Killing of journalists as war crime in Gaza

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

Yesterday the International Court of Justice, the United Nations’ highest tribunal that adjudicates cases between nations, was expected to issue an interim ruling or provisional measures on the genocide claim filed last month by South Africa against Israel in its war in the Gaza Strip.

On Jan. 11 and 12, in The Hague, the ICJ separately heard the two parties argue their cases.

If it grants South Africa’s request for provisional measures in order to “protect against further severe and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people under the Genocide Convention,” the ICJ may order Israel to stop its war, now ongoing for over three months. Thus far, 25,700 Palestinian civilians have been killed, mostly women and children.

The ICJ judges were to convene at 1 p.m. (European time) at the Palace of Peace in The Hague, during which Judge Joan E. Donoghue, the court’s president, would read the ICJ interim order. As this column was written and submitted for publication, news about the content of the order was not yet available.

ICJ rulings are binding and cannot be appealed against. However, the court has no power to enforce them. And a definitive ruling on the genocide claim could take years.

On Thursday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with his key advisers to prepare for potential scenarios ensuing from the ICJ ruling.

Recall that Israel invaded Gaza on Oct. 7, in retaliation to a surprise attack on Israeli territory that very day by Hamas, the militant Palestinian armed movement holding sway in Gaza, killing almost 2,500 Israelis. Israel has since carried out daily aerial bombings and artillery attacks, along with ground military operations, vowing to demolish Hamas. The sustained bombings have devastated a major part of Gaza and displaced about 85 percent of Palestinian residents.

Meantime, also in The Hague, other important issues are being looked into: the nongovernmental Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT), for instance, recently concluded its sessions on the impunity of the murder of journalists and media workers.

Such impunity constitutes what the PPT has called one of the most notorious crimes in international law by “eliminating the guarantors of independent and verifiable information on the violation of fundamental, individual and collective rights.”

Examined were cases that exemplified the “permanent, widespread and structural warfare of nondemocratic and/or explicitly dictatorial states/governments (and powers) upon journalists and media workers around the globe.”

Particularly in Gaza, the PPT declared, information is under attack.

Among the casualties of the offensive ordered by the Netanyahu government and launched by Israel’s armed forces in Gaza have been dozens of journalists, photojournalists and other media workers.

As of Jan. 17, the Committee to Protect Journalists has verified that 83 journalists have been killed while doing their job: 76 of them Palestinians, four Israelis and three Lebanese.  Others have been injured or missing. Still others have been arrested by the Israeli authorities.

Several sources speak of 115 journalists and other media workers having been killed, PPT said. “Many of them were shot deliberately by snipers or drones, precisely targeted.” In one instance, rescue workers were prevented from reaching an injured reporter for several hours until he bled to death.

The organization Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) has documented numerous cases in two separate complaints submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC). ICC prosecutor Karim Khan has said the cases would be included in the ICC’s Palestine investigation.

“Journalists are civilians doing work in the public interest and, as such, cannot be targeted legally under international law,” emphasized PPT. Sadly, in Gaza as in the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank and in the Lebanese-Israeli border, “media workers are paying a heavy price.”

Working under dangerous and prohibitive conditions, they are risking their lives. Many have lost family members and colleagues. “All could be killed at any time. As many observers have noted, there is no safe space in Gaza,” the PPT said.

Other observations and conclusions by the tribunal include the following:

• Targeting journalists means trying to impose silence on the war. Since the beginning of the hostilities, the Gaza Strip has been off-limits to international reporters, except for rare tours wherein selected journalists were embedded with the Israeli armed forces.

• The journalists present in the territory today are reporters from Palestinian media and the few international news agencies and TV stations that had an office in Gaza before Oct. 7, as well as independent journalists who are documenting the horrors and sharing on social media. All of them are residents of Gaza.

• Amidst a thousand difficulties, these journalists are recording the ongoing tragedy through videos, images/photos and news that they manage to transmit to the outside world. “Thanks to them, we see the destruction, the collapse of civilian life, the sacrifices of more than 100 doctors, nurses and medical workers, the daring struggle for survival of two million displaced people,” said the PPT in its report. This is “war told from the ground.”

• “Attacking journalists is a war crime,” the PPT statement asserted. “The freedom to inform and to be informed is the basis of justice and democracy, and is all the more precious in the context of war, when one-way narratives, propaganda and censorship tend to prevail.”

 • But under Israeli control, said the tribunal, independent information is now declared “a de-facto crime, to be prohibited, no matter what the cost: just like medical treatment, even anesthesia for children and women giving birth and those whose limbs are being amputated.” 

These on-the-spot reports have evoked horror and sympathy all over the world, prompting declarations of condemnation from the international community.

Six representatives from different countries signed the PPT statement, on behalf of the judges of the tribunal’s session on impunity for the murder of journalists. They are: Gill Boehringer (Australia), Marina Forti (Italy), Helen Jarvis (Australia-Cambodia), Kalpana Sharma (India), Philippe Texier (France) and Marcela Turati (Mexico).

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