LONDON: After US President Joe Biden’s administration took measures to sanction Saudi officials that took part in 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, several Middle East experts have accused the US of deploying double standards.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, as well as several US State Department officials, have repeatedly said that Washington will no longer tolerate the targeting of journalists and dissidents. The case of Jamal Khashoggi has been at the center of these statements.
However, critics are asking why the US administration is not deploying the same standards to the killers of other journalists, and those involved with similar violence across the region.
“We should ask ourselves what is the purpose behind the publication of the report? It is very obvious that the revival of the issue after two years aims at putting pressure on Saudi Arabia,” US-Arab affairs expert Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib told Arab News.
Another commentator, Hussain Abdul-Hussain, tweeted: “Now that we have finished from the Khashoggi affair, can the US give any attention to the assassination of Hisham Al-Hashemi and Lokman Slim? Or is there no lobby behind them to demand the disclosure of their killers?”
Indeed, while this month’s killing of Lebanese publisher and vocal Hezbollah critic Luqman Slim was condemned by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, that was as far as it went — and his statement even shied away from naming the known culprits, Hezbollah.
Another, Iraqi researcher, Hisham al-Hashimi, was shot dead outside his Baghdad home last year in a drive-by long-suspected to have been set up by Iran-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah.
“We also should examine the timing. It is while the US is seeking to go back to the nuclear deal. This could be a tool to pressure Saudi Arabia to accept the decisions of the US regarding Iran, and to coerce the Kingdom into making concessions,” Khatib said, adding: “They don’t want to disturb the flow of communications with Iran.”
She said: “Even though the US is committed to human rights, how adamant and forceful they are in taking a position is taken in a political context.”
While more critics of Iran, its proxies and allies in the region are shot dead by “unknown groups,” much of what the US clearly focuses on is what benefits itself politically. President Biden’s pursuit to label Saudi Arabia as a pariah, as he previously argued for, comes at the cost of allowing Iran and its armed groups in the region to literally get away with murder.
Lebanese journalists Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueini were vocal in their political criticism, and both were assassinated for their vocal critiques by perpetrators that have yet to serve justice.
Journalists killed with no consequences
Assassinated: 2 June 2005
Assassinated: 12 December 2005
Assassinated: 22 February 2006
Assassinated: 6 July 2020
Assassinated: 4 February 2021
Arab countries and groups have expressed their support for Saudi Arabia’s rejection of the report, while stressing the pivotal role that the Kingdom plays in consolidating security in the region.
Political reporter and analyst Ray Hanania told Arab News: “The killing of Jamal Khashoggi is a human tragedy, but the US and the media are determined to play a hypocritical game of political exploitation to balance their foreign agenda.”
He added: “The International Federation of Journalists reports that in 2020, 66 journalists were killed, and yet it seems like only one journalist matters. This in part has also to do with media bias.
“The media, US Congress and activists showcase only one tragedy out of hundreds of journalist killings, because Khashoggi’s death is related to an acceptable foreign policy attack.”
President Biden took little time to retract the terrorist designation that the Trump administration had slapped on the Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi militia, and yet the group continues to lob ballistic missiles to Riyadh on a daily basis.
So as the US continues to appease Iran in order to bring it back to the nuclear negotiation table, its proxies could get away with silencing even more journalists and critics.
Blinken has not seen evidence Hamas operated from bombed Gaza media tower
Israeli attack on building housing foreign media, other businesses has drawn global condemnation
Associated Press calls on Israeli govt to ‘put forward the evidence’
Updated 17 May 2021
LONDON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said he has not seen any Israeli evidence that Hamas was operating from a tower block housing foreign media that was destroyed in a targeted airstrike.
The Associated Press and other media companies, as well as various international businesses including consultancy Ernst & Young, had offices in the tower block.
The Israeli military said the attack on Al-Jalaa tower, which has sparked significant backlash from global media and human rights groups, was due to it housing Hamas military intelligence officials. But Blinken said he had not yet seen evidence to support this claim.
The Associated Press, a large US media agency, has called on the Israeli government to “put forward the evidence.”
The company’s President Gary Pruitt said: “AP’s bureau has been in this building for 15 years. We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building. This is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk.”
Will truth become a casualty of the Israel Gaza war?
Israeli government under fire over destruction of building that housed offices of AP and other media outlets
Attack in Gaza City is the latest in a long line of events when the media has found itself in the line of fire
Updated 18 May 2021
Rebecca Anne Proctor
DUBAI: Amid the scenes of horror and human suffering unfolding in the Gaza Strip in recent days, one series of images stands out.
