Israeli bombs and siege silence Gaza journalists: ‘I just want to tell the truth so that someone stops this’

Twenty Palestinian journalists have died as a result of airstrikes by the Israeli army, and 50 media outlets have been destroyed or damaged.

War Israel Gaza
Al Jazeera's correspondent in Gaza, Wael Dahdouh, holds in his arms the body of one of his sons, killed with his wife and daughter in an Israeli bombing, at the al-Aqsa hospital in the south of the Strip, on October 25, 2023.MAJDI FATHI (AFP)

With hardly any food or water, no electricity to charge their equipment, no internet and under the constant threat of bombing by the Israeli army, local journalists in Gaza are the only voices that are reporting on the conflict from within the enclave. The total siege decreed by the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, after Hamas launched an unprecedented attack against Israel on October 7, has prevented the entry of both the international and Israeli press. As a result, Gaza is close “to a complete media blackout,” according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Israeli bombs are also silencing journalists. The Israeli army’s airstrike campaign against Gaza has killed more than 6,500 people, including 20 journalists, and has destroyed or damaged some 50 media outlets in the Palestinian enclave, among the thousands of buildings affected.

Hossam B is a Gazan journalist who does not want to give his real name to protect himself and out of respect for the security instructions of the media outlet he works for. He is one of 50 reporters who, according to RSF, have had to “rush to evacuate their homes in Gaza City” due to Israel’s evacuation orders. He has been in the south of the Gaza Strip for more than a week with his wife, whose health problems have been exacerbated by the stressful situation, and four children. “I have already seen a few wars in Gaza, but I have never cried as much as these days, while working,” he says, in a telephone conversation with EL PAÍS at the end of another exhausting work day. “It’s not like anything we’ve experienced before, no one is safe. It’s so unfair... I just want to tell the truth, as a journalist, so that someone stops this now and our families can be saved,” he adds, exhausted.

According to cases confirmed by RSF, at least 10 journalists have died while covering the conflict and another nine have lost their lives as a result of Israeli attacks. On Wednesday, the Al Jazeera network reported that the family — the wife, son and daughter — of one of its correspondents in Gaza, Wael Dahdouh, have been killed in a bombing. They had moved from the north of Gaza to Nuseirat, in the center, after Israel warned residents to leave the area in order to escape the imminent ground incursion. Also killed on Wednesday, by another Israeli air attack in the south of the Palestinian enclave, were the wife and son of journalist Mohammed Farra, who was working in Ramallah (West Bank).

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) raises the total number of killed journalists to 24 (20 Palestinians, three Israelis and one Lebanese reporter). “The figure is similar to the number of all the journalists killed in Palestine during the last 10 years,” condemns Edith Rodríguez Cachera, vice president of RSF Spain. The last confirmed victim, Mohammad Baalouche, director of the Palestine Today television channel, was “murdered” in a selective attack against his home in Gaza, according to the CPJ.

“Exponential dangers”

Local Palestinian journalists “are the eyes of what is happening on the ground, but they face exponential dangers, including not only airstrikes, but also a possible ground incursion,” says Sherif Mansour, the coordinator of CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program. Many of them “have lost their homes and their families, they have had to flee to the south, where they continue to face great danger when they work, and where they do not have access to computers or the internet” to carry out their reporting, he continues.

They also cannot receive help from abroad as a result of the blockade, which Israel has maintained since 2007, points out Rodríguez Cachera. “You cannot send them solar batteries to make up for the shortage of electricity, which is what is used in conflict zones, nor can they be equipped or evacuated, as happened with the Afghan journalists [after the return of the Taliban, in August 2021],” he adds.

These are precisely the conditions under which Hossam B has to carry out his job. “We are working in our territory, and we have two duties: one to our people and another to our family. For me, it’s in that order. I go out to work and do everything I can to convey the truth about what our people are suffering. And I also spend part of the day trying to reassure and keep my family safe,” he explains. “Because when you see dead children every day, entire families buried under the ruins, or mothers of wounded families who end up dying, you only think about your loved ones. It only takes one second for your children to be those dead children,” he adds. If at some point Egypt allows Gazans to leave or if he is offered the option to be evacuated, he is not sure what he would do. “It is a difficult question. I would do everything to keep my family safe, but I don’t know if I would leave or stay working. Honestly, I don’t know.”

Working as a journalist in any international conflict is difficult, but, according to Mansour, in the specific case of Gaza, the presence of international journalists and media has been falling. “In many cases, it’s due to the risk it entails because in other wars in Gaza the facilities of other media outlets were bombed,” says Mansour. This includes Al Jazeera, the Qatari channel that the Israeli government is now trying to ban with an emergency rule that will allow it to close media outlets whose reporting “harms national security.” Mansour continues: “It is very risky, especially after the murder of prominent Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh [who was killed by Israeli forces, according to the U.N., in the northern West Bank in May 2022], a death for which no one was held accountable.”

At other key moments of the conflict, such as the Israeli offensive in Gaza in 2014 — the bloodiest in recent years, in which more than 2,200 Palestinians died — there were foreign journalists inside Gaza. But now, the two crossings that could give entry to the international press: one in the north, from Israel, and another in the south, from Egypt, are closed. No one has entered or left Gaza since October 7, except for the few humanitarian aid trucks that have entered in recent days.

Other forms of repression

Repression against journalism also “takes other forms,” in addition to direct attacks on the lives of reporters and photographers, says RSF. According to the Palestinian Press Syndicate, 50 media outlets have been totally or partially destroyed in Gaza, including 24 radio stations that broadcast over the air or online, which are “one of the main sources of information for the local population,” explains Rodríguez Cachera.

“Dozens of these media were grouped in large towers in Gaza City, which were among the first to be bombed” by Israel, adds Mansour. According to the RSF, the bombings also destroyed a temporary tent housing teams from AFP, Reuters, BBC and Al Jazeera in the south of Gaza, but did not injure anyone.

Journalists outside of Gaza are also feeling the pressure. Three BBC journalists were held at gunpoint by an Israeli police officer on their way to their hotel in Tel Aviv. And in Jerusalem, Ahmad Darwasha, a correspondent for Al Araby TV, was threatened and insulted during a live broadcast by another Israeli police officer. “I really hope you say good things,” he snapped when the reporter explained that he was telling him what “the spokesperson” of the Israeli Defense Forces had said. As Darwasha tried to finish his broadcast, the police officer stood in front of the camera. “Killers, killers [...] Gaza should be turned into dust.”

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