Human Rights Watch says Israeli attacks on Palestinian media were unlawful

credit: Tech. Sgt. Kevin Gruenwald

Madison Ruppert, Contributor
Activist Post

In a newly released report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that the four Israeli attacks on media facilities and journalists in Palestine during the fighting in November 2012 were violations of the laws of war.

The Israeli attacks led to the deaths of many Palestinian civilians, including an entire family. However, this HRW report focused on the attacks on media facilities which they say were “making no apparent contribution to Palestinian military operations.”

Unsurprisingly, that perspective was thoroughly opposed by Israeli officials who claimed that the media facilities were indeed military command centers.

“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,” notes HRW.

However, after interviewing witnesses and examining the sites of the attacks, HRW was unable to find any indication that the media offices were valid military objectives.

The attacks resulted in the deaths of two Palestinian cameramen while wounding at least 10 other media workers. The attacks also severely damaged four media offices and the offices of four other private companies as well.

“One of the attacks killed a two-year-old boy who lived across the street from a targeted building,” according to HRW.

“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.

While Whitson recognizes that journalists and news outlets that openly praise Hamas and attacks on Israel can indeed be considered propagandists, they do not lose their protection under the laws of war.

“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,” said Whitson.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) alleged that the car struck by an Israeli missile, containing two Palestinian cameramen, actually contained Hamas operatives.

Similarly, they claimed that the antenna towers on two buildings containing Palestinian media outlets were actually “operational communications infrastructure” belonging to Hamas.

The IDF claimed that two floors of a building housing Palestinian media were actually a Hamas “intelligence and command center” thus justifying their “surgically targeted” strike.

The justification provided by Israeli officials mostly relied on the claim that the targeted individuals were “linked with” or “had relevance to” a Palestinian militant group or, alternatively, had “encouraged and lauded acts of terror against Israeli civilians.

“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,” according to HRW.

HRW further considers official statements from Israeli officials that show the adoption of an unlawful basis for attacks evidence of war crimes because they demonstrate intent on the part of the Israeli military.

“Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, journalists and media workers are civilians and therefore immune from attack unless they are directly participating in hostilities,” stated HRW.

Under the laws of war, television and radio stations are considered civilian objects and thus are protected from attack so long as they are not used to make an “effective contribution to military action.”

Furthermore, the destruction of such facilities in the specific circumstances must offer “a definite military advantage” to be considered lawful.

HRW gives the example of a radio or television station that is used to transmit military orders as a legitimate target for attack.

However, media broadcasts that are aimed at bolstering civilian morale or even expressing support for attacks cannot be considered direct participation in hostilities and thus are not valid targets.

According to the deputy head of al-Aqsa TV, which HRW identifies as “the official television station of the Hamas government in Gaza,” the two cameramen killed in the strike were traveling in a car marked “TV” after filming in al-Shifa Hospital.

“The two men’s families, interviewed separately, said the men were neither participating in the fighting nor members of any armed group,” according to HRW.

HRW also stated that they found no evidence to contradict the claim, including during visits to their homes.

Furthermore, the al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, did not place either of the men on their list of killed fighters, a move which HRW considers “an unlikely omission if the men had been playing a military role.”

According to the IDF, the two men, Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama, were “hamas operatives” although they did not provide any specific information indicating that the men were Hamas fighters or were otherwise participating in hostilities directly.

“Hamas-run media are protected from attack under the laws of war unless directly taking part in military operations,” according to HRW.

The France-based journalism advocacy group Reporters Without Borders stated that 2012 has been the deadliest year for journalists on record with 88 killed, according to al Jazeera.

Read the in-depth report published by HRW here.

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This article first appeared at End the Lie.

Madison Ruppert is the Editor and Owner-Operator of the alternative news and analysis database End The Lie and has no affiliation with any NGO, political party, economic school, or other organization/cause. He is available for podcast and radio interviews. Madison also now has his own radio show on UCYTV Monday nights 7 PM – 9 PM PT/10 PM – 12 AM ET. Show page link here: http://UCY.TV/EndtheLie. If you have questions, comments, or corrections feel free to contact him at [email protected]

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