Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists

The attack targeted a command center belonging to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, resulting in the deaths of four militants and injuries to 17 other people, including eight journalists. (AFP/File)
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Updated 12 April 2024
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Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists

  • ‘Assaults on hospitals have further restricted the ability of the press to work safely,’ says NGO official

LONDON: Media watchdogs have called for an independent investigation into an Israeli attack on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Gaza that injured eight journalists.

The strike on March 31 also killed four people and injured nine others.

“Israel’s March 31 attack on a hospital compound where journalists were sheltering and working must be independently investigated,” said Committee to Protect Journalists Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna in New York City.

With media offices facing widespread destruction in Gaza, journalists in the enclave have increasingly sought refuge in hospitals.

However, attacks on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital and the March 18 assault on Al-Shifa Hospital, where journalists were arrested and faced violence, have rendered even hospitals unsafe for press personnel.

“Assaults on hospitals have further restricted the ability of the press to work safely,” added de la Serna.

Reports show that on March 31, an Israeli drone strike hit a tent encampment outside Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, central Gaza, near a tent provided by the Turkish Anadolu news agency, where journalists had sought refuge.

The attack targeted a command center belonging to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, resulting in the deaths of four militants and injuries to 17 other people, including eight journalists, according to multiple media outlets and the Palestinian press freedom group MADA.

Items including cameras, laptops and mobile phones belonging to journalists were also destroyed in the strike.

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate in central Gaza has warned of deteriorating conditions for journalists in the enclave, leading many to seek refuge and access to electricity in hospitals in order to file stories.

But recent attacks have eroded confidence in the safety of hospitals across Gaza.

During the Israeli operation in Al-Shifa Hospital on March 18, Al Jazeera Arabic reporter Ismail Al-Ghoul was detained for almost 12 hours alongside several other journalists.

Witnesses reported that soldiers assaulted the group of journalists, destroyed their tent, and damaged equipment and press vehicles.

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Israel revokes order to cut AP live Gaza video feed

Updated 20 sec ago
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Israel revokes order to cut AP live Gaza video feed

JERUSALEM: Israel walked back its decision to shut down an Associated Press live video feed of war-torn Gaza on Tuesday, following a protest from the US news agency and concern from the White House.
Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said he had revoked an earlier order that accused the AP of breaching a new ban on providing rolling footage of Gaza to Qatar-based satellite channel Al Jazeera.
“I have now ordered to cancel the operation and return the equipment to the AP agency,” Karhi said in a statement, after Washington called on Israel to reverse the move.
“We’ve been engaging directly with the government of Israel to express our concerns over this action and to ask them to reverse it,” a White House spokesperson said.
Karhi’s original order earlier Tuesday said communications ministry inspectors had “confiscated the equipment” of AP on orders approved by the government “in accordance with the law.”
The AP said Israeli officials had seized its camera and broadcasting equipment at a location in the Israeli town of Sderot that overlooks the northern Gaza Strip.
In a statement issued after the order the news agency said it “decries in the strongest terms” the move by the Israeli government.
Reacting after Israeli officials ordered the equipment to be returned, it added: “While we are pleased with this development, we remain concerned about the Israeli government’s use of the foreign broadcaster law and the ability of independent journalists to operate freely in Israel.”
AP said Al Jazeera was among thousands of clients that receive live video feeds from the agency.
Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said the government “went crazy.”
“This is not Al Jazeera, this is an American media outlet that has won 53 Pulitzer Prizes,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
AFP global news director Phil Chetwynd said Israel’s initial order was “an attack on press freedom.”
“The free flow of verified information and images from reliable sources is vital in the current highly-charged context,” he said in a statement.
“We would urge the authorities to immediately reverse this decision and to allow all journalists to work freely and without hindrance.”
The United Nations said it was “shocking.”
“The Associated Press, of all news organizations, should be allowed to do its work freely and free of any harassment,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera was taken off the air in Israel this month after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government voted to shut it down over its coverage of the Gaza war.
Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem offices were shuttered, its equipment confiscated and its team’s accreditations pulled.
The AP said communications ministry officials arrived at its location in Sderot on Tuesday afternoon and seized the equipment.
It said officials had handed the AP a piece of paper, signed by the communications minister, alleging it was violating the country’s new foreign broadcast law.
The ministry later confirmed the incident.
It said the US news agency regularly took images of Gaza from the balcony of a house in Sderot, “including focusing on the activities of IDF (army) soldiers and their location.”
“Even though the inspectors of the Ministry of Communications warned them that they were breaking the law and that they should cut off Al Jazeera from receiving their content and not transfer a broadcast to Al Jazeera, they continued to do so,” it said.
The AP said it had been broadcasting a general view of northern Gaza before its equipment was seized, and that the live feed has generally shown smoke rising over the Palestinian territory.
“The AP complies with Israel’s military censorship rules, which prohibit broadcasts of details like troops movements that could endanger soldiers,” the agency added.
The Foreign Press Association in Israel said it was “alarmed” by the confiscation of the AP’s equipment, calling it “a slippery slope.”
It denounced Israel’s “dismal” record on press freedom during the Gaza war, and called the move against AP “outrageous censorship.”
In the 2024 press freedom index by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Israel ranked 101st out of 180 countries — dropping four positions from the previous year.
The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Hamas also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,647 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


