A News Building Destroyed in Gaza

Israeli warplanes leveled the AP and Al Jazeera offices on Saturday

I’m Scott Nover. Welcome back to Pressing, a newsletter about press freedom. If you haven’t yet subscribed, you can do so here and receive this letter in your inbox every Tuesday morning.

This is the 72nd issue of Pressing and it’s great to have you with me. Please send me feedback, thoughts, suggestions, and tips at sgnover@gmail.com.

AP, Al Jazeera Offices Destroyed in Gaza

Amid a severe military escalation in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Israeli government leveled an apartment building in Gaza on Saturday.

The 12-story building, destroyed in an airstrike, also contained regional bureaus for the Associated Press, a U.S.-based news organization, and Al Jazeera, a Qatari-funded media network.

The Israeli military, the IDF, gave a one-hour advance warning so all occupants could evacuate the building. But why did they destroy the property in the first place? The IDF claims that Hamas, the terrorist organization that effectively controls Gaza, was operating out of that very building. Therefore, it was a legitimate military target, the Israelis said.

So far, though, the Israelis have provided no evidence that Hamas was operating out of the building. And even if they were, the complete destruction of a crucial media office in wartime—unless in the case of a severe, imminent and incontrovertible threat—is unacceptable. The ordeal seems, from an outsider’s perspective, avoidable.

“We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza,” said AP president and CEO Gary Pruitt in a statement. “The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”

While the U.S. government has unflinchingly supported the far-right nationalist Netanyahu regime even during this latest flare-up of the conflict, the White House has at least condemned the threat posed to journalists.

“We have communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted Saturday.

When CNN’s Brian Stelter interviewed IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus on Sunday, he pressed Conricus to offer some public evidence of Hamas’ presence in the building.

“Not only were Hamas in the building, they were actively using it to fight Israel,” Conricus said. But he said the evidence is “in process” and will come to light “in due time.”

Stelter suggested to Conricus that proper evidence should have been presented to media ahead of time—so they would be aware of the threat of working in the same building as Hamas—but if not then, at least in the hours after the attack.

Despite the Biden administration’s intense support for Israel—the president only called for a ceasefire last night—U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed he has not been presented with any evidence by the Israelis that Hamas was in the building.

Press freedom groups have condemned the attacks, but Reporters Without Borders has gone further, requesting that the International Criminal Court investigate the attack as a possible war crime. The AP’s outgoing top editor, Sally Buzbee, also called for an independent investigation into the incident.

This newsletter is about press freedom, so I’m going to draw the cutoff line in my critique here.

As an American Jew I have complicated feelings about the decades-long conflict and the current flare-up, but I support human rights and press freedom in all cases.

I also support self-determination for both the Israelis and Palestinians and full civil rights for Arabs living in Israel.

Beyond that, I’ll let you—the distinguishing reader—make sense of this troubling conflict for yourself.

But I’ll leave you with this: reporters need to be able to do their jobs on the ground, finding truth even in the fog of war. Israel’s bombing of the AP and Al Jazeera bureaus is, among other things, an affront to press freedom.

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I want to add another caveat to my above writing. This is something I wrote a few weeks ago about the Black Lives Matter protests and the focus on press freedom in that context. I think part of it applies here:

Often people—even fellow journalists—belittle the outcry about injustices toward press, remarking that journalists are no more important than peaceful protesters. In a way, I agree. With the exception of administrative carveouts for journalists that allow us to bypass curfews and other restrictions, journalists and protesters alike enjoy First Amendment protections. And, as Sidner remarked, it feels like little separates journalists from everyday citizens.

I’ll conclude with two thoughts on this matter. First, professional journalists are just doing their jobs. They may or may not feel impassioned one way or another about the protests they are covering, but they need to be free to move about and cover the events as they unfold. Second, I see abuses toward journalists as a tip-of-the-iceberg issue.

If credentialed journalists are treated this poorly, you can easily imagine how police treat everyone else.

In Other News

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