Shortly after 3 p.m. local time on Saturday, a salvo of rockets fired by Israeli drones struck a high-rise in central Gaza City. Five minutes after that first strike, heavier missiles fired by Israeli fighter-bombers slammed into the 12-story building, witnesses said, causing the structure to collapse in a cloud of dust and debris.
Israel has flattened other buildings in Gaza over the past week — just as it did during its 2014 ground incursion — and destroyed tunnels and houses said to be used by leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls the territory. But this attack was different.
The tower was home to the offices of Associated Press, the American news agency, the Qatar-funded Al-Jazeera media network and local news outlets.
In a tweet, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said it was “striking Hamas weapons hidden inside civilian buildings in Gaza,” but the claim has yet to be proven. The AP said it had “no indication” Hamas was in the building, something which would have been “actively checked” so as not to put journalists at risk.
The AP also said a dozen of its staff members and freelancers were in the building at the time of the IDF warning. All seem to have escaped unhurt. Al-Jazeera has also reported no casualties although it says valuable equipment and footage have been lost.
Information warfare has long been at the heart of the Israel-Hamas conflict. Both sides understand that powerful and simple imagery and story-telling can sway international opinion in a way that months of formal diplomacy or conventional military action cannot. Often outcomes are contested, while underlying events and motivations are hard to discern, emerging only after months and years of inquiry.
Last week’s events in Gaza are hardly the first time that the media has found itself in the line of fire during a Middle East conflict. In 2019 a US court found Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government liable for the death of American war correspondent Marie Colvin, 56, in February 2012 in the besieged city of Homs. She and French photographer Remi Ochlik, 28, died when the building they were in was shelled.
In 2003, a shell fired by an American tank at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad killed two journalists, a Reuters cameraman and a Spanish television anchor. The hotel had been a favorite of journalists and media personnel covering the US-led invasion.
Then there was the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla incident, when six boats manned by mainly Turkish pro-Palestinian supporters tried to sail to the Gaza Strip, only to be stopped at sea by abseiling Israeli commandos.
The activists were trying to illustrate that Gaza was (and is) closed to the outside world, that Israel controls access and that Palestinians living in the territory are under siege with few, if any, economic opportunities. The activists claimed to be simple humanitarians, albeit ones supported by professionally equipped TV crews and other media.
Israel said that hard-liners intent on confrontation had joined the more peaceful protesters. These agitators massed on one of the six boats and sparked the ensuing violence by trying to seize soldiers’ weapons. At least nine people died in the incident.
To Israel’s supporters, the actions of the commandos showed military skill and bravery.
To detractors they came across as trigger-happy troops intent on defending an illegal blockade.
On this latest occasion, Israel said that along with the journalists and residents who lived there, the high-rise in Gaza City also housed a Hamas intelligence unit. Israel often accuses Palestinian militants of using civilians and civilian buildings as shields for their activities.
“It is a perfectly legitimate target,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday in the wake of the tower’s destruction. Defenders of his stand quickly pointed to an article by Matti Friedman, a former AP journalist, published in The Atlantic magazine in 2014 after Israel’s bloody incursion into the Gaza Strip. Friedman wrote that he had seen that the building was also being used by Hamas.
“Hamas understood that reporters could be intimidated when necessary and that they would not report the intimidation. The AP staff in Gaza City would witness a rocket launch right beside their office, endangering reporters and other civilians nearby — and the AP wouldn’t report it, not even in AP articles about Israeli claims that Hamas was launching rockets from residential areas,” Friedman wrote.
That interpretation is contested — strongly. AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement on Sunday that his agency had operated in the Al-Jalaa Tower for 15 years. “We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building,” he said, adding: “We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk.”
The building’s other tenant, Al-Jazeera, has long been the Israeli government’s bete noire. In 2017, Israel said it was banning the news organization on the grounds that it was too close to Hamas.
At the time, Avigdor Lieberman, then Israeli defense minister (and a political hard-liner), described some of the outlet’s coverage as “Nazi Germany-style” propaganda. Other Arab states have often accused the TV station of propagating the views of Qatar as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, which is close to Hamas.
