BBC journalist Alan Johnston has now been held in captivity in Gaza for over three months. HonestReporting has joined the calls for his release, not only on humanitarian grounds but also because it is clear that foreign journalists cannot possibly report objectively from the Gaza Strip while under the threat of intimidation, violence or kidnapping. On 9 June, Palestinian terrorists added yet another threat to freedom of the press in Gaza.
Almost a year since the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, a repeat attempt during an assault on an IDF position at the Kissufim crossing between Gaza and Israel failed to make international headlines. It did, however, raise alarm bells amongst the international (and Palestinian) press due to the gunmen’s use of a vehicle disguised as a television truck to stage their assault. As the Jerusalem Post reported:
“In Saturday’s attack, four gunmen drove a white jeep with press markings in English and Arabic up to the Gaza-Israel border, penetrated the border fence and assaulted a guard tower in what Islamic Jihad and the army said was a failed attempt to capture an Israeli soldier. IDF troops killed one gunman, while the others escaped.
The attackers, from Islamic Jihad and the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, abandoned the jeep. AP photographs show a white armored vehicle of a type used by reporters, its windshield pocked by bullet holes, bearing red markings reading “TV” and “Press.”
The FPA [Foreign Press Association] in its statement declared that it condemns the use of a vehicle marked with TV insignia in an attack against IDF positions in Kissufim.
“Armored vehicles marked with TV are an invaluable protection for genuine journalists working in hostile environments,” the statement said. “The FPA has long campaigned for the continued availability of armored vehicles for its members, despite official opposition in some quarters. The abuse of this recognized protection for the working journalist is a grave development and we condemn those that carried it out. Such an incident will reduce the protection offered by marked vehicles.”
The FPA pledged to continue to campaign for the legitimate use of these vehicles for its members, a job which it believes has been made more complicated by Saturday’s incident.”
ASSAULT ON PRESS FREEDOM CONDEMNED
While we take issue with the false implications that Israel would ever intentionally target journalists, the Palestinian Journalists Union also criticized the misuse of press insignia:
“The use of vehicles that carry ‘Press,’ ‘TV’ or other signs … exposes journalists’ lives to danger, gives the Israeli occupation a pretext to target and kill journalists and restricts their ability to perform their professional and national duties. We demand all parties stop using these methods.”
As Israel Government Press Office director Danny Seaman notes, referring to Palestinian terrorists:
“They know the measures that Israel takes in its efforts not to hit journalists. They see this as a tactical advantage in their plans to attack Israel. The terrorists know that Israel is a country that respects freedom of the press. These people have no respect for human rights so why should they respect the sanctity of journalists?”
“Using a vehicle with press markings to carry out a military attack is a serious violation of the laws of war, and it also puts journalists at risk,” said Whitson. [Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW Middle East director]
Customary international humanitarian law provides that journalists not taking direct part in hostilities in armed conflict zones “shall be considered as civilians.” The deliberate abuse of this protected status in order to breach the confidence of an adversary in an attempt to kill, injure or capture them, would amount to an act of perfidy, a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”
We may not always agree with what journalists write or broadcast about the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Freedom of the press, however, is a fundamental value and essential if the media is to report on the Palestinians, free from the threats imposed by the behavior of Palestinian terror groups and their allies.
Send your messages of support for the Foreign Press Association’s stand against the abuse of press freedoms – firstname.lastname@example.org