On Sunday morning, Israel’s warplanes attacked two media centers as part of its current military offensive against Gaza. The first of the two strikes hit a building where I worked for three months in 2010, and where my former colleagues at the Palestinian news agency Maan still work.
The first strike, at around 1:30 a.m. local time, hit the Shawa and Husari media tower, the base of operations for a number of broadcasters, including Germany’s ARD and Italy’s RAI. According to reports, four Israeli missiles came through the roof of the building and exploded in the offices of Beirut-based Al-Quds satellite network. At least six media workers were wounded in the attack, including Khader Zahhar, 20, a cameraman for Al-Quds TV, who had his leg amputated.
Then, just before 7 a.m., warplanes attacked a second building, the Shuruq tower, which houses a set of media organizations including Fox News, Al-Arabiya, and Britain’s ITN and Sky, moderately wounding three other Palestinian journalists.
Because the Israeli military proclaims its “surgical” ability to pinpoint targets in Gaza, the strikes prompted senior BBC journalist Paul Danahar, the current president of the Middle East Foreign Press Association, to ask the Israeli military spokesperson on Twitter:
The Israeli military spokesperson later stated that the strikes “targeted Hamas’s operational communications capabilities on the roof of a civilian building in the Gaza Strip,” apparently referring to the broadcast antennae on the roofs of the buildings. Israel’s vice prime minister, Moshe Ya’alon, was quoted in the The New York Times referring to a “military antenna.” No evidence of this equipment has surfaced, and Maan journalists established that there is “no military infrastructure of any kind inside the building.”
In a tweet, the military said the strike “only targeted devices on roof & left Hamas offices on 8th floor untouched,” an apparent reference to Al-Quds TV, which is known to be sympathetic to Hamas, although its offices are actually on the 11th floor of the Shawa and Husari building. Contrary to the military’s claim that the offices “untouched,” video broadcast by Al Jazeera English showed damage in the media offices below. The Israeli military also released its own video showing the strikes on at least one of the buildings, apparently filmed from the aircraft that fired the missiles.
Israel is not, of course, the only state to endanger journalists’ lives. Nor is it, by the numbers, the worst offender (recent killings and kidnappings of journalists in Syria come to mind; countries like Iraq and the Philippines are far deadlier).
But when it comes to attacks on journalists in conflict areas, Israel is a repeat offender. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Israeli forces have killed 10 Palestinian and international journalists in the West Bank and Gaza since 2000. These include James Miller, the British freelance cameraman shot dead by Israeli forces in Gaza in 2003, and Fadel Shana, a Reuters cameraman who kept his camera running until a fatal tank shell struck his jeep in Gaza in 2008.
After Sunday’s strikes, press freedom advocates urged Israel to respect journalists’ status as civilians, irrespective of their political leanings. “Journalists are civilians and are protected under international law in military conflict,” said CPJ Deputy Director, Robert Mahoney in a statement. “Israel knows this and should cease targeting facilities housing media organizations and journalists immediately.” The media rights group Mada accused Israel of “trying to silence the press in Gaza.”
It was impossible for me not to feel a pang of worry when I heard about the attack on my old office building. I worked for Maan for nearly three years, including a three-month stint in the Gaza office. I thought about colleagues like bureau chief Emad Eid. Each morning I would find Emad in his office, dressed always in pressed slacks and a dress shirt, dialing sources on speakerphone, typing a report with one hand and changing the channel on his TV with the other, a steaming glass of tea on the desk.
As a journalist, Emad’s daily work is to write the reports of airstrikes, of killings and arrests. Over the years he has also been at odds with the Palestinian Authority and recently with the Hamas government, keeping the Maan office running through a combination of political savvy and sheer tenacity.
Like other journalists, Emad will continue his reporting throughout the current escalation. When a ceasefire is eventually achieved, and the international press, who converged on Gaza this weekend, have vacated, it is he and the other Palestinian reporters and photographers who will remain. Sunday’s airstrikes were another reminder that it is local journalists (Iraqis, Syrians, Palestinians) who face the greatest risk of injury or death.