Al-Jazeera’s defenders say that the channel tells the story from both sides of any conflict and takes care to obtain comments from spokespeople in Israel. It has also pioneered coverage in previously obscure and dangerous locations, such as Gaza and Afghanistan, and provides a voice for those previously neglected.
The truth, according to Al-Jazeera’s supporters, is that the nationalist Israeli government, led by Netanyahu, is trying to suppress inconvenient truths and deflect attention from its own activities such as settlement building, which almost all of the international community views as illegal.
However, speaking to Arab News on the condition of anonymity, a former Al-Jazeera journalist said: “If anyone has followed Al-Jazeera’s coverage of Middle East upheavals through the decades, be it the Iraq invasion and insurgency, the overthrow of Egypt’s Islamist government or Israel’s wars with Hamas and Hezbollah, they will be in no doubt about the network’s editorial agenda.
“During the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, this overtly hostile approach of a TV network financed by a strategic ally left US administration officials so frustrated, angry and powerless that President George Bush reportedly considered bombing Al-Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha in 2004.
“Israeli officials probably experience the same disappointed rage at the network’s aggressive coverage every time conflict erupts in Gaza, which could well be the reason behind incidents like the attack on the high-rise — unless, in each case, the Israeli government knows something that the rest of the world doesn’t know.”
What the world does know is that journalists have often been caught in the crossfire, both literal and metaphoric, of these divergent views.
The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom, a think tank, claims that between 2000 and September 2018, Israel killed 43 journalists in the West Bank and Gaza. And on Monday, Ignacio Miguel Delgado Culebras, the Middle East and North Africa representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said that over the past week the CPJ has documented the bombing of three buildings housing 15 media outlets.
“Local journalists have also been injured covering the airstrikes and many lost their equipment in the bombed outlets. Journalists are also being hurt and arrested while covering protests in the West Bank. There is no indication that these violations of press freedom will subside any time soon,” Culebras said in a statement to Arab News.
“The IDF had known the locations of the buildings and warned residents to evacuate shortly before the airstrikes. They also claim that those buildings housed Hamas intelligence and military offices or some sort of Hamas’ presence, even though AP has said that they had no indication of such presence.
“These bombings and the fact that no foreign journalists are being allowed in Gaza raise the suspicion that Israel is trying to prevent coverage of the airstrikes and military operations in the Gaza Strip.”
Finally, some experts say, events in Gaza and elsewhere in the West Bank and Israel illustrate the growing dangers to journalists operating in conflict zones where front lines are often difficult to discern.
According to Aidan White, founder of the Ethical Journalism Network, the destruction of media assets in Gaza City is serious but by no means unusual. “If one looks back over the past 25 years, the targeting of media institutions and journalists themselves has increased dramatically,” he told Arab News.
This is happening “not least because the capacity of the media to report from war zones — and to be able to report wrongdoing and inappropriate behavior or war crimes — is greatly enhanced, and changing technology has had a lot to do with it.”
The phrase “truth is the first victim of war” could not ring more true now amid Israel’s campaign in Gaza. But then again, the truth rarely is told during times of war. History is written after the battles have taken place, the truces are signed and the fighting has ended.
It is the facts gleaned during moments of crisis and violence that are pivotal to this writing of history.
How East Jerusalem flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah got its own hashtag
Updated 17 May 2021
JERUSALEM: Israeli police in riot gear pushed a Palestinian protester to the ground in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, a moment captured on the smartphones of people looking on.
“See what they’re doing! They’re beating up women!” Aya Khalaf, a Palestinian social media influencer, screamed in the background as she caught the May 9 incident on a live stream to her 187,000 Instagram followers.
The scene is one of several shared on social media from the near-nightly confrontations between Israeli police and protesters against the expulsion of eight Palestinian families from the neighborhood, which is claimed by Jewish settlers.
The hashtag “#SaveSheikhJarrah” has gained momentum overseas, with British singer Dua Lipa and Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis among those expressing solidarity.
In October last year, an Israeli court ruled in favor of settlers who say the Palestinian families are living on land that used to belong to Jews.
Palestinians are appealing the decision at Israel’s Supreme Court.
But a court hearing was delayed earlier this month amid rising tensions at Sheikh Jarrah — which lies just a few minutes’ walk from the Old City’s Damascus Gate, another recent flashpoint.
Anger over the proposed evictions was a key factor behind tensions in Jerusalem over the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which last week escalated far beyond the holy city into the worst hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians for years.
