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Journalists and terrorists

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There’s been a lot of back and forth since New York Times columnist David Carr posed a question about dangers posed to journalists in combat zones, framing it with Israeli actions during the recent Gaza miniwar.

Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama worked as cameramen for Al-Aqsa TV, which is run by Hamas and whose reporting frequently reflects that affiliation. They were covering events in central Gaza when a missile struck their car, which, according to Al-Aqsa, was clearly marked with the letters “TV.” (The car just in front of them was carrying a translator and driver for The New York Times, so the execution hit close to our organization.) And Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio, was also in a car when it was hit by a missile.

Two questions have ensued, both hoary and relevant at once: Who is a noncombatant? And does the media hold Israel to a different standard than its enemies?

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A number of conservative sites (Commentary has a useful roundup) have accused Carr of singling out Israel for killing journalists (although he makes clear he also believes this is an American problem and the Gaza war is his jump-off for his wider point) and of not being careful with his facts.

The accusation about Carr not thoroughly checking his facts seems to be the case with Abu Aisha. Elder of Ziyon shows that Abu Aisha’s status as a uniformed member of Islamic Jihad was available to Carr and anyone else at the time of Carr’s writing.

Nothing I’ve seen, though, substantively contradicts his point when it is applied to al-Kumi and Salama. Carr goes on:

While it is true that news media operations have become one more arrow in the quiver of modern warfare, a direct attack on information gatherers of any stripe is deeply troubling. And such attacks are hardly restricted to Israel: recall that in the United States assault on Baghdad, television stations were early targets.

The IDF seems to affirm this in a blog post: 

Some of them do, in fact, carry cameras, but they are paid by a terrorist organization, and they are serving the goals of a terrorist organization.

For example, Mahmoud Al-Kumi and Hussam Salama were Hamas operatives and cameramen for Hamas’ Al-Aqsa television network, which regularly features programming that encourages and praises attacks on Israeli civilians. The IDF targeted Al-Kumi and Salama on Nov. 20.

The IDF notes no specific operative role the two played in any terrorism or military attack against Israel. (It does link to primary evidence suggesting Abu Aisha was indeed an active terrorist.)

The implication seems to be that if a terrorist pays your salary, you are a terrorist. This is problematic in Gaza where Hamas has a hand in just about everything — and that is Carr’s point, which he makes with "information gatherers of any stripe."

Is this the standard Carr’s critics want to uphold — that a someone working for the journalistic arm of a terrorist group is just as liable as an actual gun-carrying terrorist?

There are precedents for this — notably, in the trial of propagandists during the Rwanda genocide and during the Holocaust. The figures singled out in those cases, however, were guilty of direct incitement — do we have such goods on the Al-Aksa cameramen?

Human Rights Watch cites another circumstance in which such targets would be legitimate — the use of communications guised as journalism to convey military information. Is this what the two cameramen were doing? Is there evidence of this?

These would seem to be necessary questions in any assessment of the targeting of the cameramen.

There’s another necessary question, of the media. The IDF notes in its post, and this has been borne out, that Hamas used sites near or adjacent to journalists to launch rockets.

Back during the first Intifada, undercover Israeli units also used journalistic cover to patrol the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, sometimes to make arrests.

Foreign media raised holy hell, and rightly so: It became dangerous to announce oneself as a journalist. (I had a couple of hairy encounters.) The Shin Beth and the undercover IDF units desisted.

Who among the mainstream media is now making the same case, and as emphatically, to Hamas? 

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