Summary

  • On November 18, the Israeli army targeted Hamas’ operational communications arrays and antennas on the roof of two buildings -- the Shawa Hussari and Al Shourouq towers. A number of foreign media outlet offices were located on the lower floors of the Al Shourouq tower. (Hamas has systematically placed strategic infrastructure and weapons close to or within civilian buildings.)
  • Many political advocacy NGOs active in the Durban strategy, including false accusations during the 2008-09 Gaza conflict, immediately accused Israel of deliberately targeting journalists and the foreign media. As in the past, these statements provided highly incomplete factual information, lacked context, and made allegations of “war crimes” and other legal claims without any evidence. 
  • The NGOs incorrectly declare that Israel acted unlawfully -- simply because the buildings contained civilians. Under international humanitarian law, if civilian objects are being used for military objectives, they are indeed legitimate targets (attacks must comply with the rules of proportionality). This is particularly the case where combatants are exploiting those objects for cover, as Islamic Jihad members have.
  • None of these NGOs acknowledges that Al Aqsa and Al Quds TV are an integral part of the Hamas military structure; that Al Aqsa is a Specially Designated Global Terrorist; that channels are used by Hamas to transmit threats to the Israeli civilian population; that they are used to incite genocide and war crimes on the civilian population of Israel; that they are used to indoctrinate and recruit child soldiers.
  • Adalah and Al Mezan falsely claimed that Israel was intending to “demolish the ‘Al-Shoroq Tower’.”  The building was not demolished; rather, the IDF issued statements that it was targeting installations on the roof of the building, and based on video footage from the strikes, that is exactly what the IDF did.
  • Reporters without Borders claimed that “these attacks constitute obstruction of freedom of information,” but, as mentioned, there is no protection under international law for Hamas to engage in incitement to violence or hate speech.
  • The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), funded by European governments, accused Israel of “a systematic crime to silence the press and prevent journalists from reporting on the crimes that are being committed by Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip.”  This claim is wildly incongruous with the reality of hundreds of media stories, blog posts, tweets, and other reports emanating from Gaza.
  • HRW’s Executive Director, Ken Roth, characterized these news outlets simply as “pro-Palestinian.” The failure to provide the full context is highly deceptive and immoral.
  • None of the NGOs involved in this campaign possesses the expertise to determine whether a military action was “indiscriminate.”  To make such claims, they would need access to IDF military intelligence; specific information known to the IDF commanders prior to the strikes, as well as their intentions; knowledge of how the targets fit into the overall war effort; location of Hamas installations, combatants, and weapons; among many other factors.

Introduction

On Sunday, November 18, the Israeli army destroyed Hamas’ operational communications arrays and antennas on the roof of two buildings - the Shawa Hussari and Al Shourouq towers.  In addition to hosting antennas, the top floors of the two buildings contained the offices of Hamas’ Al Aqsa and Al Quds satellite television networks. A number of foreign media outlet offices were located on the lower floors of the Al Shourouq tower. 

Hamas deliberately located its communications infrastructure at the top of these buildings in order to create a situation of “human shields” by the journalists, hoping to immunize themselves from attack. Throughout the war, Hamas and other terror groups have also been launching rocket attacks on Israeli civilians from within the vicinity of these offices and close to reporters in the field.  As a result of the presence of civilians in the lower parts of the buildings, the IDF specifically limited its strikes to the roofs in order to minimize any collateral damage.  

Another strike on Monday, November 19, on the Al Shourouq tower, targeted operatives of Islamic Jihad who were hiding in the building. Ramez Harb, a leader of Islamic Jihad’s Al Quds brigades, and three other top terror leaders were killed.  All four were directly involved with the planning, manufacture, and execution of rocket attacks on Israeli civilians and other attacks.

Many political advocacy NGOs active in the Durban strategy, including false accusations during the 2008-09 Gaza conflict, immediately accused Israel of deliberately targeting journalists and the foreign media.  As in the past, these statements provided incomplete factual information, lacked context, and made accusations of “war crimes” and other legal claims that were based on no evidence.  It appears that these organizations were more interested in advancing their politicized narratives rather than objectively reporting on events. These failings are in violation of ethical standards and “Best Practices” guidelines for fact-finding, such as those specified in the Lund-London Guidelines for NGO Fact-Finding.

