Press freedom advocates strongly condemned Israel’s bombing of a building in Gaza which housed the offices of Al Jazeera and the Associated Press news agency, calling it a brazen attempt to “silence” journalists covering the ongoing Israeli military offensive that has killed dozens of people.
The 11-story al-Jalaa building, which also houses a number of residences and other offices, was destroyed in an Israeli strike on Saturday afternoon. Dust and debris erupted into the air as the building tipped over and crashed to the ground.
“The attack on the building that we have seen is a shocking and, it seems to me, catastrophic attempt to shut down the media, silence critics and, worst of all, create a cloak of secrecy around it. conflict, ”said Aidan White, founder of the Ethical Journalism Network, a global network of journalists and press rights groups.
At least 140 Palestinians, including 39 children, have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the start of Israeli airstrikes on coastal Palestinian territory. About 950 others were injured.
Violence comes after Israel’s plan forcibly displacing Palestinian families of occupied East Jerusalem and its attacks on Palestinian worshipers inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque sparked widespread protests in Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and Israel.
Hamas, the Palestinian faction that rules Gaza, said it had started firing rockets at Israel in response to this Israeli crackdown.
Israel justified the strike on the al-Jalaa building on Saturday by saying the building contained Hamas military assets – a claim that was vehemently rejected.
“We call on the international community to condemn these barbaric actions and targeting of journalists and we demand immediate international action to hold Israel accountable for its deliberate attacks on journalists and media institutions,” Dr Mostefa Souag, Managing Director of interim Al Jazeera Media Network, said in a press release following the attack.
Associated Press chief executive officer Gary Pruitt said the news agency was “shocked and horrified” by the strike, saying the IDF “has long known the location of our office and knew that journalists were there ”.
“This is an incredibly disturbing development. We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life. A dozen AP journalists and freelancers were inside the building and luckily we were able to evacuate them in time ”, Pruitt mentionned.
This is not the first time that Israel has targeted media organizations and journalists in its military offensives in the Gaza Strip.
In 2014, Palestinian rights group Al Haq declared that “indiscriminate attacks on media buildings were an important feature” of the Israeli military offensive in Palestinian territory that year, which the United Nations mentionned killed more than 1,500 Palestinian civilians, including more than 500 children.
“Since the contact details of the media buildings have been provided to Israel for their protection, any direct attack on these buildings constitutes an unjustifiable violation of humanitarian law,” Al Haq mentionned at this moment.
Senior Al Jazeera political analyst Marwan Bishara said Saturday’s bombing did not only affect Al Jazeera, or the journalists themselves, who were warned about an hour before the impending strike to leave the building. .
“The attack is on journalism, the attack is on information – the freedom and flow of information,” Bishara said.
“Shutting down the international media out of Gaza, as happened, with such tragic imagery … drops all of Israel’s mantras on freedom of speech, on democracy, on human rights, on freedom of information. “
Joel Simon, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, mentionned the attack raises the specter that the Israeli military “is deliberately targeting media facilities in order to disrupt coverage of human suffering in Gaza.”
Jeremy Dear, deputy secretary general of the International Federation of Journalists, also said Israel’s justifications for its bombings were woefully insufficient. “We believe this is a deliberate attempt to try to silence the story being told from Gaza,” Dear told Al Jazeera.
“This is the third attack on a tower that houses various media, on top of that we have recorded 30 incidents of journalists being beaten or detained. It is quite clear that this is no accident, that this is a systematic targeting of the media in Gaza in order to prevent reporting from there.