appeal, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters on May 17: “I’m not going to comment on the ICC… on the call to the ICC. The Secretary‑General was extremely disturbed to see the destruction of the media building. It is clear that journalists who operate in Gaza need to be able to do so without fear of harassment, of destruction of their offices and so forth”.

“We don’t have… any additional information about the incident, but I think it would be very important to elucidate what exactly happened,” he added.

Francis Boyle, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law and author of Palestine, Palestinians, and International Law, said “Under Article 24 of the United Nations Charter, the United Nations Security Council has ‘primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security’.”

Despite its obligation thereunder as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the Biden administration has now three times in a row prevented the Security Council from fulfilling its duty and obligation under the terms of the United Nations Charter.

“The Biden administration has now aided and abetted war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide by Israel against the Palestinians,” said Boyle.

He added: “Biden has also knowingly let U.S. weapons to be used by Israel to commit war crimes in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the U.S. Arms Control Export Act and the Arms Supply Agreement between the U.S. and Israel.”

*The five UN human rights experts included Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Clément Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism;. and Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education. [IDN-InDepthNews – 19 May 2021]

*Thalif Deen is the author of a newly-released book on the United Nations titled “No Comment—and Don’t Quote Me on That.” Published by Amazon, the book is mostly a satire peppered with scores of anecdotes—from the serious to the hilarious. The link to Amazon via the author’s website follows:

Photo: Homes have been shelled in Gaza as hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians continue. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last week issued an urgent appeal for all parties to “immediately cease the fighting”, or risk creating an “uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis”. Credit: UNOCHA

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