The attacks late Saturday night and Sunday morning on the Ash-Shawwa Al-Husari and ash-Shuruq buildings in Gaza City mark a new type of escalation in the Israeli assault on Gaza, with direct attacks on the media. The buildings house a number of satellite TV news stations and radio stations, which were the direct targets of the attacks.Six journalists were wounded in the attack on Ash-Shawwa Al-Husari, including one cameraman who lost his leg. A few minutes before the attack, the Israeli military phoned the Al Quds media agency saying that their headquarters were about to be bombed. As the journalists in the building rushed to evacuate while continuing to report on the situation, the bomb dropped. The building houses Al Quds radio, which is loosely affiliated with the Hamas party, as well as Russia Today, and Lebanese, German and Italian news teams.
According to the British Guardian newspaper, a second air strike struck another media complex in the city just before 7 am, the ash-Shuruq building. It houses Sky News, the al-Arabiya news network, Dubai TV and an office of al-Aqsa TV, which is affiliated with Hamas.
Israeli military spokesperson Avital Liebovitch made a statement to the press in Israel a few hours later, saying “We obviously know there are journalists in the building, so we did not attack any other floor in the building, but my advice to journalist visiting Gaza is to stay away from any Hamas positions, or Hamas sites, or Hamas posts for their own safety.” Liebovitch confirmed that Al Quds radio and Al Aqsa TV were the targets of the attack.
The Israeli military spokesperson tweeted “Roofs of the two buildings targeted tonight, were used by Hamas to place their electronic and communication infrastructure.” A spokesperson for the Hamas media office in Gaza, Salama Marouf, called the attack an “immoral massacre against the media”, and said that this shows that Israel has “lost the media battle”.
Since Hamas won the popular election in Palestine and began running the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, Israeli officials have refused entry to nearly all journalists attempting to enter Gaza, and have made it extremely difficult to obtain a permit to be able to report from the ground in Gaza. Since this invasion began last week, Israeli officials have refused to allow any journalists into the Gaza Strip, as it controls the borders.
During its massive invasion of the Gaza Strip four years ago in 2008-9, Israeli officials created a ‘media blackout’ on Gaza by refusing entry to all international journalists, carefully crafting a media message that it provided directly to international media outlets, and directly attacked media outlets inside Gaza that were managing to get images and videos of the ground invasion out to the rest of the world.
Israeli forces also cut off internet access for most of that invasion, and bombed the three main power plants supplying electricity to Gaza, thrusting virtually the entire coastal Strip into months of blackout.
Israeli attacks on journalists are common, despite the fact that these attacks are a direct violation of international law. In August 2012 for example, Israeli forces attacked a non-violent protest in Kufr Qaddoum village, and abducted 6 Palestinian journalists for reporting on the demonstration; Jaafar Shtayi (Associated Free Press), Nidal Shtayi (Chinese Press), Faris Faris (Palestine Today), Bakir Abd al-Haq (TV Nablus), Odai Qudoomi (B’tselem), and Noah Qudoomi (Alfajir Tulkarem). Among the 6 journalists arrested, 2 were beaten, with Jaafar Shtayi suffering a broken arm. The journalists were released several hours later under the condition that they face imprisonment if they attempt to document the demonstrations in Kufr Qaddoum again.
The last comprehensive report on the issue, published by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in 2011, found that the ten month period leading up to the report, “witnessed 112 attacks by Israeli forces against local and international media personnel and institutions, including: violations of media personnel’s right to life and right to safety and security of person; beating media personnel and subjecting them to other means of violence and humiliating and degrading treatment; arresting and holding media personnel; denying media personnel access to certain areas and preventing them from covering certain incidents; confiscation of media equipment and devices; preventing media personnel from traveling abroad; raiding media personnel’s houses; and destroying equipment and cars of media personnel while on duty.”
Article 79 of Additional Protocol I of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, provides that journalists are entitled to all rights and protections granted to civilians in international armed conflicts. The same holds true in non-international armed conflicts by virtue of customary international law, according to Robin Geiss, a legal expert with the International Committee of the Red Cross.