These Journalists Are Reporting From Gaza Amid Israeli Bombardment
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Author: Zahra Hankir
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Teen Vogue

On the 31st day of the Israel-Hamas war, Palestinian journalist Ayat Khadoura posted a video on Instagram with the text, "My final message to the world." Khadoura, dressed in black, is distressed. She cries as she speaks, sometimes pausing to collect herself. "We never imagined we’d be in this situation, living a life that doesn't have the bare minimum of human rights," she says. "As much as people have filmed and documented what’s happening, there are some things you can't explain. When the war ends, who’ll be left to tell people what happened to us? We saw everything being destroyed right in front of our eyes."

Two weeks later, on November 20, Khadoura was killed in an Israeli airstrike on her home in northern Gaza, according to data collected by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

On the 46th day of the Israel-Hamas war, the day after Khadoura was killed, the photojournalist Montaser Al-Sawaf posted a selfie. His face had been marred by injuries sustained in an attack that killed 45; among the casualties were his mother, father, two brothers, and their children, he wrote. "Unfortunately, I can't find a doctor to treat me in Gaza City. There is no hospital for treatment or even doctors," he explained. "We will continue our coverage despite everything."

Ten days later, on December 1, Al-Sawaf was killed in an Israeli airstrike, according to CPJ. "We, his colleagues, were obligated to write breaking news on [Montaser's] killing," the Palestinian journalist Hind Khoudary wrote in a post. "We reported his killing with our tears. We have been reporting on the killing of our beloved ones since day one. Montaser chose to stay in Gaza. He was one of the few colleagues that stayed and risked his life to report on what was happening in the north... Montaser's smile will stay in my heart, forever."

These are just two accounts of dozens of deaths. At least 64 journalists have been killed during the war, according to CPJ. The majority, 57, were Palestinian; four were Israeli and three Lebanese. The nonprofit says this is the deadliest period for reporters since it started compiling records in 1992. On average, one journalist or media worker is dying per day, a pace the International Federation of Journalists says is unprecedented.

"Journalists should be allowed to operate safely without the danger of dying," Mohamad Bazzi, a journalism professor at New York University tells Teen Vogue. "There's a clear distinction in international law: Journalists must be considered civilians and therefore need to be protected. The aggressor party — in this case, Israel — needs to take steps to protect journalists. Instead, we're seeing a targeted campaign against journalists and their families."

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has filed a war crimes complaint with the International Criminal Court, detailing at least nine cases in which journalists (eight Palestinian and one Israeli) were killed since October 7. RSF, the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association, and the IFJ are calling for journalists to be protected.

While international organizations push for accountability, reporters on the ground are facing extraordinary challenges. On October 13, Lebanese photojournalist and videographer Issam Abdallah was killed by Israeli shelling near the Lebanese border while wearing a press vest, according to RSF; several other journalists accompanying him were wounded. (Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, has exchanged fire with the Israeli army.) A Human Rights Watch investigation found two Israeli strikes were “apparently deliberate attacks on civilians, which is a war crime,” with Amnesty International adding in a separate report that the group was “visibly identifiable as journalists.” Israel has said the incident is under review.

CPJ says it’s investigating whether some of the other deceased journalists were targeted, among them Belal Jadallah, who was killed after an Israeli missile struck his car in Gaza. Jadallah, who trained independent journalists as the director of Press House-Palestine, was a revered and influential figure in Gaza, beloved by many.

"There’s no safe haven for these journalists," Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa program coordinator at CPJ, tells Teen Vogue in a phone interview. Their deaths "are part of a deadly pattern that existed before this war, which has left Palestinian journalists in a precarious situation and to a chilling effect. We’ve seen a pattern of journalists being killed with their families, or after they were threatened, their families being killed in Israeli bombings."

In May 2023, one year after the killing of respected journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, CPJ published a report that found that over two decades, 20 journalists had been killed by Israeli military fire, with no one held accountable. While the IDF did eventually apologize for Abu Akleh’s killing, Israel’s Military Advocate General’s Office said, “It did not intend to pursue criminal charges or prosecutions of any of the soldiers involved,” according to CNN. In a statement to ABC, the IDF claimed that it "takes all operationally feasible measures to protect civilians and to facilitate freedom of the press." They did not further elaborate on specific allegations. A US intelligence assessment, reported by CNN, has since found that about half of the munitions that Israel has dropped on Gaza are “dumb bombs,” which are unguided and imprecise.

