Just two days before Palestinians commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Nakba, the names of two Palestinian cameramen targeted and killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza last November were dropped from a dedication ceremony held to honor “reporters, photographers and broadcasters who have died reporting the news” over the past year. The move followed an Israel lobby pressure campaign led by anti-Palestinian organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the American Jewish Committee, efforts that were openly supported by the Israeli government.
The Atlantic Wire’s J.K. Trotter summarizes:
Two days after Washington, D.C.’s Newseum announced its intent to honor Hussam Salama and Mahmoud al-Kumi, who were killed in November while working as cameramen for the Middle East-based Al-Aqsa TV, the well-known temple of journalism has decided — for now — not to recognize Salama and al-Kumi, citing their employer’s deep ties to Hamas, a Palestinian organization currently designated by the United States as a terrorist group.
The Newseum, which honored 82 journalists on May 13, 2013, stated that it had “decided to re-evaluate their inclusion as journalists on our memorial wall pending further investigation,” even though just last week, in response to the hysterical reaction to Salama’s and al-Kumi’s initial inclusion, the museum had affirmed and defended their decision, noting that “the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers all consider these men journalists killed in the line of duty.”
Indeed, as Joe Catron notes, Reporters Without Borders has pointed out, “Even if the targeted media support Hamas, this does not in any way legitimize the attacks,” while the Committee to Protect Journalists “found that the Israeli military’s official justifications for its attacks on journalists…’did not specifically address CPJ’s central question: how did Israel determine that those targeted did not deserve the civilian protections afforded to all journalists, no matter their perspective, under international law?'”
The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers includes both Salama and al-Kumi on its list of “69 Media Employees Killed in 2012,” as does the International Federation of Journalists in tis report, “In the Grip of Violence: Journalists and Media staff Killed in 2012.”
Human Rights Watch, in its December 20, 2012 report on “Unlawful Israeli Attacks on Palestinian Media,” concluded,
Four Israeli attacks on journalists and media facilities in Gaza during the November 2012 fighting violated the laws of war by targeting civilians and civilian objects that were making no apparent contribution to Palestinian military operations.
The attacks killed two Palestinian cameramen, wounded at least 10 media workers, and badly damaged four media offices, as well as the offices of four private companies. One of the attacks killed a two-year-old boy who lived across the street from a targeted building.
The Israeli government asserted that each of the four attacks was on a legitimate military target but provided no specific information to support its claims. After examining the attack sites and interviewing witnesses, Human Rights Watch found no indications that these targets were valid military objectives.
“Just because Israel says a journalist was a fighter or a TV station was a command center does not make it so,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Journalists who praise Hamas and TV stations that applaud attacks on Israel may be propagandists, but that does not make them legitimate targets under the laws of war.”
HRW added, “The two men’s families, interviewed separately, said the men were neither participating in the fighting nor members of any armed group. Human Rights Watch found no evidence, including during visits to the men’s homes, to contradict that claim. Hamas’s armed wing, al-Qassam Brigades, has not put either man on its official list of killed fighters – an unlikely omission if the men had been playing a military role.”
For the Newseum to be bullied into omitting Salama and al-Kumi from its rededication ceremony by avowedly Zionist groups and right-wing media outlets demonstrates that the institution itself is no less a propaganda outfit than Al-Aqsa TV. This shameful last minute decision effectively grants the U.S. and Israeli governments the ability to decide who is and who is not a journalist and who should and who should not be honored for their work.
But the decision also reeks of hypocrisy and Manichean double standards.
The Newseum is essentially suggesting that sycophantic journalists parroting government propaganda may be legitimate targets in military operations and should be labeled combatants, rather than civilians who enjoy press freedoms and are subject to protection.
Yet this only extends as far as the U.S. State Department says it does.
The ADL’s Abe Foxman called Salama and al-Kumi “members of a terrorist organization advancing their agenda through murderous violence” and “terrorist operatives” who “were working for a propaganda outlet, not a legitimate news organization.” The AJC’s David Harris echoed these sentiments, labeling Salama and al-Kumi as “brazen terrorists” and “two individuals who were integral to the propaganda machine of the Hamas terrorist organization,” that could not be considered “a legitimate media operation.”
Such terms as “terrorism” and “terrorist” are perhaps the most loaded, politicized, exploited and, consequently, meaningless words in our current lexicon, employed as a bludgeon against critical thinking in order to reinforce “us vs. them” narratives.
Apparently, the Newseum has determined that our propaganda deserves respect and admiration, while their propaganda (in this case, documenting on camera the effects Israeli bombs and missiles have on the human flesh of Palestinian people at Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital) should be condemned, targeted and investigated.
By this measure, plenty of alleged propagandists grace the memorial wall of the Newseum already, with more added during today’s ceremony.
