Parents of Supernova festival victims sue AP and Reuters for NIS 25 million in damages

Lawsuit asserts that publication of photos taken of Hamas atrocities ‘in real time’ by photojournalists working with AP, Reuters means the agencies have ‘extended responsibility’

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

File - People visit the site of the Supernova music festival massacre in Re'im, January 14, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
File - People visit the site of the Supernova music festival massacre in Re'im, January 14, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The parents of five victims of the Supernova Festival massacre on October 7 have filed a civil suit for damages against The Associated Press and Reuters news agencies due to what they allege was the involvement of photojournalists employed or utilized by those agencies in the Hamas atrocities of that day.

The parents of May Naim, Lotan Abir, Guy Gabriel, Shalev Madmoni and Shani Louk filed the lawsuit in the Jerusalem District Court, seeking some NIS 25 million ($6.5 million) in damages for their pain and suffering and other losses resulting from the murder of their children.

Over 360 men and women partying at the Supernova Festival rave close to Kibbutz Re’im near the Gaza border were murdered by Hamas terrorists who invaded Israel on October 7, and dozens of hostages were seized and taken to Gaza.

In all, the terror group killed some 1,200 people, overwhelmingly civilians, and abducted 253 that day in the worst terror attack ever to be conducted against Israel.

The lawsuit filed by the victims’ parents last week alleges that five photojournalists, Hassan Abdel Fattah Eslaiah, Hatem Ali, Mohammed Fayq Abu Mostafa, Ashraf Amra, and Ali Mahmoud, who filed photographs in real time of the atrocities being perpetrated by Hamas terrorists, were in fact a component of the attacks themselves, and were not conducting legitimate journalistic work.

The journalists were either aware ahead of time that a mass invasion and terror attack was about to be staged by Hamas or, being present from the very outset of the attacks, were culpable for doing nothing to stop the assault, including failing to warn the Israeli authorities, the suit asserts.

A photo taken by photojournalist Hatam Ali and published by the AP news agency of Palestinian terrorists abducting 85-year old Yaffa Adar from Kibbutz Nir Oz into the Gaza Strip, October 7, 2023. (AP/Hatem Ali)

Although only one of the photojournalists was present at the Supernova Festival, the suit argues that the October 7 attack was one event spread over a large geographical area, and that participation in any part of the invasion implied culpability for all of it.

Since AP and Reuters posted the photos they received from these journalists as the attacks unfolded, in some cases giving only the agency’s name as photo credit, and continue to make the pictures available for sale on their websites, they have culpability in the death of the plaintiffs’ children, the suit maintains.

The allegations against the photojournalists and the news agencies were first raised by the pro-Israel media watchdog organization Honest Reporting in November.

Reuters said at the time that it “categorically denied” having embedded journalists with Hamas on October 7, and that it had acquired photos taken by two freelance photographers that it published after Israel announced that Hamas terrorists invaded the country, adding that it had not had staff journalists on the ground during the attack.

AP said that the first pictures it received from freelancers “were taken more than an hour after the attacks began,” adding, “The role of the AP is to gather information on breaking news events around the world, wherever they happen, even when those events are horrific and cause mass casualties.”

Neither AP or Reuters immediately responded to a request for comment on the lawsuit against them.

In a separate case filed in February, dual Israeli-US nationals who survived the Supernova massacre sued AP for damages in the Southern District of Florida in the US under the US Antiterrorism Act, accusing the news agency of “materially supporting terrorism” by purchasing images taken during and after the October 7 attack by “known Hamas associates who were gleefully embedded with the Hamas terrorists.”

The AP said that case was “baseless.”

The lawsuit filed in the Jerusalem District Court argues: “The terrorists of Hamas and other organizations were accompanied that day by ‘journalists’ in the service of the respondents… and photographed severe crimes that were published on the same day, and seemingly even within minutes of being carried out, by the respondents.”

It also alleges that these photographers “waited by the border fence before it was breached in dozens of different locations at the same time,” and “crossed the border fence together with the Hamas terrorists, accompanied them on their heels in the execution of the atrocities, calmly participated, cheered, encouraged and praised the atrocities and transferred their ‘journalistic products’ to the respondents for a fee in order to be distributed in media networks.”

The suit pointed out that Eslaiah, who worked for AP, has close connections to Hamas, exemplified by a selfie he took together with Hamas leader and October 7 architect Yihye Sinwar in 2020 where Sinwar is seen kissing the photographer on the cheek.