Palestinian detainees ‘tortured’ in Israeli hospitals, BBC investigation finds

Updated 21 May 2024
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Palestinian detainees ‘tortured’ in Israeli hospitals, BBC investigation finds

  • Patients are kept shackled to hospital beds, blindfolded, naked, forced to wear diapers
  • Probe recalls report alleging violation of detainees’ health rights as act of revenge

LONDON: A BBC investigation has revealed that Palestinian detainees from Gaza are “routinely tortured” in Israeli hospitals.

According to medical workers and whistleblowers interviewed by the broadcaster, detainees are kept shackled to hospital beds, blindfolded, sometimes naked, and forced to wear diapers.

Some in need of surgery and other medical procedures are denied painkillers, causing “an unacceptable amount of pain.”

Testimonies indicated that critically-ill patients held in makeshift military facilities are denied proper treatment due to public hospitals’ reluctance to transfer and treat them.

The Israeli army has denied the allegations, asserting that detainees at the facility in question were treated “appropriately and carefully.”

Yossi Walfisch, the head of the country’s Medical Ethics Board, said in a letter: “Terrorists are given proper medical treatment with the aim of keeping restraints to a minimum, and while maintaining the safety of the treating staff.”

The investigation detailed various episodes of mistreatment, which were described in some testimonies as “a deliberate act of revenge.”

In one instance, a detainee had his leg amputated after being denied treatment for an infected wound.

In another, a doctor refused to administer painkillers to an elderly patient while treating an infected amputation wound.

Senior anesthesiologist Yoel Donchin confirmed that patients at Sde Teiman hospital were kept blindfolded and permanently shackled to their beds, while forced to wear diapers instead of being allowed to use toilets.

Donchin argued that the practice could cause long-term nerve damage and admitted to performing surgical procedures on handcuffed patients due to a lack of alternatives.

Despite complaints from medical staff, only minor changes have been implemented.

An army spokesperson said that violence against detainees was “absolutely prohibited” and promised to investigate the allegations.

The revelations recall a report in February by Physicians for Human Rights Israel, which described Israel’s civilian and military prisons as “an apparatus of retribution and revenge,” violating detainees’ human rights, particularly their right to health.

In March, following a similar BBC investigation into alleged abuse and torture by the Israeli army at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, the UK government called for an “investigation and explanation” into the allegations.

