Tuesday night, the Israeli air force struck the eight-story Neema media building in Gaza City, targeting a Hamas intelligence operation center on the seventh floor. The offices of the Agence France-Presse, an international news and wire service, are on the fourth floor of the same building. “I was in the office with a fixer and suddenly we heard an explosion,” recounted AFP photographer Mahmud Hams.
This wasn’t the first time since the start of “Pillar of Defense” that terror organizations had used journalists as human shields. A day earlier, Ramez Harb, a top Islamic Jihad military figure, was killed in an air strike on Shuruq tower in Gaza City, which houses Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV as well as Al Quds TV. A number of foreign media outlets, including Britain’s Sky News, German ARD, and Saudi Al Arabiya also have office space in the Shuruq tower.
But, for Hamas, there’s more than one way to exploit foreign media, and AFP has proven to be especially pliable.
Last week, a number of news agencies published a series of images showing Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Qandil and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh posing with the corpse of a four-year-old boy, Mahmoud Sadallah. Many of the images distributed by the various photo agencies originated from AFP pool coverage, and were photographed by AFP’s Hams. According to wire photo captions from AFP, Reuters and Associated Press, as well as a CNN broadcast by Sara Sidner, the young Sadallah was killed in an Israeli air strike.
Yet, the day of the incident, an AP news article reported that the circumstances of the boy’s death were “hotly disputed” stating:
Israel vehemently denied involvement, saying it had not carried out any attacks in the area at the time. Gaza’s two leading human rights groups, which routinely investigate civilian deaths, withheld judgment, saying they were unable to reach the area because of continued danger.
Mahmoud’s family said the boy was in an alley close to his home when he was killed, along with a man of about 20, but no one appeared to have witnessed the strike. The area showed signs that a projectile might have exploded there, with shrapnel marks in the walls of surrounding homes and a shattered kitchen window. But neighbors said local security officials quickly took what remained of the projectile, making it impossible to verify who fired it.
Likewise, the New York Times reported:
It is unclear who was responsible for the strike on Annazla: the damage was nowhere near severe enough to have come from an Israeli F-16, raising the possibility that an errant missile fired by Palestinian militants was responsible for the deaths.
CAMERA, an international media-monitoring organization, approached several media outlets concerning their inaccurate reports unequivocally blaming Israel for Sadallah’s death despite indications that an errant Palestinian rocket was responsible. They all subsequently corrected or took other commendable steps. All, that is, except for AFP.
Within hours of receiving communication from CAMERA, Reuters refiled the image with this straightforward clarification:
REFILE – REMOVING REFERENCE WHICH STATES THAT THE BOY WAS KILLED IN AN ISRAEL AIR STRIKE AND ADDING NEW INFORMATION Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (C) and Egypt’s Prime Minister Hisham Kandil (2nd L) touch the body of a Palestinian boy during a visit to a hospital in Gaza City November 16, 2012. Hamas says the boy was killed by an Israeli air strike but Israel’s military denies any raids at the time. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights, the leading human rights group in Gaza Strip that documents every single Israeli attack that takes place, does not include this child’s name on its list of victims. Picture taken November 16, 2012.
Associated Press editors also worked diligently to handle the misinformation. They discovered that the problematic captions distributed to AP clients originated through Rex Features, which has an agreement with APImages. APImages is a sales department which works independently from AP’s editors, who never saw or approved the incorrect captions. Clearly disturbed about false information disseminated under AP’s name, the agency pulled all of Rex’s images of the boy from its archive and discontinued use of Rex photos from the Middle East.
CNN, for its part, also worked to set the record straight. On Nov. 18,, CNN networks broadcast the following update:
DON LEMON: Follow-up now to a story from Friday about the death of a 4-year-old boy in Gaza. The child’s death got a lot of attention after his body was kissed by Egypt’s prime minister during a tour of a Gaza hospital. And we need too warn you about the video you are about to see. It is heartbreaking and may be considered disturbing to some viewers. For our report, CNN visited the child’s home that neighbors said had been bombed five hours previously. Neighbors and family members told CNN they heard an aircraft before the explosion. Israeli military told CNN today it did not carry out any air strikes at the time of the child’s death. Israeli Defense Force says it stopped attacks because of a visit of Egypt’s prime minister, raising questions about what caused that fatal blast.
Among the other possibilities, the misfire of a Hamas rocket intended for Israel. CNN’s crews in Gaza says it saw two such rockets passing overhead, apparently fired not far from where the boy lived.
AFP alone did not respond to direct calls to correct or otherwise address the egregious misinformation. AFP Jerusalem bureau chief Philippe Agret and photo editor Marco Longari did not lift a finger to correct the record even when they were informed that the Telegraph reported that “experts from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights who visited the site on Saturday said they believed that the explosion was caused by a Palestinian rocket.”
Mahmud Hams and his colleagues may not have served willingly as Hamas’ human shields Tuesday night. But his editors, Agret and Longari, who refuse to clarify that Hamas apparently killed the child, serve as Hamas accomplices in its propaganda war against Israel.