Using Journalists’ Lives as Currency: Another Cynical Hamas Ruse

Editor’s Note: The following article is a contribution of two experts in international and security affairs who wish to remain anonymous.

It has been widely circulating, based on the reports of NGOs, media outlets, and others, that 32 journalists have been killed in Gaza as a result of ongoing Israel-Hamas hostilities. While it is true that some journalists have tragically died reporting on the ongoing fighting, this inflated statistic is actually a cynical exploitation of the word journalist. Some of the 32 killed in Gaza were actually the exact opposite of journalists – they were propagandists working on behalf of authoritarian regimes who sought to cover up the truth rather than expose it. Several were in fact direct employees of Hamas – a totalitarian and terrorist organization that has ruled the Gaza Strip for nearly two decades.

For example, at least eight of the “journalists” killed were direct employees of Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV/Radio.  According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Al-Aqsa TV is “financed and controlled by Hamas.” Since Hamas is classified as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and Al-Aqsa TV is an arm of the group, the latter was also sanctioned by the U.S. in 2010. It is important to note that Al-Aqsa TV is an entirely different species from state-sponsored media outlets in liberal democracies, such as Voice of America (VOA). Al-Aqsa TV is dedicated to promoting Hamas’s radical jihadist narrative rather than any commitment to reporting the news; it would be more apt to consider the channel Hamas’s arm for information warfare rather than a news outlet. Those Hamas employees who were reportedly killed in the fighting and classified as journalists by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) include: Khalil Abu Aathra, Sameeh Al-Nady, Issam Bhar, Duaa Sharaf, Saed Al-Halabi, Ahmed Abu Mhadi, Iyad Matar, and Husam Mubarak.

Hamas’s Gaza Strip leader Yahya Sinwar embracing and kissing “photojournalist” Hassan Eslayeh, whose work has been used by Associated Press and CNN.

In addition, 2 “journalists” working for Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) were also reported by CPJ to have been killed in the fighting. Like Hamas, PIJ was designated as an FTO in 1997 and therefore the media outlets it bankrolls and which promote its radical narrative should be sanctioned as well – though they have yet to be.  Mohammad Balousha worked for Palestine Today which is a media arm of PIJ based in Beirut and is likely operated there in close coordination with the U.S.- sanctioned  Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU) run by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Washington Institute expert Hamdi Malik described the IRTVU as follows:

Tasked with disseminating an anti-American and anti-Israeli narrative in the Middle East, [IRTVU] functions as an umbrella for “axis of resistance”[1] media outlets throughout the region. IRTVU provides these outlets with financial, technological, and organizational support, helps train their personnel, and devises a unified strategy for them to follow.

Balousha’s colleague at PIJ-run media is Ahmed Shihab, who is allegedly affiliated with Sowt Al-Asra Radio. It is not clear who he was or what he did that should warrant his classification as a journalist but a search of his name along with the station he “worked at” did not turn up any results. Sowt al-Asra has not made any statements regarding Shihab’s death on any of its media or social media accounts. The initial claim of his death and his affiliation was made by the newspaper al-Araby al-Jadeed based on information supposedly received from the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, and it is then quoted by CPJ in its report.

The claim that the abovementioned individuals, reportedly killed in Israeli airstrikes, were journalists is a cynical attempt to weaponize the value of the important work that real journalists do. These individuals deserved to be sanctioned, not sanctified.

In addition, there are at least five other journalist deaths cited by CPJ though their connection to the profession seems tenuous at best. There is no concrete information available about the media careers of Abdulhadi Habib, Assaad Shamlakh, Salma Mkhaimer, and Salam Khalil Mema. Given that work in journalism often involves creating and publishing original works on newsworthy subjects, it is difficult to understand why there is virtually no information available online about their work. Following Mema’s death, PIJ’s media outlet Palestine Today claimed that she had worked there as a news editor for 18 months, but there is no corroborating information that had been published prior to her death. If they did not actually contribute to the media in any meaningful way, it strains credulity that they could be called journalists.

To be clear, this is not a definitive statement that Habib, Shamlakh, Mkhaimer, and Mema were not journalists but an exercise of one of the profession’s most basic mandates– questioning and verifying information. Nor is this an effort to claim that the deaths of non-journalists are any less tragic, it is simply an investigatory effort to set the record straight.

Other examples of CPJ stretching the title of journalist in Gaza to be as broad as possible are evident from the inclusion of Nazmi Al-Nadim who served as “deputy director of finance and administration” of a news agency. One ought to ask if the implication of al-Nadim’s inclusion is that anyone who works at a news organization, from maintenance staff to accounting, is now considered a journalist according to CPJ.

The list of news correspondents who have met a tragic end has been inflated by Hamas and with unwitting accomplices from the West who regurgitated information provided to them without doing appropriate due diligence. If this sounds familiar, it should – from the story of the al-Ahli hospital explosion.

We call on CPJ to clarify and substantiate their claims. They have not responded to our email request to clarify the journalistic roles of those without any clear media affiliation or work.  While we do not attribute malice against Israel to CPJ and respect the important work that journalists do, it is malpractice to make claims without minimum due diligence. If the claims cannot be verified, then they ought to be retracted.

[1] Refers to the Iran-led axis in the Middle East and includes Hezbollah, the Houthis, Hamas, PIJ, and Iran-backed Iraqi militias.

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