In one incident, Eslaiah photographed an Israeli tank going up in flames, which was published by AP. At the same time Eslaiah published a selfie video on his 600,000-member Telegram channel where he talked of being inside Israel and how he witnessed all the soldiers in the tank being taken captive into Gaza.

Eslaiah was even filmed riding on a motorbike holding his camera in one hand and a grenade in the other, the suit charges. He also photographed the early-morning invasion of Kibbutz Kfar Aza, where dozens of Israelis were murdered and kidnapped, photos from which the lawsuit says were published by AP “almost in real time.”

AP announced that it had severed ties with Eslaiah in November after evidence of his connections to Hamas came to light.

The lawsuit also details the activities of Hatem Ali, also employed by AP, who photographed atrocities committed by Hamas including an infamous picture of 85-year old Yaffa Adar being abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz.

“The photos Ali took are nothing less than diabolical and demonstrate his participation in the circle of evil in which Israeli citizens, including the elderly and children, were kidnapped,” charges the lawsuit.

Ali also photographed Yarden Bibas being abducted from Kfar Aza, a picture which was also published by AP. Bibas’s wife, 4-year old son, and 9-month old baby boy were all kidnapped as well.

Ali is still employed by AP, the lawsuit says.

A photo published by AP taken by one of their freelancers who entered Israel during the October 7 invasion of terrorists abducting Yarden Bibas to Gaza after kidnapping him from his home in Nir Oz, a kibbutz in Israel near the Gaza border, on Oct. 7, 2023. His wife Shiri and son Ariel, 4, and baby Kfir were also abducted. (AP Photo)

Mohammed Fayq Abu Mostafa who was employed by Reuters, and Ashraf Amra, employed by Reuters and AP, also “took an active part and joined Hamas terrorists in the October 7 massacres,” the lawsuit says.

It notes that after they went back to Gaza they shot a live video from Amra’s Instagram account on his phone where they recounted what they saw, and shared pictures from Amra’s phone of the lynching of an Israeli soldier.

“These two ‘journalists’ are seen smiling (to put it mildly) during the broadcast, [and] called on their [Instagram] followers and viewers to join the invasion while indicating that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event,” states the lawsuit, noting that Abu Mostafa had said he had been present from the outset of the invasion.

In one picture taken by Abu Mostafa and published by Reuters, a severely injured Israeli soldier can be seen being carried away by Palestinians to Gaza.

Ali Mahmud, who worked for AP, took a series of photos of Shani Louk’s body as it was being taken to Gaza on the back of a pickup truck. Louk’s body is still being held in Gaza.

“Any excuse and/or justification imaginable under journalism law, such as, for example, the public’s right to know… cannot justify a situation in which a reporter for the respondents is present, participates in, and even documents the commission of a serious crime while it is being carried out — such as, for example, the kidnapping of an elderly woman from her house,” the lawsuit asserts.

“This is not about legitimate press coverage, but about people who are ‘partners to the crime’ and at the very least are acting as [part of] a group.”

AP also acquired and uploaded pictures of captives taken from the Supernova Festival including Noa Argamani and Avinatan Or which had been posted with a comment in Arabic overlaid on the image saying “Our boys performed their duty” with a smiley emoticon at the end of the sentence, the lawsuit says.

Both Argamani and Or are still being held in captivity in Gaza.

The photographs taken by the photojournalists cited in the lawsuit are all available for purchase and use by other media outlets on the AP and Reuters websites, including those of Louk on AP’s site.

Attorney Yossy Haezrachy who is representing the parents of five people who were murdered during the Supernova Festival close to Kibbutz Re’im on October 7 by Hamas terrorists. (Kfir Ziv)

“Journalists have certain rights to do journalistic work, but that doesn’t excuse them from standing by while severe crimes are taking place,” said attorney Yossy Haezrachy, an attorney who is representing the families in court.

“You are obliged to call the police when you see a crime being committed, not take out a camera and send photos to your employer.”

He also pointed out that some of the photos were published within as little as two hours after the incident itself.

Haezrachy argued that AP and Reuters, as the employers of these photojournalists, had “extended responsibility” for the actions of their employees since they knew what they were doing by dint of the photos they were receiving and publishing, and profited from publication of the images.

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