A nonprofit group named HonestReporting, which monitors media coverage of Israel, is credited with raising serious questions in an online story published Nov. 8. Citing the photos of four accredited Arab photojournalists who work for The Associated Press, CNN, and Reuters, HonestReporting pointed out the photographers managed to be on the scene to photograph a burning army tank and an attack on a kibbutz, and to photograph frightened Jews being kidnapped and taken back to Gaza.
One of the photos taken that day (pictured at right) became a well-known image because it showed Hamas terrorists in the bed of a pickup truck with Shani Louk, the German-Israeli woman who was abducted from the music festival. Her skull was later found by Israeli soldiers in Gaza.
Another photo that stood out shows Hamas gunmen on bikes crossing through the Israel-Gaza border fence before the attack that Israel says killed 1,400 Israelis.
The story by HonestReporting asked if the photojournalists, who live and work in Gaza, had been tipped off about the early-morning attack and if they were imbedded with Hamas when its al-Qassam Brigade crossed into Israel that morning.
“Did the photojournalists who freelance for other media, like CNN and The New York Times, notify these outlets?” the story asked. “Judging from the pictures of lynching, kidnapping and storming of an Israeli kibbutz, it seems like the border has been breached not only physically, but also journalistically.”
Curtis Houck, of media watchdog Media Research Center, says the HonestReporting story raised fair questions which Houck says he has personally answered himself.
“They just conveniently happened to be in the right place at the right time. Is what we're supposed to believe?” he tells AFN. “I don't believe that. Nobody should believe that.”
One clue about the Arab photographers was ironically a photo of one of them, Hassan Eslaiah. After the HonestReporting story published, a photo surfaced of Eslaih receiving a kiss on the cheek, an Arab gesture of friendship, by a top Hamas leader, Yahya Sinwar.
Sinwar is not just another Jew-hating Hamas member – he is credited with planning the Oct. 7 attack and now the IDF is hunting him in Gaza.
After the HonestReporting story published, CNN announced it had decided to “suspend all ties” with Eslaih over the photo of him pictured with Sinwar.
Facing accusations its two photojournalists were embedded with Hamas, Reuters said in a statement it “categorically denies that it had prior knowledge of the attack or that we embedded journalists with Hamas on Oct 7.” In that same statement, the international wire service also appeared to distance itself from its journalists by pointing out they are “freelance photographers” who did not have a “prior relationship” before October 7.
In its own story pushing back on the accusations, The Associated Press published an 800-word story that suggested HonestReporting was questioning brave journalists and endangering the media’s freedom to do its job. The story also quoted Gill Hoffman, executive director of HonestReporting, who is indirectly quoted that he “admitted” his group had no evidence to back up its claims.
AFN has reached out to Hoffman for comment about the AP story quoting him but has not heard back.
At the end of that AP story, in the final paragraph, the wire service reported it had dumped Eslaiah as a freelance photographer. The story said it did so because of the photo of him and Sinwar, the Oct. 7 mastermind, who is described by the AP only as a “Hamas leader.”