Israel on Thursday slammed four international media outlets — the New York Times, CNN, the Associated Press and Reuters — over the conduct of four photojournalists in Gaza, saying they had advance knowledge of the attack by Hamas militants on October 7 that killed more than 1,400 people.
The news services strongly rejected the Israeli government’s accusation they had any forewarning of the impending murderous assault, with the New York Times saying the “outrageous” charges endangered journalists in both Israel and Gaza.
Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi accused the foreign media of employing contributors who were tipped off on the Hamas attacks. “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,” he wrote on X.
The Israeli government’s press office director, Nitzan Chen, wrote to the four organizations’ bureau chiefs in Israel asking for clarifications regarding the behavior of four photographers amid the assault by Hamas militants.
Israel’s letter, which was seen by POLITICO, accused the photojournalists who worked with the publications of arriving at Israel’s border “alongside Hamas terrorists, documenting the murder of Israeli civilians, lynching of soldier and kidnappings to Gaza” and sought a response on the “disturbing findings” published Wednesday by a pro-Israel non-governmental organization.
Israel’s request for clarification followed a report by Honest Reporting. The most serious question posed by the NGO was whether the photographers had a heads-up that the attack was being planned so were ready on the Saturday morning in order to track the Hamas militants at close range.
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went further over the question of whether reporters should have chronicled the crimes rather than trying to stop them, saying the journalists were “accomplices in crimes against humanity.” Israeli centrist leader Benny Gantz, a member of Netanyahu’s war cabinet, said journalists who were on the scene of the massacre but “still chose to stand as idle bystanders while children were slaughtered — are no different than terrorists and should be treated as such.”
The NGO’s report said two of the four photojournalists whose names first appeared under AP’s photo credits were also working as freelancers for CNN and the New York Times. Reuters published pictures from two other photojournalists who were also at the border as Hamas’ infiltration began.
On Thursday, the Israeli government’s press office published a statement on X accusing the four photographers of crossing “every professional and moral red line” for breaking through the border fence into Israel with the militants, filming the murder of civilians, the abuse of bodies, and the abduction of men and women.
Media hit back
Reuters specifically hit back at the notion that it effectively had an embedded photojournalist with Hamas. It said it acquired photos from “two Gaza-based freelance photographers who were at the border on the morning of Oct. 7,” and that the agency didn’t have a prior relationship with either of them.
“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 added, saying its staff journalists “were not on the ground at the locations referred to in the Honest Reporting article.”
AP said that it, “
had no knowledge of the Oct. 7 attacks before they happened. The first pictures AP received from any freelancer show they were taken more than an hour after the attacks began. No AP staff were at the border at the time of the attacks, nor did any AP staffer cross the border at any time.“
It added that the agency is “no longer working with Hassan Eslaiah,” one of the photographers named in the report, “who had been an occasional freelancer for AP and other international news organizations in Gaza.” Honest Reporting’s report has a picture of Eslaiah smiling as he is kissed by Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar.
The New York Times described the accusations as “untrue” and “outrageous,” as they put “journalists on the ground in Israel and Gaza at risk.” It also criticized Honest Reporting for making “vague allegations against several freelance photojournalists working in Gaza, including Yousef Masoud,” clarifying that Masoud “was not working for The Times on the day of the attack,” but had done “important work” for the publication.
CNN has not issued any statement on the report. It was, however, cited by the Israeli Ynet network saying that it had cut ties with Eslaiah.
“We are aware of the article and photo concerning Hassan Eslaiah, a freelance photojournalist who has worked with a number of international and Israeli outlets,” a CNN spokesperson was quoted as saying by Ynet. “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.”