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IDF strike on a Gaza building housing news media perpetrates misinformation

When the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza on May 15, that housed numerous news media offices including the Associated Press (AP) and broadcaster Al Jazeera, it did more than spark condemnation from journalists and observers. It appears to have prompted misleading claims in an effort to defend the strike.

The IDF said that the building, destroyed in a May 15 airstrike after warning the inhabitants to evacuate, was being used by Hamas militants. That presence, they said justified the destruction of the building and the office space occupied by news media.

But on Sunday, the AP’s top editor called for an independent investigation into the Israeli airstrike that targeted and destroyed the Gaza City building that houses several news organizations. It pointed out that demolishing the infrastructure used by journalists during a conflict already marked by rampant misinformation and questionable moderation decisions by social media outlets will only further limit the availability of reliable information.

In a statement, the AP, a long-time tenant of the buildings used by news agencies, called on Israel’s government to release the evidence pointing to Hamas’ presence there, since it wasn’t something of which the news media housed there was aware.

“AP’s bureau has been in this building for 15 years. We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building. This is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk,” read the statement in part.

This is the third time that Israel has destroyed a building that housed news organizations. Israeli officials told The Jerusalem Post that the intelligence that supposedly prompted the attack had been shared with President Joe Biden and other U.S. officials. But so far, Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he has received nothing.

According to First Draft, a news disinformation verifier with which Ark Valley Voice is associated, several outlets that frequently share misinformation took the IDF at its word that Hamas was in the building, and without verifying the information, wrote articles that were shared on Facebook. The IDF has yet to respond to questions about the military necessity of destroying what the AP describes as a civilian target.

The media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders has asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel’s bombing of a building housing media organizations as a possible war crime.

Joel Simon of the Committee to Protect Journalists has demanded that the Israeli government release information to substantiate their claim that Hamas was using the building.

The strike has inflamed tensions with media outlets, several of which previously asked for clarification about reports suggesting the IDF may have misled them into repeating false claims of a ground incursion into Gaza in order to ambush Hamas fighters.

Hundreds have been killed, including scores of children, mostly among Palestinians, who cannot leave the Gaza Strip.

The situation might remind students of history about the nebulous “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) claims made prior to the invasion of Iraq. No WMD were ever found.

Featured image: The collapsed building occupied by several news organizations, including the Associated Press and Al Jazeera following a May 15 Israelis airstrike in Gaza. Photo by Reuters, Mohamed Salem.