By Bill Pan
The Israeli government is demanding answers after a viral report alleged that Gaza-based photojournalists working for major news networks may have had prior knowledge of Hamas’s attacks in Israel and even possibly joined the terrorists in order to capture their carnage with a camera.
In an article published Tuesday, New York City-based press watchdog Honest Reporting questioned how some photographers were able to be at the right place and time when Hamas terrorists used armored bulldozers to burst through barriers separating Gaza and Israel on the early morning of Oct. 7.
“Is it conceivable to assume that ‘journalists’ just happened to appear early in the morning at the border without prior coordination with the terrorists? Or were they part of the plan?” asked Honest Reporting, whose stated goal is to expose “inaccuracies or bias” in the media’s coverage of Israel.
The article then raised more ethical questions about those who documented Hamas’s deadly infiltration into Israel. Hassan Eslaiah, a freelance photojournalist whom the Associated Press credited on pictures showing a burning Israeli tank at the Gaza-Israel border, photographed Hamas terrorists storming a gated kibbutz and setting a house on fire.
After the article was published, a photo surfaced on social media, purportedly showing Mr. Eslaiah hugging and being kissed on his cheek by the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar.
Yousef Masoud, who works for AP as well as The New York Times, also captured the moment the infiltrators waved their flag and celebrated by the destroyed Israeli tank.
Two Reuters journalists, Mohammed Fayq Abu Mostafa and Yasser Qudih, took pictures of a burning tank on the Israeli side of the border and a mob brutalizing the body of an Israeli soldier who was allegedly dragged out of the tank.
“Judging from the pictures of lynching, kidnapping, and storming of an Israeli kibbutz, it seems like the border has been breached not only physically, but also journalistically,” Honest Reporting wrote.
On Thursday, Israeli Minister of Communications Shlomo Karhi published an open letter addressed to the AP, Reuters, CNN, and The New York Times, demanding “a swift and thorough response.”
“It has come to our attention that certain individuals within your organization, including photographers and others, had prior knowledge of these horrific actions and may have maintained a troubling connection with the perpetrators,” the Israeli official wrote. “I urgently request a thorough investigation into this matter.”
Media Outlets Deny Allegations
In a statement, the AP denied the allegation that it had knowledge of the Oct. 7 attack before it happened.
“The role of the AP is to gather information on breaking news events around the world, wherever they happen, even when those events are horrific and cause mass casualties. AP uses images taken by freelancers around the world, including in Gaza.”
Reuters also “categorically denied” that it had prior knowledge of the Hamas attack or that it “embedded journalists with Hamas.”
“Reuters acquired photographs from two Gaza-based freelance photographers who were at the border on the morning of October 7, with whom it did not have a prior relationship,” a spokesperson for the outlet said. “The photographs published by Reuters were taken two hours after Hamas fired rockets across southern Israel and more than 45 minutes after Israel said gunmen had crossed the border. Reuters staff journalists were not on the ground at the locations referred to in the HonestReporting article.”
CNN similarly said it did not know of the attacks before they occurred. The network has also cut all ties with Mr. Eslaiah.
“Hassan Eslaiah, who was a freelance journalist working for us and many other outlets, was not working for the network on October 7th,” it said in a statement. “While we have not at this time found reason to doubt the journalistic accuracy of the work he has done for us, we have decided to suspend all ties with him.”
The New York Times, meanwhile, stood by its decision to work with Mr. Masoud, accusing Honest Reporting of spreading “vague” and “untrue” claims.
“The accusation that anyone at The New York Times had advance knowledge of the Hamas attacks or accompanied Hamas terrorists during the attacks is untrue and outrageous,” a spokesperson for the newspaper said, insisting that it has been reporting the war with “fairness, impartiality, and an abiding understanding of the complexities of the conflict.”
“Though Yousef was not working for The Times on the day of the attack, he has since done important work for us,” the spokesperson said. “There is no evidence for Honest Reporting’s insinuations. Our review of his work shows that he was doing what photojournalists always do during major news events, documenting the tragedy as it unfolded.”
“We also want to speak in defense of freelance photojournalists working in conflict areas, whose jobs often require them to rush into danger to provide first-hand witness accounts and to document important news. This is the essential role of a free press in wartime. We are gravely concerned that unsupported accusations and threats to freelancers endangers them and undermines work that serves the public interest.”