Mohamed Al-Massalma, a freelance reporter for Al Jazeera, was killed by a sniper while covering the Syrian civil war in Busra Al-Harir in late January 2013. The Syrian journalist, working under the pseudonym Mohamed Al-Horani, was “an activist in the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad,” before joining Al Jazeera.
In January 2012, Mukarram Khan Aatif was gunned down in the Pakistani town of Shabqadar by members of the Pakistani Taliban. Aatif was a journalist working for Deewa Radio, the U.S. government’s Voice of America Pasto-language service. He was among those honored by the Newseum this year.
The taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) and its affiliated services have been legally banned from broadcasting or distribution here in the United States for the past 65 years because of a Congressional act prohibiting the government from propagandizing to its own citizens. Only last year was this law reversed; the ban will be officially lifted this coming July 2013. VOA is literally U.S. government propaganda, yet its reporters are accorded due protection from violence, as they should be.
Another VOA journalist, Mohammed Ali Nuxurkey, was killed in an al-Shabab bombing in Mogadishu, Somalia, this past March There is no doubt he will be added the Newseum’s wall next year.
If any distinctions are to be made among different categories of journalists caught in the line of fire or deliberately targeted for murder, international law does not, in fact, favor the Foxman’s and Harris’ of the world.
While war journalists who are not embedded with troops or themselves soldiers taking direct part in hostilities are legally protected by the law of armed conflict, embedded reporters are not necessarily similarly protected.
According to international law professor Sandesh Sivakumaran, writing for the Oxford University Press, embedded journalists, while civilians, may be “casualties of lawful attacks” as “[t]he law allows for the targeting of troops and that targeting may result in bystanders or embedded reporters becoming casualties.”
Still, embedded journalists who were killed while accompanying American occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan – a policy promoted by the U.S. military in order to ensure positive reporting on American actions (some might call that propaganda) – have also rightly been accorded a place in the Newseum’s memorial. Journalists like Spanish reporter Julio Anguita Parrado and German correspondent Christian Liebig, killed by Iraqi missiles in an April 7, 2003 attack on the U.S. Army’s 3rd Division headquarters in Baghdad, are honored by the Newseum as is NBC News soundman Jeremy Little, killed in Fallujah in July 2003 while embedded with the Army’s 3rd Infantry.
Sivakumaran also explains that “[j]ournalists who work for media outlets or information services of the armed forces” are legally considered “members of the armed forces,” and therefore “don’t benefit from the protections afforded to civilians and their deaths don’t constitute a violation of the law.”
As such, the Newseum’s glaring duplicity is all the more evident when considering the case of James P. Hunter. A staff sergeant, reporter and photographer with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Hunter was killed on June 18, 2010 by an IED while covering the massive U.S. offensive taking place in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for The Fort Campbell Courier, an Army newspaper in Kentucky. He was an active duty soldier and the first Army journalist to die in combat since 9/11. Still, the Newseum saw fit to honor Hunter on its memorial wall.
Yet in the case of Salama and al-Kumi, “Israeli officials sought to justify attacks on Palestinian media by saying the military had targeted individuals or facilities that ‘had relevance to’ or were ‘linked with’ a Palestinian armed group, or had ‘encouraged and lauded acts of terror against Israeli civilians,'” according to Human Rights Watch. “These justifications, suggesting that it is permissible to attack media because of their associations or opinions, however repugnant, rather than their direct participation in hostilities, violate the laws of war and place journalists at grave risk.”
If repellant statements, including the justification of and praise for acts of violence against civilians, are the benchmark of propaganda and thereby constitute legitimate targeting for death by those opposed to such statements, then countless American journalists and commentators from across the political spectrum would be subject to the same fate as Salama and al-Kumi.
Warmongering and incitement abound in the editorial pages of The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. Liberal commentators like Joe Klein and former White House spokesman Robert Gibbs exhalt the extrajudicial executions by flying robot of countless civilians, including a 16-year-old American citizen in Yemen and hundreds of children in Pakistan. Right-wing pundits like Jennifer Rubin and her friends at Commentary and The Weekly Standard openly advocate for the murder of Iranian and Palestinian civilians, endlessly call for permanent war and occupation, support torture and indefinite detention, advocate for the assassination of whistleblowers, scientists and foreign officials, and justify the war crimes of their preferred military forces and governments.
Just days before the car in which Salama and al-Kumi were traveling, marked clearly as a press vehicle, was blown up by an Israeli bomb, Rubin published a post praising the IDF assault on Gaza. Hardly able to contain her glee, Rubin anonymously quoted “an old Middle East hand” declaring that, after weeks of sporadic Israeli airstrikes (“a form of messaging to Hamas”), “the Israelis escalated. But still they are avoiding infrastructure, hitting pinpoint high-level Hamas target.”