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Israeli communications minister orders return of seized camera equipment to AP

In this image from video, Israeli officials seize AP video equipment from an apartment block in Sderot, Southern Israel, Tuesday
Updated 21 May 2024
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Israeli communications minister orders return of seized camera equipment to AP

  • Israeli officials seized the equipment after accusing the news organization of violating a new media law by providing images to Al Jazeera
  • The Biden administration, journalism organizations and an Israeli opposition leader put pressure on Netanyahu

JERUSALEM: Israel’s communications minister ordered the government to return seized camera equipment to The Associated Press after blocking its live video of Gaza earlier Tuesday.
Israeli officials seized the equipment after accusing the news organization of violating a new media law by providing images to Al Jazeera.
Israeli officials used the new law on May 5 to close down the offices of Qatar-based Al Jazeera, confiscating its equipment, banning its broadcasts and blocking its websites.
The Biden administration, journalism organizations and an Israeli opposition leader put pressure on the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after officials seizing the AP equipment.
Al Jazeera, which is based in Qatar, is one of thousands of AP customers, and it receives live video from AP and other news organizations.
“The Associated Press decries in the strongest terms the actions of the Israeli government to shut down our longstanding live feed showing a view into Gaza and seize AP equipment,” said Lauren Easton, vice president of corporate communications at the news organization. “The shutdown was not based on the content of the feed but rather an abusive use by the Israeli government of the country’s new foreign broadcaster law.”
Officials from the Communications Ministry arrived at the AP location in the southern town of Sderot on Tuesday afternoon and seized the equipment. They handed the AP a piece of paper, signed by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, alleging it was violating the country’s foreign broadcaster law.
Karhi is the minister who later ordered the equipment to be returned.
Shortly before its equipment was seized on Tuesday, AP was broadcasting a general view of northern Gaza. The AP complies with Israel’s military censorship rules, which prohibit broadcasts of details like troop movements that could endanger soldiers. The live video has generally shown smoke rising over the territory.
The AP had been ordered verbally last Thursday to cease the live transmission, which it refused to do.
Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid called the move against AP “an act of madness.”
“This is not Al Jazeera. This is an American news outlet,” he said. “This government acts as if it has decided to make sure at any cost that Israel will be shunned all over the world.”
Karhi responded to Lapid that the law passed unanimously by the government states that any device used to deliver Al Jazeera content could be seized.
“We will continue to act decisively against anyone who tries to harm our soldiers and the security of the state, even if you don’t like it,” he wrote to Lapid on X.
When Israel closed down Al Jazeera’s offices earlier this month, media groups warned of the serious implications for press freedom in the country. The law gives Karhi, part of the hard-right flank of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, wide leeway to enforce it against other media.
“Israel’s move today is a slippery slope,” the Foreign Press Association said in a statement, warning that the law “could allow Israel to block media coverage of virtually any news event on vague security grounds.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the US was “looking into” what happened and that it was “essential” for journalists to be allowed to do their jobs.
Israel has long had a rocky relationship with Al Jazeera, accusing it of bias against the country, and Netanyahu has called it a “terror channel” that spreads incitement.
Al Jazeera is one of the few international news outlets that has remained in Gaza throughout the war, broadcasting scenes of airstrikes and overcrowded hospitals and accusing Israel of massacres. AP is also in Gaza.
During the previous Israel-Hamas war in 2021, the army destroyed the building housing AP’s Gaza office, claiming Hamas had used the building for military purposes. The AP denied any knowledge of a Hamas presence, and the army never provided any evidence to back up its claim.
The war in Gaza began with a Hamas attack in Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage. More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed since then, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count.


Media watchdog ‘welcomes’ arrest warrants for Hamas and Israeli leaders

Updated 21 May 2024
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Media watchdog ‘welcomes’ arrest warrants for Hamas and Israeli leaders

  • ICC’s action is a promise to end impunity for the deaths of journalists, says Committee to Protect Journalists

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed the International Criminal Court’s announcement on Monday that it was seeking arrest warrants for leaders of both Hamas and Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri, and Ismail Haniyeh might face prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“The ICC’s application for arrest warrants for crimes against humanity in Israel and Palestine recognizes atrocities committed against civilians,” said CPJ CEO Jodie Ginsberg.

