Israeli officials reacted with anger to a report suggesting that photographers associated with international news services may have had advance knowledge of Hamas’s plan to attack Israeli communities on Oct. 7.
They were reacting to a report by HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog, which identified six freelance photographers from the Gaza Strip who were present during the attacks, and whose work the Associated Press and Reuters are selling to other publications. The report was published on Wednesday.
The National Public Diplomacy Directorate in the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement on Thursday saying it “views with utmost gravity that photojournalists working with international media joined in covering the brutal acts of murder perpetrated by Hamas terrorists on Saturday, October 7th, in the communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip.”
The statement added, “These journalists were accomplices in crimes against humanity; their actions were contrary to professional ethics,” and demanded that action be taken against the photographers.
Meanwhile, the Government Press Office sent an urgent letter to the bureau chiefs of the media organizations that employed these photographers and sought clarifications on the matter.
Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Gantz also condemned the photographers, posting on X, formerly Twitter, “If there were journalists who knew about the massacre [in advance], who remained silent and took pictures while children were being massacred—they are no different from the terrorists and their punishment is severe.”
In a follow-up tweet, Gantz wrote, “Journalists found to have known about the massacre and who still chose to stand as idle bystanders while children were slaughtered—are no different than terrorists and should be treated as such.”
HonestReporting identified the photographers as Hassan Eslaiah, Yousef Masoud, Ali Mahmud, Hatem Ali, Mohammed Fayq Abu Mostafa and Yasser Qudih.
“What were they doing there so early on what would ordinarily have been a quiet Saturday morning? Was it coordinated with Hamas? Did the respectable wire services, which published their photos, approve of their presence inside enemy territory, together with the terrorist infiltrators? Did the photojournalists who freelance for other media, like CNN and The New York Times, notify these outlets,” HonestReporting asked.
HonestReporting also obtained screenshots of Eslaiah’s now-removed tweets on X in which he documented himself standing in front of an Israeli tank. He did not wear a press vest or a helmet, and the Arabic caption of his tweet read: “Live from inside the Gaza Strip settlements.”
On the left is CNN photographer in Gaza 📸
On the right is a Hamas operative receiving a kiss from Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar 😘
Fun fact: They are both the same person. His name is Hassan Eslaiah.
— Dr. Eli David (@DrEliDavid) November 9, 2023
After the report was published, a video published on Eslaiah’s Facebook account was found in which he is riding on a motorcycle while holding a grenade. A separate photo surfaced of Eslaiah with Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, the mastermind of the Oct. 7 massacre.
Yo, @AP, @Reuters, @cnn – what your freelancer in Gaza Hassan Eslaiah is doing on a motorbike with a grenade, on his way to the massacre of women and babies? Is a grenade part of the equipment you provide? pic.twitter.com/jU85KEo7Ec
— עמית סגל Amit Segal (@amit_segal) November 9, 2023
Eslaiah’s photos from Oct. 7 were used by the Associated Press and CNN.
On Thursday, CNN announced it had severed ties with Eslaiah but said it did not have “any reason to doubt the journalistic accuracy of the work he has done for us,” according to Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
The Associated Press also denied prior knowledge of the attacks, saying its role “is to gather information on breaking news events around the world, wherever they happen, even when those events are horrific and cause mass casualties.”
Reuters issued a statement saying it “categorically denies that [Reuters] had prior knowledge of the attack or that we embedded journalists with Hamas on Oct 7.”
The news agency merely “acquired photographs from two Gaza-based freelance photographers who were at the border on the morning of Oct. 7, with whom it did not have a prior relationship,” the communiqué said.
As of Thursday afternoon, The New York Times had not issued a statement on the issue.
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