A recent B’Tselem report on Israel’s actions last November, however, “challenges the common perception in the Israeli public and media that the operation was ‘surgical’ and caused practically no fatalities among uninvolved Palestinian civilians,” noting that, “in some cases at least, the [Israeli] military violated IHL [international humanitarian law] and in other cases there are substantial reasons to believe IHL was violated.” Israeli airstrikes killed 167 Palestinians in Gaza, at least 87 of whom were noncombatants, including 31 minors.
Two days after cheering Israeli war crimes, Rubin set her sights on a bigger target. “Israel can keep swatting down Hamas, using air power or, if need be, going into Gaza on land,” she wrote. “It has a solemn obligation to defend itself against what was a deliberate escalation by Hamas in the number and quality of weapons launched against Israel’s civilian population. But even with the most robust U.S. support this is not a long-term solution. That will only come when Iran is dealt with, either militarily or via regime change.”
Anyone arguing that Rubin could be targeted with violence for writing her opinions would be labeled sociopathic and lambasted for incitement, and for good reason. And there is no doubt that if correspondents from Israeli Army Radio or employees of the state-run Israel Broadcasting Authority were killed, they would be honored by the Newseum, without so much as a whiff of dissent, let alone outrage.
It is evident that, as always, Palestinians are subject to unparalleled scrutiny and suspicion due to the tireless defamation and lobbying efforts of big-moneyed Zionist organizations and ideological zealots.
But is it surprising that the Newseum should jump on this bias bandwagon?
In the late 1940’s, Bugsy Siegel’s former publicist Hank Greenspun was recruited by Jewish militias in Palestine to help them fight against both the occupying British and indigenous Palestinians. He hijacked a yacht and laundered $1.3 million through Mexico in order to smuggle machine guns stolen from the U.S. Navy in Hawaii to the prolific terrorist group Irgun, which had blown up Jerusalem’s King David Hotel the year before and would massacre the residents of Deir Yassin a year later. Soon thereafter, Greenspun was apprehended by the FBI while attempting to illegally ship surplus combat airplane engines to Haganah.
In 1950, he was convicted of violating the U.S. Neutrality Act and fined $10,000 for his arms deals. The same year, he purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal and renamed it the Las Vegas Sun, serving as publisher for the next four decades.
Upon his death in 1989, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres called Greenspun “a hero of our country and a fighter for freedom – a man of great spirit who fought with his mind and his soul; a man of great conviction and commitment.” In 1993, a one-acre plaza in the Jerusalem Botanical Garden of Hebrew University was dedicated to him.
- Jewish groups slam ‘Newseum’ for honoring Palestinian journalists killed by Israelis (alethonews.wordpress.com)
On May 13, 2013, Washington-based media museum, Newseum, will honor 84 journalists killed in line of duty in various countries in 2012. The list includes two cameramen, Hussam Salama and Mahmoud Al-Kumi, from Hamas-owned Al-Aqsa TV, who were killed by an Israeli air-strike while driving through Gaza City’s Nasser area inside a car clearly marked “TV” in November 2012.
On May 10, the Zionist embassy in Washington DC demanded that Newseum management remove Hussam Salama and Mahmoud Al-Kumi’s names from the honor list saying they’re members of Gaza-ruling Hamas, which Israel and the US have designated as a terrorist group.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper, criticized Newseum saying: “Duct Tape on car with the letters TV does not a journalist make. A shameful decision based on a falsehood that besmirches the true heroes of journalism who died while pursuing their mission of seeking and reporting the Truth.”
“What would the legitimate martyred journalists like Daniel Pearl say as their heroism and humanity is debased and degraded?” Cooper asked.
Daniel Pearl, a US-Israeli Jewish citizen and Wall Street Journal reporter was kidnapped and killed in Pakistan allegedly working for Israeli Mossad. The Center itself is named after the so-called the “Father of Holocaust” Simon Weisenthal (1908-2005) who is described by Israeli historian, Tom Segev, as a fame-seeking myth-maker and an Israeli Mossad agent.
The Washington Free Beacon (May 10, 2013), a pro-Israel Jewish website quoted an adviser to a large Washington DC Jewish organization, saying: “They couldn’t have been legitimate journalists killed in the line of duty because they weren’t working for a legitimate media outlet. They were working for a designated terrorist organization that has a propaganda shop.“
On Friday, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Jewish-Israeli advocacy group, said it’s boycotting Newseum. “I will put a call to the CEO of the Newseum first thing tomorrow morning. I’m hoping he’ll tell me there’s been a misunderstanding – or a re-thinking once it became clear that these ‘journalists’ were members of designated terrorist organizations,” Cliff May, the Zionist Jewish president of the FDD, said in an email to BuzzFeed, a Jewish website.
