Israel’s indiscriminate and incessant bombardment of the Gaza Strip has caused a horrific and unacceptable number of civilian deaths. Palestinian (citizen) journalists are also increasingly becoming victims in this latest chapter of Israel’s aggression. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that this is the deadliest “war” for journalists since it began measuring in 1992.
At the time of writing, Israel killed no fewer than 34 journalists in Gaza and one in Lebanon. Given Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, these journalists may seem like nothing more than collateral damage in a “war” in which Israel continues to push the boundaries of international law unhindered. But surviving journalists testify that Israel’s airstrikes on journalists and their families are targeted. For example, Al Jazeera correspondent Youmna Elsayed received a threatening phone call from the Israeli army to leave her residence in Gaza City for the south.
“I don’t know how safe it is to leave by car and drive through this heavy bombardment. It is very risky, it does not seem safe at all,” said Elsayed. Her family was the only one of the seven families in her building to receive this call. “This was a direct threat to us, to our family.”
Al Jazeera noted that this threat to its staff comes just days after the arbitrary killing of the family of Wael Dahdouh, also a correspondent for Al Jazeera. His family had previously responded to a call from the Israeli army to move south before they were bombed.
Dahdouh was told the news of their deaths during a live broadcast. The images of Dahdouh identifying his deceased wife, two children and grandson live went viral.
“These vests and helmets provide no protection”
An investigation by Reporters Without Borders showed that Lebanese journalist Issam Abdallah was not a victim of it collateral damage was, but a target of Israel. Abdallah was reporting on the firefights between Hezbollah and Israel in southern Lebanon when he and his team were hit by an Israeli airstrike. The team of journalists stood next to a vehicle clearly marked ‘Press’ and all had press vests and helmets on. There was no way they could have been mistaken for Hezbollah fighters.
“It is only a matter of time before we become martyrs (killed by Israel),” said an emotional Palestine TV correspondent, Salman al-Bashir, in a livehttps://twitter.com/AJEnglish/status/1720417160647016679 about the murder of his fellow reporter Mohammed Abu Hatab. “There is no international protection or immunity at all. These vests and helmets do not provide any protection,” al-Bashir said before taking off his press vest and helmet. “We’re just waiting for our turn, we’re dying here one by one.”
“These heinous acts are an extension of a systematic policy to attack and kill Palestinian journalists. The Israeli army killed 55 Palestinian journalists between the year 2000 and October 7, 2023, including the martyr Shireen Abu Akleh in May 2022,” read a statement from the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS).
Massacres in the dark
Israel is also making it increasingly difficult for journalists in Gaza to do their work. “The [Israëlische] occupation has cut off all means of communication with the Gaza Strip: internet, telephone and mobile data. Communications remain limited and subject to disruptions, allowing Israel to carry out its massacres in the dark, far from the lenses of the international media,” the PJS said.
The only news channel that was able to continue broadcasting amid the power and communications outage was Al Jazeera, thanks to its satellite link. Their reporters can provide sporadic updates, but direct communication remains difficult due to the near-total power outage.
Several human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, journalists and press freedom organizations such as the CPJ expressed concern about the lack of contact with Gaza. “This communications disruption means it will become even more difficult to obtain crucial information and evidence about human rights violations and war crimes against Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and to listen directly to those experiencing the violations,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Senior Director of Research, Advocacy, Policy and Campaigns at Amnesty International.
Al Jazeera banned
News media in Gaza, and in Palestine in general, have faced an even tougher test since October 7. On October 16, Israel proposed emergency measures to ban foreign media outlets such as Qatar’s Al Jazeera from the country on grounds of “incitement to terror” and “undermining morale among soldiers.”
The Middle East’s only democratic state has since ordered a Palestinian radio station and a news agency in the occupied West Bank to close.
International press freedom organizations as well as Israeli media to a lesser extent have spoken out against Israel’s decision. They warn that this move will further encourage Israel to further restrict press freedom – both in Palestine and in Israel.
War on journalists
While all eyes are on Gaza, the Israeli occupation forces arrested more than a dozen Palestinian journalists working in the West Bank. Some of them are held in administrative detention, incarceration without charge or trial – an Israeli practice to discourage dissidents.
Palestinian journalists still working in Gaza often no longer have a place to work. Israeli airstrikes have destroyed more than 50 newsrooms and offices, according to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate. Fuel shortages due to Israel’s siege also forced Gaza’s 24 radio stations to close.
Bombings at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on November 9 forced thousands of Palestinians to leave their shelter in the hospital courtyard. The airstrike hit civilians sheltering next to a tent where journalists were staying. Israeli media declared Palestinian journalists Bisan Owda, Moataz Azaiza, Plestia Alaqad and many others outlaws after claiming they had ties to Hamas; a claim for which they could provide no concrete evidence.
Deliberately targeting, killing, arresting and censoring Palestinian journalists and news media are not unprecedented practices in Israel. In the previous Israel-Gaza “war” in 2021, Israel carried out airstrikes on the offices of several news media, including Associated Press and Al Jazeera. In May 2022, the Israeli army killed star Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while she and her team were reporting on an Israeli raid on Jenin, all wearing press vests.
Despite these despicable killings and destruction, Israel continues to enjoy billions of dollars in support from the US and Europe and can continue its ethnic cleansing and genocide of Palestine unhindered and unsanctioned.
If the West takes international law seriously, it will stop Israel’s genocidal siege of Gaza and sanction Israel’s apartheid regime.