Media caught in crossfire of Israeli onslaught

Published May 17, 2021
Workers clear the rubble of a building that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, that housed The Associated Press, broadcaster Al-Jazeera and other media outlets, in Gaza City on May 16. — AP
Workers clear the rubble of a building that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, that housed The Associated Press, broadcaster Al-Jazeera and other media outlets, in Gaza City on May 16. — AP

JERUSALEM: Media offices reduced to rubble, alleged “manipulation” of the press to trick the enemy: Many are concerned truth could become yet another casualty of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

On Saturday afternoon, the owner of the 13-storey Jala Tower housing Qatar-based Al Jazeera television and the US news agency The Associated Press received a troubling call from the Israeli forces.

Jawad Mehdi said an Israeli intelligence officer warned him he had just one hour to ensure that the building was evacuated, and his plea for “10 extra minutes”, broadcast live by Al Jazeera, was denied.

Israeli defence officials claimed the building housed not only news bureaus but offices of the Islamist Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip.

Within seconds, journalists scrambled to gather as much of their equipment and belongings as they could, then fled, some running down the stairs, others using the cramped lift.

Al Jazeera then broadcast live footage of the air strike that destroyed the building, sending a huge mushroom cloud of dust and debris billowing into the sky.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday defended the strike.

“An intelligence office for the Palestinian terrorist organisation (was) housed in that building that plots and organises the terror attacks against Israeli civilians,” Netanyahu told CBS News.

“So it is a perfectly legitimate target. I can tell you that we took every precaution to make sure that there were no civilian injuries, in fact, no deaths.”

Israel has demolished several other towers in Gaza in deadly air strikes since Monday which it says targeted Hamas bomb-making facilities and the homes of senior militant commanders in response to rocket attacks.

But the latest attack triggered a storm of condemnation, with some accusing Israel of trying to “silence” media coverage of Gaza, where dozens of children are among the hundreds killed.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists demanded from the Israeli government a “detailed and documented justification for this military attack”.

“This latest attack on a building long known by Israel to house international media raises the spectre that the Israel Defence Forces is deliberately targeting media facilities in order to disrupt coverage of the human suffering in Gaza,” said CPJ executive director Joel Simon.

“Journalists have an obligation and duty to cover unfolding events in Gaza and it would be illegal for the IDF to use military means to prevent it.” Human rights group Amnesty International wrote on Twitter that the Israeli attack must be “investigated as a war crime. The strike fits a pattern of Israel’s collective punishment of the Palestinian population.” To enable them to continue working, Agence France-Presse has opened its Gaza office to AP and Al Jazeera colleagues.

Israel’s actions have baffled and shocked journalists who had already been trying to come to terms with another bizarre incident that happened just after midnight on Thursday.

The Israeli army sent foreign media correspondents a WhatsApp message saying that its troops had entered Gaza.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2021

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