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05/10/2013

When the camera meets the missile

2 journos die in Gaza missile strike
Oldish news. But we thought we'd share this Toronto Star image from last November showing the aftermath of an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, now that the shattered car's two dead occupants are at the heart of fresh controversy flaring up in Washington.

There's not much dispute that Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama were cameramen working for the Palestinian TV station Al Aqsa. And there's not much dispute that Al Aqsa TV is under the thumb of Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza, and was then engaged in a frenzied weeklong mini-war with Israel.

But there is a noisy dispute today over the fact that the Newseum in Washington is counting the two Palestinian cameramen among the 84 journalists killed in 2012 as part of its ever-expanding memorial to those who died in the line of duty.

Among the sample of fury on Twitter: "Outrageous," "Insane," "Unbelievable," "legitimizing terror," "making mockery of journalism."
Also, some pushback: "Please thank @Newseum for standing its ground in the face of Zionist thugs."

Even the Israeli Embassy in DC jumped in tweeting, "It seems like a critical mistake mixing operatives of a recognized terrorist org, Al Aqsa TV, as journalists. We hope @Newseum reconsiders." 

The Newseum is indeed standing its ground. In a statement of response, it reiterated that the two Palestinians were cameramen. They were travelling as all of us did during those frantic days in Gaza -- in cars emblazened with duct-tape media markings.

"Hussam Salama and Mahmoud al-Kumi were cameramen in a car clearly marked 'TV,'" the Newseum statement said. "The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers all consider these men journalists killed in the line of duty."

I didn't encounter Salama and al-Kumi personally that week. And I personally hope this flareup does not distract attention to other great reporters lost in 2012, like the utterly brilliant Anthony Shadid of the New York Times.

But the question of who, really, is a journalist -- and who decides -- seems well worth revisiting. Here's how it first flared last November, in an unusually heated exchange between Israeli spokesman Mark Regev and Darren Jordon of Al Jazeera.

Who makes the call, deciding between journalists and propagandists? And the next question, after you parse that one, is are unarmed propagandists fair game for targeted strikes?

Reporters Without Borders says no, actually, citing a International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia-backed ruling that media organizations were not legitimate targets for "merely diseminating propaganda."

Comments, concerns, caveats? Feel free to weigh in. We're all ears.

Mitch Potter is the Star's Washington Bureau Chief, his third foreign posting after previous assignments to London and Jerusalem. Potter led the Star’s coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he won a 2006 National Newspaper Award for his reportage. His dispatches include datelines from 33 countries since 2000. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites

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