The recent israeli murder of three Palestinian journalists and the bombing of two buildings in Gaza where various media agencies were housed, this was the issue which clearly engulfed through an extensive discussions held at the Presseclub Concordia in Vienna on the eve of the 2nd UN interagency meeting on the Safety of Journalists and the International Day to End Impunity which is celebrated every year on 23 November.
The journalists’ discussion was held a few days after the israeli brutal murders and air strikes in central Gaza and the murders against Palestinian journalists, reports and cameramen in which Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama, the cameramen worked for al-Aqsa TV were killed in their car which were marked with the neon-color letters “TV”. The third journalist, Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of Al-Quds Educational Radio, was also killed in his car during an air strike.
The discussion was organized by International Press Institute (IPI) with support of UNESCO and sponsored by the Austrian Government. It was convened by UNESCO and co-hosted by the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The speakers were Mr. Frank La Rue, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Christof Heyns, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. Ronald Bless, Representative on Freedom of the Media, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Guy Berger, Director, Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, UNESCO. Anita Zielina, editor with Der Standard, Austria and member of the IPI executive board. Karl Bostic, former Chief, NBC News, Baghdad Office
At the opening of the session, the moderator of the discussion and IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills was not able to control the anger of the journalists present which remarked on the Israeli crimes perpetrated against the Palestinian journalists in Gaza and the occupied territories, an issue which emerged unexpectedly during the discussion and which surprised the organizers of meeting.
“The level of killing of journalists during this year has increased and reached high levels in comparison to previous years” said Mr. Mills from IPI at the opening session
Mr Berger from UNESCO said in his remark that training journalists how to work in the area of the conflict, imposing laws, investigating the murders … could help decrease the number of murders against journalists, saying that everyone should bring his contribution to the table so that we can go ahead in taking measures and dealing with this problem.
Mr. Bostic focused in his debate on Gaza Strip; he said that the bombing and shelling of Gaza unfortunately stopped only after three journalists were murdered and several offices of media organizations were destroyed. He said that he himself, together with other international media team were in Gaza to inspect the damages of the offices and he saw how the Palestinian journalists worked there, adding that it was said that these journalists and offices were targeted only because Israel adduces, without proof, that they belong to Hamas, Jihad and Al-Aqsa brigades.
Mr. Bostic said that channel 2 and 10 of the Israeli TVs had stated that “Hamas journalists are a target for Israel during the operation against Hamas” and that “for your safety of the journalists they should stay away from Hamas”. Mr. Bostic asked those present: “where can the Palestinian journalists find safe places which are far away from Hamas? The only place is the hospital”. He tried to explain his opinion but he was immediately cut off by Mr. Mills from the IPI (???).
Mr. de la Rue said that most politicians, government officials and people in power are scared from the journalist who expose the truth and write critical reports about corruption, scandals, organized crimes, drugs etc. He said that we need a step from the UNESCO to help ending this problem, meaning the violence against journalist who report on facts uncomfortable to people in power.
Mrs. Zielina from Der Standard intervened in the discussion with a rhetoric question, namely who were these journalist who should protected: was it the bloggers, the correspondents of official agencies, twitter, the newspapers, TV, online journalists … apparently trying to qualify the issue and indirectly suggesting that the lives of certain groups of people were less worth protecting.
Conversation on this issue ensued among the journalists in the audience and many questions were raised about the methodic israeli crimes against Palestinian journalists, the discomfort with the israeli activity against journalists was obvious. Time has come to break the silence imposed on media around the world while israel continues perpetrating crimes against journalists.
I explained to the colleagues that the murder of the last three journalists in Gaza was not the first crime of israel but that Israel commits crimes against Palestinian journalists on a daily basis since decades, restricting their free movement, jailing and targeting them, breaking their cameras, destroying equipment and facilities, censoring their work and so on. These crimes must be ended and the international organization must see it as part of their duties to end this horror. Israel is not above the law and should be questioned about its violations and crimes against journalists.
I further explained to the colleagues that I had been a target of Israel ONLY because I had been reporting about the human stories and crimes which of israeli soldiers checkpoints against sick people suffering cancer, kidney problems, against pregnant women … and that because of my work only I had been forced to flee my homeland after receiving direct threats from israel. As for the current situation, Marc Regev may be a pathological case but the fact is that Palestinian journalists are targets to the israelis. I asked the UNESCO representative what active measures was his organization going to adopt in order to stop the crimes of israel and also begged the colleagues from the audience to expose the israeli crimes without hesitation or fear from their threats. The israeli crimes must remain in the focus of the media.
It should be noted that the Austrian State TV and Radio (ORF) and local newspapers did not send any representatives whatsoever to cover this event.