Palestinian journalists are being systematically targeted by Israel because of the "gift of impunity" granted to the Apartheid State, a press conference in London was told today in the wake of the killing of Al Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh.
Convened by the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP), lawyers working on an existing case filed at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the targeting of Palestinian journalists by Israel announced that they will add the killing Abu Akleh to the complaint issued in April.
Lawyers from Doughty Street Chambers and Bindmans LLP, along with representatives from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate, and the ICJP, spoke about Israel's systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists and the ongoing legal battle to bring prosecution against the Occupation State.
The same group of lawyers and unions submitted a formal complaint to the ICC accusing Israel of systematically targeting journalists working in Palestine and failing to properly investigate killings of media workers, which amount to war crimes. The ICC recognised, in a February 2021 ruling, that it has jurisdiction over the situation in occupied Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem. This has paved the way for legal prosecution to be brought against Israel over alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The complaint details the systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists on behalf of four named victims – Ahmed Abu Hussein, Yaser Murtaja, Muath Amarneh and Nedal Eshtayeh – who were killed or maimed by Israeli snipers while covering demonstrations in Gaza. All were wearing clearly marked PRESS vests at the time they were shot.
The complaint also highlights the targeting of media and bombing of the Al-Shorouk and Al-Jawhara Towers in Gaza City in May 2021, including the cases of Alam News, Al Hayat Newspapers, Mayadeen Media, Al Bawaba 24 and others. Complaints have also formally been submitted to the UN Special Rapporteurs (UNSR) setting out how the systematic targeting of journalists working in Palestine, as well as the failure to properly investigate killings of media workers.
"We are awaiting confirmation from the ICC's Prosecutor's Office about the action they intend to take, but the killing of Shireen and the shooting of Ali Al-Samoudi bring to sharp focus the need for urgent action by the ICC", Bindmans LLP, the firm hosting the event, said before the press conference. "We will seek to add these cases to the complaint that is already before the ICC."
Director of the ICJP, Tayeb Ali, and the solicitor in the case said. "The targeting of journalists in conflict zones anywhere in the world is unacceptable and must bring severe consequences for those who try to hide their crimes and violations by killing or maiming journalists." Ali described how "Israel has enjoyed a devastating impunity" and that the "gift of impunity" granted to the Apartheid State by international community has endangered the lives of Palestinian journalists. He stressed that "evidence is not the problem … holding Israel to account is." Ali citied the large pool of documented evidence which he claims proves Israel is targeting journalists.
Updating the press conference over the April complaint issued to the ICC and the next step to prosecuting Israel, Jennifer Robinson, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, also spoke of Israel's systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists.
Robinson mentioned the findings of the 2019 Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in Gaza. The Commission paid special attention to the protection of civilians and to groups warranting protection under international law, including children, women, health workers, journalists and persons with disabilities. Citing several individual cases including journalists that were shot in the abdomen, the Commission concluded that it had "found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot journalists intentionally, despite seeing that they were clearly marked as such". The killing of Abu Akleh, said Robinson, is not one off. There exists a "pattern of targeting Palestinian journalists" she stressed, urging the ICC "to take action."
Jim Boumelha, the former president of IFJ, a federation of some six thousand journalists world-wide, including Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate, warned against the culture of impunity enjoyed by Israel. "Risk-free killing has become a norm" he said speaking about Israel's systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists. The killing of Abu Akleh is a message to countless others that they could be next, Boumelha claimed. IFJ alone has documented 877 violations by Israel against media and journalists. Appealing to the ICC to do its job, Boumelha said that "Israel may be the only country in the world that refuses to accept Palestinian journalists as journalists."
A video message by Nasser Abu Bakr, President of the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate, urged new ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan to hold Israel to account. 50 journalists have been killed since 2000 alone said Abu Bakr. 7,000 crimes against Palestinian journalists have been documented.
A detailed account of Abu Akleh's killing was given by her colleague, Walid Al-Omari. "Why would they target Shireen?" asked Al Jazeera's Jerusalem Bureau Chief. He suggested that Israel was seeking to inflict a direct and powerful blow to Al Jazeera. By killing Abu Akleh, the Occupation State hoped to silence one of the most powerful voices in Arab media, Al Omari claimed.
Al Jazeera has called Abu Akleh's killing a "blatant murder" that violates "international laws and norms". In its statement on Thursday, the network said, according to Article 8 of the ICC Charter, "targeting war correspondents, or journalists working in war zones or occupied territories by killing or physically assaulting them, is a war crime".