“The civilian deaths include an unprecedented number of journalists killed since Oct. 7. The ICC’s action is a promise for an end to the impunity that has historically plagued the killing and persecution of those who write the first draft of history.”

Over 100 journalists and media workers have been killed since the beginning of the conflict last October, the vast majority of them in Gaza by Israeli forces.

CPJ reported that the conflict has claimed the lives of more journalists in three months than have ever been killed in a single country over an entire year since record-keeping began, underscoring the tragic toll this war has had on journalists.

The watchdog, along with corroborating investigations by Reuters, AFP, and Human Rights Watch, has documented at least three instances of journalists killed by Israeli forces that involved deliberate targeting.

An additional 10 cases may also involve deliberate targeting, which, according to international law, could constitute war crimes.

CPJ has urged the ICC to investigate these killings and called on Israel to grant investigators unrestricted access to Gaza, highlighting a disturbing pattern of systematic killings of Palestinian journalists that have consistently gone unpunished.

The announcement of potential arrest warrants for Netanyahu was met with strong reactions.

Netanyahu called the decision “a moral outrage of historic proportions,” while US President Joe Biden rejected the ICC’s application altogether, adding that “there’s no equivalence between Israel and Hamas.”


Meta Oversight Board set to rule on ‘genocide’ video case, two others

Updated 21 May 2024
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Meta Oversight Board set to rule on ‘genocide’ video case, two others

  • Meta submitted cases as part of goal to create policy on criminal allegations based on nationality
  • Decision to help Meta better navigate critical questions at a crucial time, board spokesperson told Arab News

LONDON: The Meta Oversight Board announced on Tuesday that it is reviewing three cases, including one involving a user accusing Israel of committing “genocide” and another concerning a Facebook comment in Arabic.

Meta, which submitted the cases as part of its review system aimed at creating a policy on criminal allegations based on nationality, said it removed the posts for breaching its Hate Speech Community Standards.

The first case involves a user’s reply on Threads, featuring a video that includes accusations of “genocide” and claims that “Israelis are criminals.”

The other two cases involve a December speech in which a user called all Russians and Americans “criminals” and a recent post in which a user stated that “all Indians are rapists.”

An Oversight Board spokesperson told Arab News: “Tensions in the region, and increasingly around the world, are dominating the discussion online.

“It’s vitally important that when looking at these issues, Meta gets the balance right and works to protect safety, without unduly limiting the ability of people to speak out about the abuses they see or the frustration they experience.”

The spokesperson added that while the board cannot review every appeal, it selects those of critical importance to public discourse “to help Meta better navigate these critical questions at a crucial time.”

Meta said the three posts were removed after human review for “targeting people with criminal allegations based on nationality.”

Despite its decision, Meta referred the cases to the Oversight Board to address the challenge of handling criminal allegations directed at people based on their nationality, as they might be interpreted as attacks on a nation’s policies.

The board’s decision to review these cases comes as social media platforms have seen an uptick in violent, hateful, and misleading content since the start of Israel’s war on Gaza last October.

The Oversight Board reported a nearly 2,000 percent increase in appeals from the region in the first three weeks after Oct. 7, with many complaints about content inciting violence and promoting hate speech.

The moderators have called for public comments addressing the platform’s hate speech policy in relation to users’ ability to speak out against state actions during times of conflict and Meta’s human rights responsibilities in relation to content targeting users based on nationality.

They also requested insights into potential criteria for determining whether a user is targeting a concept or institution rather than people based on nationality.

In the coming weeks, the board members will deliberate on the cases.

Facebook and its parent company Meta have previously been accused of deliberately censoring pro-Palestine content. Human Rights Watch stated last December that Meta routinely engages in “six key patterns of undue censorship” of pro-Palestine posts.

Recently, the board introduced a new 30-day expedited review mechanism and will rule on whether the pro-Palestinian phrase “from the river to the sea” is considered “acceptable” speech.

In April, the board overturned Meta’s decision to leave up a Facebook post claiming that Hamas originated from the population of Gaza, comparing them to a “savage horde,” leading Meta to take the post down.