One night in a turbulent week, news outlets reporting from Gaza City were tipped off about an imminent air assault. The target was their offices. The Al-Jalaa tower housed eight media outlets including the Associated Press and Al Jazeera as well as tens of residential apartments and other offices.
An hour after the advance warning, Israeli fighter jets hit the 11-storey building pulverising it into a column of black smoke. A spokesperson for the army maintained that members of Hamas, a Palestinian militant group, were hiding in the tower, a claim disputed by the president and CEO of Associated Press, Gary Pruitt.
The news publishing veteran complained that the destruction of the building will hide the ongoing fighting in the Gaza strip from the world’s eyes.
The strike on the Al-Jalaa came three days after a similar bombing of the Shorouq tower, a stone’s throw away. The 14-floor structure was also home to media offices.
International observers raised concerns about attacks targeting news outlets, prompting White House press secretary Jen Psaki to call for the safety and security of journalists and independent media.
This round of Israel-Palestine conflicts escalated quickly from the convergence of, relatively, minor incidents. Tensions were already high when the first day of the Ramadan and Memorial Day in Israel coincided, on April 13. Confrontations between Muslim Palestinians and Israeli police officers in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque started to snowball.
Meanwhile, six Palestinian families in the West Bank were facing eviction from the Israeli government, stirring a wave of protests on the streets. In the broader backdrop, a fragile government coalition in Israel and looming Palestinian elections piled pressure on leaders from both sides.
In the ensuing weeks, fighting erupted in dozens of Arab-Jewish cities across the country, climaxing into a volley of rockets fired from Gaza in the second week of May.
News reports on the degenerating events sparked demonstrations, marches, and condemnation from around the world as the international community frantically urged de-escalation. The collapse of the Al-Jalaa and the Shorouq has all but drawn the curtains on a window into the situation.
But this was not the only attack on news outlets during the hostilities. International media organisations broke the news that the Israeli army was conducting a ground operation in Gaza in the early hours of May 14. The media faithfully repeated an announcement by a senior spokesperson of the army itself, but by the morning it became clear that, in fact, the military had only been moving tanks and armoured vehicles to the border.
The reports, however, led Hamas fighters to mobilise, making them easier targets for Israeli airstrikes.
The Israeli army brushed off complaints by the media that they had been weaponised as part of an assault strategy, dismissing the misunderstanding as an honest linguistic mistake on the part of the spokesperson.
Often caught in the crossfire, journalists and media crews endanger their lives to report on developments from conflict zones. But the tragic events in Gaza now risk reframing news media as fair game.
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