Pro-Israeli organizations in the U.S. claim the journalists were Hamas-affiliated “terrorists.”
By most accounts, 2012 was a rough year for press freedoms, seeing journalists targeted for reporting what various regimes didn’t like. More than 80 journalists were killed while reporting the news in some of the most dangerous conflict zones around the world, including Syria and Gaza.
At the Newseum annual gathering in Washington, D.C., when commemorating fallen journalists, the names of two Palestinian journalists were conspicuously absent during a public reading of the journalists’ names.
The exclusion of Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama from the yearly event honoring reporters killed in the line of duty wasn’t an accident. Al-Kumi and Salama worked for the Palestinian Al-Aqsa television station and were killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza November 2012.
The New York Times reported that the attack was a deliberate strike against a media van, one of many carried out by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during the bombing campaign.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that “government officials and their allies are now suspected of being responsible for more than a third of the murders of journalists, a higher proportion than killings attributed to terrorist groups or criminal enterprises.”
The IDF struck a vehicle clearly labeled “TV” in central Gaza, in an attack that Reporters Without Borders called a “clear violation of international standards.”
Because Israel has maintained a strict military blockade of the Gaza strip since 2006, reporting from the Palestinian territory has become increasingly difficult for news agencies, and in many cases, journalists have been denied coverage altogether. Israeli journalists are prohibited from entering and most Western news outlets experience difficulty when trying to enter Gaza.
Leading the petition to exclude the journalists was the American Defense League (ADL), a pro-Israel advocacy organization that expressed outrage over the initial decision to include Kumi and Salama, two men described by the ADL as terrorists.
“The Anti-Defamation League [Sunday] expressed shock and outrage at the decision by the Newseum to proceed with honoring two members of the Hamas terrorist propaganda television operation Al-Aqsa TV as part of its ongoing memorial to journalists who lost their lives in the line of duty in 2012.” The American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and several other pro-Israel organization echoed the ADL statements in opposition to the initial decision to include the journalists.
No final decision has been made as to whether the journalists will be included in the final exhibit honoring the deceased journalists. “The two journalists are being reevaluated at the moment,” Jonathan Thompson, Newseum manager of media relations, told Mint Press News.
Thompson said that “their names could still be included in the final exhibit,” adding, “There is no policy that I am aware of that would exclude someone because of their political beliefs.” There is no reported timeline for when a final decision would be made.
This expands upon previous public statements made by Thompson who had clarified the purpose of the annual commemoration: “The Newseum Journalists Memorial recognizes 2,246 journalists who died or were killed while reporting the news. To be listed on the memorial, an individual must have been a contributor of news, commentary or photography to a news outlet; an editor or news executive; a producer, camera operator, sound engineer or other member of a broadcast crew; or a documentary filmmaker.”
He added, “Hussam Salama and Mahmoud Al-Kumi were cameramen in a car clearly marked ‘TV.’ The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers all consider these men journalists killed in the line [of] duty.”
There have been varying definitions of who is a journalist and who is killed in the line of duty, complicating decisions for the Newseum.
“They have different definitions on who is a journalists, who is killed,” Delphine Halgand, a spokesperson for Reporters Without Borders, told Mint Press News. “We try to have a dialogue to try to understand. I will not blame them for their decision.”
Reporters Without Borders is an international advocacy organization committed to protecting the free press around the world.
“For us it is always good for the public to hear about journalists killed. Every year we have this debate, why do you take into account this journalist and not this one. The question is often whether a journalist is killed as a result of his work or not,” Halgand said. “2012 by all records was the deadliest year for journalists. For us, 88 journalists were killed.”