Salama, Shalamah, Shamalah, Shamallakh… and Why David Carr is Wrong Regardless

David Carr’s article in the New York Times yesterday, which described Israel as illegitimately “killing members of the news media” without cause, has been widely, and deservedly, criticized.

But there may be some confusion about the identity of the militant “journalists” killed. (See Nov. 29 update below.)

Carr’s attack on Israel focuses on the deaths of “Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama“, whom he describes as having worked as cameramen for Al-Aqsa TV, and of “Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio.”

Israel also took responsibility for the killing of “Muhammed Shamalah, commander of Hamas forces in the southern Strip and head of the Hamas militant training programs.” He was “driving a car clearly labelled ‘TV,’ indicating it to be a press vehicle, abusing the protection afforded to journalists,” IDF Blog reports.

Commentary‘s criticism of Carr’s article asserts that this same Muhammed Shamalah, the Hamas commander, is Salama, one of the so-called journalists that the New York Times chastises Israel for killing. Tablet, too, describes a Muhammad Shalamah (or elsewhere Shamalah) as the man Carr wrongly described as a journalist. And the Washington Free Beacon, addressing the different names head-on, states, “Free Beacon sources confirmed that Shamalah and Salama are the same person, despite the different spellings of the name.”

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights says that the IDF killed “Mohammed Riad Asad Shamallakh, 24, a member of an armed group” on November 19th, and Hussam Mohammed Abdul Rahman Salama of Hamas’s Al Aqsa TV on the 20th. Only adding to the confusion, PCHR has previously been caught repeatedly misdescribing Palestinian fighters as civilians.

Elder of Ziyon explains, “I am not certain that he [Hussam Salama, whom Hamas describes as a ‘mujahid’] is the one the IDF said was the leader of Hamas in southern Gaza.”

Nor are we sure that Carr, or anyone else, was perfectly sure about which person they are talking about.

But it doesn’t matter.
Carr’s analysis is still egregiously misguided. Throughout his piece, he treats the casualties as nothing more than beat reporters. Even if al-Aqsa TV reporting “frequently reflects” its affiliation with Hamas, its reporters, according to the article, are merely “information gatherers.”

And he conflates “conflict journalists,” a phrase used to describe civilian journalists covering a war zone, with something entirely different, stating:

Let’s acknowledge that many of those who died were so-called conflict journalists — reporters, photographers and videographers who understood at least some of the associated risks.

But other factors are worth considering…

If only he actually did consider the other relevant factors. For example, military personnel who are frequently described as “combat correspondents” or “military photographers” are not quite the same as members of the news media who cover conflict regions. Take it from Sergeant Michael J. MacLeod, an American soldier who described his service in a recent Time Magazine article:

As a photographer, what do I do when incoming rounds start snapping the air? I have one golden rule: if I can see who is firing, I fire back with my M4 carbine. I serve soldiers, and foremost, they must live. If I cannot see the enemy, I use my camera.

During my last major engagement, I shot 29 bullets and 212 images.

Elder of Ziyon posted a photo showing that one of the purported journalists named by Carr, Mohamed Abu Aisha, is clearly a member of Islamic Jihad’s “military.”

mohamed abu aishaIs a guy who is photographed in full military uniform a member of a terrorist group’s militia? That would make sense. But we don’t know what Carr thinks, because he doesn’t even mention the issue, and instead lumps the uniformed man together with, for example, “Marie Colvin, who had been reporting for The Sunday Times of London.” Does he really notice no difference?
And is a military photographer of the type that switches between “29 bullets” and “212 images” afforded different protections than his fellow army personnel during active warfare? Maybe. Maybe not. But again, Carr does not help readers think about this, because even the idea of an enlisted “military photographer” as distinct from what he calls “conflict journalists” does not exist in his piece.
That being the case, Carr of course did not raise the question of whether a member of Islamic Jihad, which blatantly violates international law by firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian towns, might transport weaponry in a vehicle crudely spray-painted with “TV,” or that Israel might have struck at Abu Aisha to prevent deadly attacks against civilians as opposed to hurtful words.
Nor did Carr mention that, during its campaign against Slobodan Milosevic, NATO bombed the Serb Radio and Television headquarters, or that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia ruled that “Insofar as the attack actually was aimed at disrupting the communications network, it was legally acceptable” and that 16 civilian casualties during the attack “were unfortunately high but do not appear to be clearly disproportionate.”
All that information and context, which would have help readers better understand Israel’s decision, as well as other important the facts, issues and complexities, would have only gotten in the way of the New York Times‘ latest indictment of Israel.
Nov. 29 Update: The IDF Blog today clarifies that Muhammed Shamalah and Hussam Salama are indeed two different people. Shamalah, according to the post, is “the commander of Islamic Jihad militants in southern Gaza and the head of Islamic Jihad’s military training programs,” and was killed on November 19. Salama, who works for al-Aqsa Televesion and is a “Hamas operative,” was killed on November 20.

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