Contrary to NGO claims, Al Aqsa TV is not a “civilian” media outlet, but rather is an arm of Hamas and is a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the US Treasury Department. According to the Department, “Al-Aqsa is a primary Hamas media outlet and airs programs and music videos designed to recruit children to become Hamas armed fighters and suicide bombers upon reaching adulthood.” In addition, the station routinely broadcasts songs and videos inciting violence, threatening the civilian population of Israel, and calling for genocide of the Jewish people.  Statements include “From the Palestinian people to the Zionists, we’ve missed the suicide attacks.  Expect us soon in bus stations and at cafes”; and “From the Palestinian people to the Zionists, don’t go to sleep, because we may get you in your sleep.”  During the current war, the station has issued several deliberately false reports as part of the Hamas media war, including,

  • “Al-Qassam Brigades shelled Tel Aviv for the first time with a locally made rocket. The electricity network in the southern part of the city was hit.” [Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas), Nov. 18, 2012]
  • “Media of the enemy: International airport Ben Gurion closed, planes being redirected to a secret base in the north [of Israel].” [Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas), Nov. 15, 2012]

Similarly, Al Quds TV is described by Al Jazeera “as the mouthpiece of Hamas…broadcast[ing] content that serves to promote and glorify the image of the political and military arms of the movement.”  Repetitive videos of Hamas military operations and broadcasts containing virulent antisemitism and inciting violence dominate the channel’s coverage.

Legal Background

Under international law, there is no restriction on targeting communications infrastructure that are part of the “military command and control system” or that because of their “nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose partial or total destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage.” These include “the installations of broadcasting and television stations of fundamental military importance as military objectives.” In addition, under Article 51(7) of Additional Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions, military objectives are not immune from attack simply because of the presence of civilians or civilian objects.  And under Article 8(2)(b) (xxiii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, it is a “war crime” to “utilize[e] the presence of a civilian or other protected person to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations.”

In an analogous case, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia found that NATO’s targeting of Serbian Television was legal during the 1999 operation in Kosovo:

Insofar as the attack actually was aimed at disrupting the communications network, it was legally acceptable ... NATO’s targeting of the RTS building for propaganda purposes was an incidental (albeit complementary) aim of its primary goal of disabling the Serbian military command and control system and to destroy the nerve system and apparatus that keeps Milosević in power

Moreover, under international law, there is no international legal protection for incitement to violence or hate speech.  Most countries have laws criminalizing this speech.  The Nuremberg Tribunals found that incitement can constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Article III(b) of the Convention Against Genocide criminalizes "direct and public incitement to commit genocide and several people were prosecuted at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on the basis of using the media for incitement and hate speech.

NGO Omissions and Distortions

NGO statements omit these crucial facts in several respects:

  • None of the NGO statements mentions that Hamas operational communications infrastructure was located on the roofs of the buildings.
  • The NGOs do not provide examples of how Al Aqsa and Al Quds TV are an integral part of the Hamas military structure; how Al Aqsa is a specially designated global terrorist; how channels are used by Hamas to transmit threats to the Israeli civilian population; how they are used to incite genocide and war crimes on the civilian population of Israel; how they are used to indoctrinate and recruit child soldiers. The NGOs also did not mention that Hamas used these stations to transmit military and other operational information.  HRW’s Executive Director, Ken Roth, characterized these news outlets simply as “pro-Palestinian.” The failure to provide this critical information and context is deceptive and immoral.
  • None of the NGOs involved in this campaign possesses the expertise to determine whether a military action was “indiscriminate.”  To make such claims, they would need access to IDF military intelligence; specific information known to the IDF commanders prior to the strikes, as well as their intentions; knowledge of how the targets fit into the overall war effort; location of Hamas installations, combatants, and weapons; among many other factors.
  • The NGOs incorrectly claim that Israel acted unlawfully because the media buildings contained civilians. As discussed above, under international humanitarian law, if civilian objects are being used for military objectives, they are indeed legitimate targets (provided there is compliance with the rules of proportionality). This is especially true where combatants are exploiting those objects for cover, in violation of the laws of war.  As mentioned, several military commanders for Islamic Jihad were hiding in the building and Hamas intentionally located its communication infrastructure near the presence of foreign journalists.
  • PCHR accused Israel of “a systematic crime to silence the press and prevent journalists from reporting on the crimes that are being committed by Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip.”  This claim is incongruous with the reality of hundreds of media stories, blog posts, tweets, and other reports emanating from Gaza daily. Jodi Rudoren, New York Times correspondent, remarked on her Facebook page that, “I am (not) sleeping at a hotel filled with foreign journalists, a place I am confident that Israel is not trying to hit -- and in fact is probably trying pretty hard to avoid . . .So, yes, it's scary that there are bombs dropping so close, but not scary in the sense of actually thinking something terrible could happen to me, at least not at night in my hotel room. Which means we journalists just don't experience the war the way our neighbors on either side of the border do” (emphasis added).
  • Adalah and Al Mezan falsely claimed that Israel was intending to “demolish the ‘Al-Shoroq Tower’”.  These organizations possess zero information regarding the intention of Israeli military operations or what information was known to IDF commanders prior to the strikes. Moreover, the building was not demolished; rather, the IDF issued statements that it was targeting installations on the roof of the building, and based on video footage from the strikes, that is exactly what the IDF did.
  • Reporters without Borders claimed that “these attacks constitute obstruction of freedom of information,” but, as mentioned, there is no legal protection under international law for Hamas to engage in incitement to violence or hate speech.

