Wael al-Dahdouh, the Gaza journalist who became a symbol of resistance after losing his family

The wife, three children and a grandson of the local bureau chief for Al Jazeera have all died under the Israeli bombings that he has been reporting on. He has vowed to go back after getting medical treatment in Qatar

Wael Dahdouh
Al Jazeera journalist Wael al Dahdouh holds the hand of his son Hamza, who died in an Israeli attack, while hugging one of his daughters on January 7.Hatem Ali (AP)
Marc Español

After more than 100 days covering Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, veteran Palestinian journalist Wael al-Dahdouh, the local bureau chief of the Qatari network Al Jazeera, left the Gaza Strip on Tuesday through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt to receive medical treatment in Qatar. The reporter, who was wounded in an Israeli attack in December, has become a journalistic reference in the Arab world in recent months. At age 53, his personal ordeal has made him a symbol of the suffering and the tenacity of Gaza’s journalists and of the general population in the Palestinian enclave.

“Before the last three months, and also during these, Dahdouh, together with many of our journalists, has been an icon of the Palestinian attitude in the face of a genocidal campaign against them, against their voices, against their presence and against their very existence,” says Anan Quzmar, a member of the Palestinian Union of Journalists based in the city of Tulkarem, in the occupied West Bank.

Born in 1970 to a wealthy family in Gaza City, Dahdouh began his journalism career as a reporter for local media before making the jump in 2004 to Al Jazeera, reporting under the tight blockade of Gaza and four previous devastating Israeli military campaigns, according to information provided by the network. During his youth, Dahdouh spent seven years in Israeli prisons for participating in the first Intifada (1987-1993). He wanted to study medicine abroad, but Israel’s refusal led him to focus on journalism.

During these three months, Dahdouh has given a voice to the atrocious daily life in Gaza. In October, an Israeli attack on the Nuseirat refugee camp, in the center of Gaza, hit the house where his family was staying and killed his wife, 44, and two of his children, ages 7 and 15, as well as a grandson who was not even two months old, as reported by Al Jazeera. Like so many others in Nuseirat, Dahdouh’s family had sought refuge there after leaving their home in Gaza City following orders from the Israeli army to leave northern Gaza for their own safety. Four other children of the journalist, who was reporting live when he received the news, were injured, and one of them had to undergo emergency surgery. The attack killed eight more members of Dahdouh’s family circle. Following the tragedy, he declared that this was “the safe zone that the occupation army spoke of.”

In mid-December, Dahdouh and cameraman Samer Abu Daqqa, a Belgian-Palestinian journalist also working for Al Jazeera, were injured by an Israeli missile believed to have been launched from a drone, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported. Both were covering damage from a previous Israeli attack on a United Nations school in Khan Younis, south of Gaza, which was housing internally displaced people. Al Jazeera assured that Abu Daqqa, who died shortly after, could not be immediately evacuated from the area because Israeli forces had surrounded the place and prevented the quick access of doctors to treat the wounded. It was then that Dahdouh was hit by shrapnel in his right hand and waist.

In early January, another Israeli airstrike on a vehicle in Khan Younis killed another of Dahdouh’s sons, Hamza, as well as an Al Jazeera journalist. The attack also killed the videographer Mostafa Thuraya, who collaborated with foreign media such as the AFP agency. The Israeli army offered various (and contradictory) versions of the motive for the attack, and even accused the reporters of belonging to two Palestinian armed groups. Relatives, colleagues and press freedom groups rejected the Israeli claims. And Al Jazeera said that the two slain journalists were driving home after covering the aftermath of an airstrike when their vehicle was hit.

Al Jazeera correspondent Wael al Dahdouh is treated in a Gaza hospital after being injured during an Israeli attack on December 15.
Al Jazeera correspondent Wael al Dahdouh is treated in a Gaza hospital after being injured during an Israeli attack on December 15.- (AFP)

Despite the personal tragedy, Dahdouh continued working to portray the bleak situation in Gaza. After leading prayers at the funeral of several relatives in October, the reporter said that his “duty” was to return to work as soon as possible. “As you can see, the bombing continues,” he justified. After the murder of his son Hamza, Dahdouh acknowledged to the U.S. network NBC that “the cost is very high,” but added that leaving his job in the midst of a humanitarian crisis “is definitely not an option.”

“Dahdouh has been personally attacked, his family has been attacked and killed and, despite all this, he has continued to report, which made him a target in the first place,” says Quzmar of the Palestinian journalists’ union. “He spoke for all Palestinians, not just journalists, when he said they are being murdered twice: once by bombs, and once by the silence and [outside] complicity with the genocide against the people of Gaza.”

Since the beginning of the Israeli military offensive on Gaza and until Thursday, the Committee to Protect Journalists had documented the murder of at least 76 Palestinian media workers and journalists. The non-profit organization has pointed out that the first 10 weeks of the escalation of the ongoing conflict were also the deadliest period for journalists since they began collecting this data in 1992.

The Israeli military has a long history of targeting journalists in killings that go uninvestigated, or whose investigations are not made public. Before the offensive, the Committee to Protect Journalists had documented at least 20 cases of reporters killed by the Israeli army, for which no one was ever held accountable. One of the cases that caused the most outrage was the murder of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in 2022 by Israeli forces while covering a military incursion into the occupied West Bank. His death caused great commotion and was followed by one of the longest and most attended funerals in the history of Palestine.

Once in Egypt, after leaving Gaza through the Rafah border crossing, Dahdouh told the Egyptian network Al Qahera News that he intends to return to work once he has received medical treatment in Qatar. “God willing, all efforts will culminate in the restitution of the rights of the Palestinian people, and in the end of these wars and this suffering,” he said.

War Israel Gaza
Wael al Dahdouh carries the body of one of his dead children in the Nuseirat refugee camp, in central Gaza, on October 25.MAJDI FATHI (AFP)

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