(NEW YORK)—PEN America called on the Israeli government today to immediately rescind inflammatory rhetoric and threats against freelance Palestinian photojournalists who supplied news agencies with images of Hamas’ unprecedented and horrific attack on civilians in Israel on October 7. 

The office of the Israeli prime minister accused six photojournalists of behaving contrary to journalistic ethics and being “accomplices in crimes against humanity.”  A member of Israel’s war cabinet, Benny Gantz, stated the photojournalists “were no different from the terrorists,” and a member of the Knesset, Danny Denon, announced that the photojournalists would be added to a list kept by the government’s internal security agency of perpetrators of the attack to “eliminate.” These statements alleging culpability without evidence are highly irresponsible and they endanger journalists and impede their work.

The prime ministers’ office also sent letters calling upon the media organizations to investigate whether the photojournalists had advance notice of Hamas’ attack. If the Israeli government has or obtains evidence that the six photojournalists participated in the attacks, as distinct from covering them, they should share that. The original source of the accusations, an Israeli media advocacy group, has since admitted that they had no evidence and were simply “raising questions.”

News agencies have made clear that they had no advance warning of Hamas’s October 7 attack and several called the allegations “reckless” and “inflammatory.” In the case of one photojournalist, who took pictures that day and appeared in an image being embraced by the leader of Hamas, CNN and Associated abruptly cut ties with him.  Government leaders’ rhetoric calling for retaliation endangers journalists and can impair the free flow of accurate information the world relies on to learn about events on the ground.

Reports of unprecedented numbers of deaths of journalists and media workers in the war –which the Committee to Protect Journalists has called the deadliest month for journalists in decades–continue to mount. PEN America mourns these professionals’ deaths and stands on the side of all journalists who have been murdered, killed in strikes, injured, arrested, taken hostage, or are missing. It is critical that both the Israeli government and Hamas adhere to their responsibility to protect reporters, whose role is to chronicle events and bring the world an understanding of their impact on the lives of Israelis and Palestinians. The situation is now especially acute in Gaza, where the highest number of Palestinian journalists have been killed and where foreign journalists who enter Gaza as embeds with the Israeli Defence Force must submit all materials to the IDF prior to publication—a  compromise made often by news organizations in exchange for access during conflict. 

Even amidst devastating deadly attacks on civilians and an ongoing war, Israel’s government officials must strictly reject incendiary rhetoric.  By its nature, combat reporting is dangerous and often morally challenging. The challenges facing news organizations today as they cover the chaos of terrorist attacks and war are substantial, and the profession can and should robustly debate journalistic ethics and obligations. The fog of war, which has always made combat reporting difficult, is compounded by the proliferation of disinformation that now accompanies it and the speed with which fraudulent news spreads alongside the work of professional journalists. Especially in that context, governments and authorities must ensure journalists are able to do the essential work of reporting, as safely as possible, even from the frontlines of conflict. 

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057