Excerpts from NGO statements

Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), “PCHR Strongly Condemns Targeting of Journalists in Gaza by Israeli Warplanes,” November 18, 2012
PCHR funding: Oxfam NOVIB (Netherlands), Christian Aid (UK), Dan Church Aid (Denmark), EU, Ireland, Denmark, Norway

  • PCHR stresses that journalists and media professionals, like civilian persons, enjoy special protection in time of war under international humanitarian law; targeting them constitutes a systematic crime to silence the press and prevent journalists from reporting on the crimes that are being committed by Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip
  • PCHR strongly condemns crimes committed by Israeli forces against journalists and media professionals, who enjoy special protection in time of war under the international humanitarian law.  PCHR calls upon the international community, in particular the High Contracting Parties to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, to fulfill their obligations to ensure respect for the Convention, and to effectively intervene to prevent grave breaches of the Convention by Israel.

Adalah and Al Mezan, “Adalah and Al Mezan to Israeli Military Advocate General: Bombing of Civilian Media Building in Gaza Constitutes a Serious Violation of the Laws of War,” November 18, 2012
Adalah funding: Oxfam NOVIB (Netherlands), EU, New Israel Fund, Christian Aid (UK), EED (Germany), the pooled funds of Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands via the NGO Development Center (NDC)
Al Mezan funding: Core donors (2009) are the NGO Development Center (NDC: Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands), Norway, Diakonia (Sweden), Trocaire (Ireland) and the EU.

  • Under international customary law, civilian objects enjoy full protection from any attack. Attacks must be limited strictly to military objectives. Insofar as objects are concerned, military objectives are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage. According to these criteria “Al-Shoroq Tower” is a civilian building, and therefore it is prohibited to attack it.

Al Mezan, “Direct IOF airstrike targets media offices and workers in Gaza, Al Mezan condemns the attack and calls for international intervention to protect civilians,” November 18, 2012

  • Al Mezan, while appreciating the important role the media plays in the situation in Gaza and the media workers who put their safety and life at great risk to show the world what is happening in Gaza, strongly condemns the IOF deliberate attack on media offices in Gaza. This attack reflects the IOF’s stark disregard to international law and civilian life.
  • Al Mezan stresses that the continued failure of international community to condemn IOF’s serious violations of international law and seeking to hold those who order and/or commit them accountable has only allowed, even encouraged, Israel to continue these violations. Al Mezan therefore reiterates its calls on the international community to make effective interventions to end Israel’s aggression and protect civilians; including media workers, from the IOF illegal attacks on Gaza.

Palestinian NGOs, including PCHR, Al Mezan, Al Dameer, Gaza Community Mental Health Programme; posted by Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), “Palestinian civil society organisation call on international community to stop the offensive on Gaza,” November 18, 2012

  • Over the past 48 hours, Israeli forces have intensified the bombardments in a serious escalation, targeting civilian lives and property. This morning, Israeli forces directly bombarded media offices in Gaza City, seriously wounding a number of journalists.

Reporters Without Borders (RWB), “RWB condemns air strikes on news media in Gaza city,” November 18, 2012

  • “These attacks constitute obstruction of freedom of information,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We remind the Israeli authorities that, under humanitarian law, the news media enjoy the same protection as civilians and cannot be regarded as military targets.”
  • Even if the targeted media support Hamas, this does not in any way legitimize the attacks. We call for a transparent investigation into the circumstances of these air strikes. Attacks on civilian targets are war crimes and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions. Those responsible must be identified.
  • Information was also one of the victims of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009 (read the RWB report). At the time, Reporters Without Borders condemned Israel’s decision to declare the Gaza Strip a “closed military zone” and deny access to journalists working for international media. The IDF also targeted pro-Hamas media during Operation Cast Lead.

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), “In conflict, Israel must respect media,” November 18, 2012

  • “Journalists are civilians and are protected under international law in military conflict,” said CPJ Deputy Director, Robert Mahoney. “Israel knows this and should cease targeting facilities housing media organizations and journalists immediately.”

International Solidarity movement, “Voices of Resistance,” November 18, 2012

  • Quote by Haidar Eid: “Apartheid Israel must not get away with its crimes against the innocent civilians of Gaza.  What more does the international community need to see to be convinced to act than the dozens of dead corpses and amputated bodies of children and women in Gaza? We no longer count on governments, especially Western, but rather on people of conscience and civil society to exert whatever pressure they can on the fascist government of Israel to stop its war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in broad day light!”

Amnesty International, “Israel/Gaza conflict: UN must impose arms embargo, send international monitors immediately,” November 19, 2012

  • The Israeli military reports that it has attacked more than 1,350 targets in the Gaza Strip since 14 November. Israeli military forces have fired artillery into densely populated residential areas, attacked government and media buildings, and bombed the family homes of members of Palestinian armed groups, killing and wounding Palestinian civilians.