Despite Israeli protest, Jonathan Thomson, spokesman for the Newseum said the two cameramen, who were killed by an Israeli air-strike, would remain on its roll of slain reporters. “Hussam Salama and Mahmoud Al-Kumi were cameramen in a car clearly marked “TV”. The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers all consider these men journalists killed in the line duty,” said the Newseum spokesperson.
The dedication ceremony will take place at the Journalist Memorial Gallery. The keynote speaker will be Jewish Richard Engel, chief foreign correspondent for NBC News. Last year, while on assignment in Syria – he along with other members of his crew were kidnapped by USrael-funded anti-Assad rebels and held hostage for five days. NBC identified the kidnappers as members of the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, an anti-Assad Wahabi militant group.
Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu,
The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned that Israeli airstrikes targeted individual journalists and media facilities in the Gaza Strip between November 18 and 20. Journalists and media outlets are protected under international law in military conflict.
A series of Israeli airstrikes struck two buildings that house news media, resulting in injuries to nine journalists, while separate missile attacks resulted in the deaths of three journalists, according to news reports and CPJ research. Israeli officials have broadly asserted that the individuals and facilities had connections to terrorist activity but have disclosed no substantiation for these very serious allegations. CPJ has repeatedly sought, by email and phone, supporting details or evidence from the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson’s office. We have yet to receive information from the spokesperson’s office to substantiate its allegations.
On November 18 and 19, airstrikes targeted Al-Shawa and Housari Tower and Al-Shuruq Tower, both of which are well-known for housing numerous international and local news organizations. The attacks damaged the offices of Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV and Al-Quds TV, Sky News, Russia Today, Al-Arabiya, and the independent Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency. Among the nine wounded journalists was Khader al-Zahhar, a cameraman for Al-Quds TV who lost his right leg in the explosion, according to news reports. Several other international and local news organizations, including Reuters, Agence France-Presse, The Associated Press, and CNN, also have offices in the targeted buildings. Israeli spokesman Mark Regev told Al-Jazeera English on November 19 that Al-Aqsa TV is a “Hamas command and control facility” and that “Hamas used communication facilities on top of the buildings.” He did not state whether or how Hamas used the station militarily.
On November 20, Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama, cameramen for the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV, were driving away from an assignment at Al-Shifaa Hospital when an Israeli missile hit their vehicle, according to Al-Aqsa TV. The car was marked “TV” in neon-colored letters, the Hamas-run station said. The two men were killed.
A third journalist was killed when his car was hit by a missile that same day, AP reported, citing a Gaza health official. Local news reports identified the victim as Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio, whose vehicle was hit while he was driving in the Deir al-Balah neighborhood. The reports did not say whether Abu Aisha was engaged in journalistic work at the time, and CPJ continues to investigate the circumstances of his death.
Al-Aqsa TV, the official Hamas-run television channel, provides news and information that overtly reflect the organization’s anti-Israel perspective. Al-Quds Educational Radio is a private radio station geared toward educational programs; it also provides a pro-Hamas perspective.
On November 20, AP cited Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, as saying the three individuals were Hamas operatives. “The targets are people who have relevance to terror activity,” AP quotes Leibovich as saying. An unsigned entry posted on the Israel Defense Forces blog that day asserted that an individual named Muhammed Shamalah, whom it referred to as a Hamas military commander, had been targeted in an airstrike that struck a vehicle identified as “TV.” Neither Leibovich nor the IDF blog entry provided any details to support the claims. Leibovich reiterated these unsupported claims in a letter to The New York Times published on November 29.
CPJ has contacted the IDF spokesperson’s office multiple times, beginning on November 20 and then again on November 27, 28, and 29, and we have sent three written requests seeking an explanation for its claims. We were directed to a Maj. Zohar Halevi who has not responded to our requests.
Alarmingly, spokeswoman Leibovich seeks to erase the crucial legal distinction between armed combatants and journalists covering the perspective of an adversary. “Such terrorists, who hold cameras and notebooks in their hands, are no different from their colleagues who fire rockets aimed at Israeli cities and cannot enjoy the rights and protection afforded to legitimate journalists,” Leibovich writes in the letter to The Times.
All journalists, whether local or foreign, regardless of the perspective from which they report, are afforded the same civilian protections under international law. The Israeli government does not have the right to selectively define who is and who is not a journalist based on national identity or media affiliation. International law also places strict limits on military attacks on all civilian sites, including media outlets. Article 51 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions prohibits attacks on civilian sites in which potential damage and loss of civilian life “would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”
We request your government provide an immediate and detailed explanation for its actions in targeting Mahmoud al-Kumi, Hussam Salama, and Mohamed Abu Aisha and the two media buildings in the Gaza Strip.
We ask that you consider this a matter of urgency.
Executive Director, CPJ
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