After two months of asking Israeli authorities to explain their decision to attack journalists and media facilities in Gaza in November, CPJ has received an official response. Our inquiries--in the form of a letter and blog by Executive Director Joel Simon, as well as phone calls and emails to the office of the Israeli prime minister, the Public Appeals Office of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and the Israeli Embassy in the U.S.--sought evidence to support Israel's assertion that the individuals and facilities it targeted had connections to terrorist activity.
The response, received on January 29, came in the form of an email from Aaron Sagui, spokesman for the embassy Washington, D.C. The email provided general context on the war against Hamas and on the nature of programming at Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas's official television station, but 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? As we stated in our letter, our central concern is that governments must not have unilateral discretion to target media facilities they deem to be supporting terrorists, because this would render meaningless the civilian status conferred on journalists under international humanitarian law.
Sagui's email made two other assertions we would like to address. First, he claimed that Israel takes unparalleled measures to avoid civilian deaths, and that the IDF "investigates every single operation, takes responsibility for accidents and mistakes, and punishes its soldiers when they violate its code of conduct."
But a look through CPJ research turns up examples to the contrary. In 2001, the Board of the Foreign Press Association condemned an IDF report on the shootings of several journalists in 2000, noting that the investigation took 14 months, and with a single exception turned up no guilty parties. In 2008, we urged Israel to release results of its army investigation into the killing of a Reuters cameraman; in 2009, we condemned the IDF for firing a missile directly at a Gaza City building housing multiple news organizations. In 2010, CPJ protested IDF attacks on several journalists in the West Bank and demanded an investigation, but no explanation has been given.
Secondly, Sagui questioned CPJ's record when it comes to similar situations involving the United States military and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen. "There is no indication on CPJ's website that it took exception to these U.S. operations as attacks on journalists," he wrote. In fact, CPJ documented and protested cases of journalists killed and detained by U.S. military forces in Iraq; CPJ also objected to U.S. airstrikes on a media office in Afghanistan that the U.S. military claimed to be an Al-Qaeda facility.
In Yemen, CPJ has continually protested U.S. President Barack Obama's interference in keeping Abdulelah Hider Shaea, a freelance reporter who covered Al-Qaeda, in prison with a five-year sentence for "belonging to an illegal armed organization."
As we promised, we are publishing Sagui's response on our website; you can read it here in its entirety. At the same time, we urge the Israeli government to engage in a productive dialogue with CPJ on how to bring its record on freedom of the press in line with international standards.