Portraying itself as the defender of Palestinians in Jerusalem, the militant Islamist group Hamas launched a rocket assault on Israel, which hit back with multiple air and artillery strikes on Gaza.
A week later, nearly 200 people have been killed in Gaza, including 58 children, Gaza’s health ministry said, and 10 people have been killed in Israel, two of them children, according to authorities.
On Sunday in Sheikh Jarrah, Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian driver who had crashed his car into a police roadblock, injuring six officers.
AP’s top editor calls for probe into Israeli airstrike on media building
AP’s executive editor said the Israeli government has yet to provide clear evidence supporting its attack
She said AP journalists were “rattled” after the airstrike but are doing fine and reporting the news
Updated 17 May 2021
WASHINGTON: The Associated Press’ top editor is calling for an independent investigation into the Israeli airstrike that targeted and destroyed a Gaza City building housing the AP, broadcaster Al-Jazeera and other media, saying the public deserves to know the facts.
Separately, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel’s bombing of a building housing the media organizations as a possible war crime.
Sally Buzbee, AP’s executive editor, said Sunday that the Israeli government has yet to provide clear evidence supporting its attack, which leveled the 12-story Al-Jalaa tower.
The Israeli military, which gave AP journalists and other tenants about an hour to evacuate, claimed Hamas used the building for a military intelligence office and weapons development. Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said Israel was compiling evidence for the US but declined to commit to providing it within the next two days.
“We’re in the middle of fighting,” Conricus said Sunday. “That’s in process and I’m sure in due time that information will be presented.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would share any evidence of Hamas’ presence in the targeted building through intelligence channels. But neither the White House nor the State Department would say if any American official had seen it.
Buzbee said the AP has had offices in Al-Jalaa tower for 15 years and never was informed or had any indication that Hamas might be in the building. She said the facts must be laid out.
“We are in a conflict situation,” Buzbee said. “We do not take sides in that conflict. We heard Israelis say they have evidence; we don’t know what that evidence is.”
“We think it’s appropriate at this point for there to be an independent look at what happened yesterday — an independent investigation,” she added.
In remarks Sunday, Netanyahu repeated Israel’s claim that the building housed an intelligence office of Hamas. Asked if he had relayed supporting evidence of that in a call with President Joe Biden on Saturday, Netanyahu said that “we pass it through our intelligence people.”
The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym RSF, said in a letter to the court’s chief prosecutor that the offices of 23 international and local media organizations have been destroyed over the past six days.
RSF said it had strong reason to believe that the Israeli military’s “intentional targeting of media organizations and intentional destruction of their equipment” could violate one of the court’s statutes. It said the attacks serve “to reduce, if not neutralize, the media’s capacity to inform the public.”
RSF asked the international court, based in the Dutch city of The Hague, to include the recent attacks in a war crimes probe opened in March into Israel’s practices in Palestinian territories.
Buzbee said the AP journalists were “rattled” after the airstrike but are doing fine and reporting the news. She expressed concern about the impact on news coverage.
“This does impact the world’s right to know what is happening on both sides of the conflict in real time,” she said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone Saturday with AP’s president and CEO, Gary Pruitt. The State Department said Blinken offered “his unwavering support for independent journalists and media organizations around the world and noted the indispensability of their reporting in conflict zones.”
Buzbee and Conricus spoke on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” and Netanyahu was on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Israeli police assault Sky News Arabia reporter in Jerusalem
Sky News Arabia crew were covering a car-ramming incident in Sheikh Jarrah
Israeli police officers were seen violently pushing Firas Lutfi
Updated 16 May 2021
LONDON: Israeli police assaulted a reporter from Sky News Arabia on Sunday as he covered a car-ramming attack in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Israeli police killed a Palestinian youth after he ran over four police officers at a checkpoint in Sheikh Jarrah, which has been at the center of recent tensions.
The Sky News Arabia crew filming at the scene said police assaulted correspondent Firas Lutfi, and tried to break their camera.
“They beat me and tried to break the camera to prevent us from covering,” Lutfi said, adding the crew was able to transmit direct images of the incident and complete the coverage.
Shortly after, police officers were seen violently pushing Lutfi and one officer tried to block the camera with his hand.
Israeli police said four officers were injured in the attack and that the neighborhood has been sealed off.
Clashes erupted in the area between Palestinians and Israeli forces last month after Israel planned to evict Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah to make way for Israeli settlers.
Those protests spread to Al-Aqsa mosque and sparked the exchange of fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.