The Newseum, a Washington, DC news museum, announced plans last week to memorialize 84 journalists killed in the line of duty in 2012. Included among the list of honored journalists were Mahmoud Al-Kumi and Hussam Salama who worked for Al-Aqsa TV when an Israeli air strike on November 20, 2012, killed them and at least four others. Al-Kumi and Salama were covering the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip when a missile hit their vehicle.
Al-Aqsa TV is the state television network for the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip.
The Newseum’s announcement drew harsh criticism from conservative and pro-Israel groups including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which issued a nasty statement belittling the lives of these journalists by calling their employer “not a legitimate news organization”.
On Monday, the Newseum unveiled the memorial. Instead of 84 names, it included only 82. The Newseum caved to the pressure and Al-Kumi and Salama’s names had been removed.
In a shoddy attempt at balanced news coverage of the Newseum controversy, a concept seemingly unfamiliar to Fox News, Fox decided to make its own judgment call by labeling the two Palestinian journalists as “operatives” working for Hamas. Ironically, the article headline begins with the question, “Terrorists or journalists?” as if Fox was actually going to approach the issue appropriately, tactfully, accurately, and intelligently.
Instead, Fox News commentator Lisa Daftari got the scoop. Daftari, an anti-Iran mouthpiece and “expert” on the Middle East and North Africa who speaks no Arabic, is a columnist for FrontPage Magazine, an online news portal founded by the David Horowitz who is responsible for inciteful and bigoted campaigns targeting Muslims, Arabs, and African Americans.
Fox News’ coverage, coupled with the harsh and unfounded criticism leveled at the Newseum, leaves us with a number of dilemmas.
The first is the irony in the entire story. The Newseum, which applauds free speech and supports journalists putting forth crucial information no matter how unpopular, caved to pressure and, let’s be honest, censorship. Although a spokesperson for the Newseum hinted that the decision isn’t final, it’s a shame it got this far. It’s also a testament to the power of the pro-Israel lobby, even in areas as sacred as the field of journalism.
The second is the fact that Fox News, the ADL, and others were so quick to label the journalists, who were armed only with standard television cameras, as terrorists or synonymous “operatives”. The argument that Al-Kumi and Salama deserved to be killed or that their deaths should not be commemorated because they were affiliated with an agency under Hamas control means that no discretion is necessary when bombing the Gaza Strip. By this logic, the plumber fixing the piping in the Al-Aqsa TV offices is an “operative”. The recent graduate applying for cameraman positions is an “operative”. The restaurant owner delivering food to a production staff is an “operative”. Had they been killed in an air strike, any commemoration of their lives would have supposedly been an insult to “the value of a free press in a free society”, according to Abe Foxman of the ADL.
In other words, if Hamas paves a road and you happen to use it, you are using a Hamas product and so you are transitively aligning yourself with Hamas’ military wing, meaning you are a viable target.
The third dilemma deals with the paradox presented by Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was captured in 2006 by Hamas fighters along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. The Israeli government demanded Shalit’s release (which eventually happened in 2011) under the pretense that he was not a legitimate target for capture. Gilad — armed, joined by fellow soldiers, wearing clothing that clearly designated him a soldier, representing a country occupying another land, whose guns were trained toward the Gaza Strip — was not a target, these same conservative groups argued, but two journalists with who were on the job reporting live at the scene of an attack are targets. This is nonsense at best.
The fourth dilemma ties this into the international law violation that this poses. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders, and other organizations defending freedom of the press all agree that Al-Kumi and Salama were targeted and killed in the line of duty. This is in direct violation of international humanitarian law which makes it clear that journalists are not legitimate military targets. But based on how many Palestinian journalists have been killed or injured and how many times Gaza’s main news tower has been the target of Israeli air strikes since Israel’s 2008-2009 invasion of the Gaza Strip, one would easily conclude that journalists should be among the first conventional targets to go.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that Fox News’ coverage is peppered with obvious repulsiveness toward the two journalists. Both of Daftari’s reports — before and after the Newseum caved — draw heavily (and almost exclusively) on notoriously anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sources focused intently on discrediting the Palestinian struggle for rights.
Notwithstanding Fox News’ attempts to legitimize the bullying, to genuinely believe in the power of faulty logic, and to totally ignore the crucial fact that the pro-Israeli think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies threatened to “pull their annual policy summit from the venue“, the Newseum’s decision is a poor one that does injustice to journalism and its fieldworkers worldwide.