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Israel-Hamas War
Tribune
Opinion articles written in the style of their author." These texts are to be based on verified facts and must be respectful towards people, even though their actions may be criticized. shall feature, along with the author's name (regardless of their greater or lesser renown), a footer stating their office, academic title, political affiliation (if any) and main occupation, or the occupation related to the topic being assessed

Journalists surrounded by the dead

Fifteen reporters have lost their lives in Gaza in just 10 days. Sometimes I wonder what we do risking our skin for the sake of our desire to be witnesses, to denounce, to narrate with facts and images realities that the majority voluntarily ignores

Guerra de Israel en Gaza
Tribute to the Palestinian journalist Mohammed Soboh, who died in Gaza on October 10.STAFF (REUTERS)

Although I do not consider that my own life has ever been in danger, I would dare to say that I have been surrounded by mourning, by absences, for years. Surrounded by the dead. Last January 28 I received an e-mail from a stranger. Without preamble, she informed me of the sudden death of her brother, whom she said she had not seen in years, and thanked me for having photographed him. “He was out of jail for a day and died suddenly in his sleep,” she explained in English. Only the subject line contained his name: Isaiah Joseph Tarin.

For a moment I doubted I knew any Isaiah and the first thing I did was to turn to Google. My mind flashed back to a summer in 2017, in Los Angeles, where for months I interviewed ex-gang members from different sides. After years in the heat and fury of the streets, many of them were then trying to start a new life under the guidance of Parson Gregory Boyle, founder of a revolutionary bakery-restaurant where everyone from the cooks to the servers were former gang members. At Homeboy Industries, they also received occupational training and therapy, and learned how to strengthen their self-esteem and control feelings of anger. Isaiah was one of those hardened guys I talked to for hours. Very young and always smiling, he had three names tattooed on one of his cheekbones, as I remember the names of his ex-girlfriends: Kaelyn, Chelsea, Monique.

The truth is that something that almost nobody tells you in time, when you work as a reporter in a foreign country, is the viscous drip of people that you carry on both sides. People who are your sources, where the press and the right to information are virulently beaten, but also fellow journalists who arrived in places where they were not welcome and who were not allowed to return home. People like María Hernández Matas, an aid worker with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), killed along with two other colleagues (Tedros Gebremariam and Yohannes Halefom Reda) in June 2021 during the war in Tigray (Ethiopia). About three months earlier, Hernández had told me firsthand how military troops had seized and looted 70% of the health centers and hospitals in the region, and also described the desperate situation of the civilian population in Tigray. In October 2021, an MSF colleague asked me by email to share with them the recording of the interview: they just wanted to hear María’s voice.

Equally painful, and in my experience more frequent, is the murder of fellow journalists. When in April 2021 a jihadist group killed David Beriain and Roberto Fraile in an ambush in Burkina Faso, those of us like myself who were based in sub-Saharan Africa received a few nervous messages: “Are you there? Hello.” The senders knew that those killed were Spanish journalists, and wondered if I might be one of them.

Again, I don’t consider that my life was ever in real danger. But I can’t help but remember, when I was living in Jerusalem in 2018, the death by Israeli gunfire of Palestinian videographer Yaser Murtaja in the Gaza strip. Or of the unpunished murder of Al Jazeera’s star correspondent, Shireen Akleh, caused by Israeli shrapnel in May 2022. I can’t stop thinking about the 15 journalists (11 Palestinians, three Israelis and one Lebanese, according to CPJ, the Committee to Protect Journalists) killed in just 10 days since the Islamist group Hamas perpetrated a repulsive attack on civilians in Israel, and Israel hit Gaza harder, with more innocent lives taken.

Sometimes I wonder what we are doing — or rather what they are doing — risking their skin for the sake of our desire to be witnesses, to denounce, to narrate with facts and images realities that the majority voluntarily ignores. In the now almost forgotten (in terms of media attention) war in Ukraine, at least 15 other reporters have been murdered, according to CPJ. And I use the verb “murdered” again because language is everything, and even more so when we are talking about war crimes.

According to the World Press Freedom Index 2023, in seven out of 10 countries globally, conditions for the practice of journalism are adverse, with North Korea, China, and Vietnam leading the way. The report also warns of a growing rejection of journalists on social media and the internet, and of the dangers of increasing disinformation as we are witnessing in real time in Israel and Gaza, with fatal consequences.

For all these reasons, I dare to say that I have been surrounded by the dead for years. Sheltered by the memory of complex people who, in those past lives that always return, I had the privilege of interviewing and by the faces of indomitable reporters — many of them local, underpaid and unhappy — to whom in a kind of lullaby or mantra I would say on a loop: thank you, thank you, thank you. Your work was not in vain.

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