Amid a devastating Israeli bombardment, which according to Gaza’s health ministry has taken more than 18,800 lives as of Dec. 18, with around two-thirds of the dead being women and children, Palestinian reporters have experienced injurydetentionpower and communication blackouts, and harassment. That’s not to mention a shortage of food and water and a lack of access to medical care in Gaza.

And yet, despite all these risks, they continue to bring people eyewitness accounts of Palestinian suffering: So far, more than 51,100 have been wounded, according to the health ministry, and the war has displaced an estimated 1.9 million. Some of these journalists acknowledge their proximity to death as they witness many of their colleagues fall, one by one. "Hey everyone, this is Bisan from Gaza, we're still alive," Bisan Owda says in her dispatches. Some have been posting "goodbye messages,” with the photojournalist Motaz Azaiza saying it's "about life or death now," and Doaa Mohammad, another photographer, declaring, "We are on the waiting list… We will not forgive everyone who let us down.”  

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Israeli airstrikes have also led to the destruction or partial destruction of as many as 50 media outlets in Gaza, according to RSF, which cites the Palestinian Press Syndicate. Foreign journalists have been barred from entering Gaza, with Israel allowing only a select few access with authorization, as part of embeds with the IDF (CNN’s Clarissa Ward managed to visit a field hospital for a few hours despite the ban). This has created a near-impossible environment for complete historical documentation, partly spurring a reliance on social media for raw updates. “The killing of journalists, their forced displacement from the north, and severe movement restrictions have greatly hindered efforts to monitor, document, and report on the situation in Gaza and on violations and abuses of international law,” the United Nations Human Rights Office in the Occupied Palestinian Territory said in a statement on December 14.

Palestinian reporters have shared footage from schools-turned-shelters, refugee camps, leveled streets, overcrowded hospitals, and a bombed church. These journalists have witnessed countless deaths and have posted imagery of civilians observing the rubble of their homes, people standing in line to use a toilet, desperate searches for water, supermarkets running out of food, and mass evacuations many say are reminiscent of the 1948 Nakba. “Imagine everything you tried to build and achieve got lost in seconds,” Azaiza captioned in a video with drone footage of the widespread wreckage.

They’ve interviewed traumatized children, people with special needs, and women in makeshift maternity wards. Their posts have even contained desperate pleas: “We’re dying, please, please do something,” says Owda in one. But they have also offered small snippets of daily life that illustrate the resilience of Palestinians: boys getting haircuts and helping clean floors, people baking bread and frying falafel, and kids painting in hospital courtyards.

The reporting the journalists are undertaking is at once deeply risky and personal: the death tolls on our screens often involve their friendsfamily, or neighbors. And the rubble and ruins they report from are the landscapes of their neighborhoods, schools, and streets. "I wish I died before seeing this happen to my people," Azaiza writes.

Sometimes, journalists report on the deaths of loved ones on camera. On November 2, Salman Al-Bashir appeared overcome with emotion during a live broadcast after learning that an Israeli air strike had killed fellow reporter Mohammad Abu Hatab. "We can’t take it anymore, we’re exhausted. These are merely slogans that we wear," Al-Bashir says as he takes off his helmet and press vest, throwing them to the ground. "They don't provide real protection for journalists. These shields do not shield us…. Souls are being lost, one by one, with complete impunity."

Despite the losses, some have returned to work. On December 15, a drone strike believed to be Israeli, killed Samer Abu Daqqa, an Al-Jazeera Arabic cameraperson, while he was reporting from a UN school in Khan Yunis that was sheltering displaced people and had been hit by overnight airstrikes, according to the CPJ. Wael Dahdouh, Al-Jazeera Arabic's Gaza bureau chief, was injured by shrapnel in the same attack, according to the Qatar-based broadcaster. Dahdouh's wife, daughter, son, and grandson were previously killed in an Israeli airstrike during the early stages of the war; despite his grief, he had returned to the field. A testament to his commitment to journalism, the day after the Khan Yunis attack that killed his colleague Abu Daqqa, Dahdouh resumed reporting undeterred. He posted a photo of himself on the field in a press vest, with bandaged arms and the caption: "Coverage continues despite the huge wound." CPJ has called for an international investigation into the attack.

Dahdouh, Azaiza, Owda, Khoudary, and other local reporters are being hailed by many as heroes. In November, Azaiza was featured as Man of the Year on the cover of GQ’s Middle East editionArtwork portraying the journalists has gone viral. However, Khoudary insists she’s "not a superhero" and is "shattered" due to the loss of relatives, friends, and colleagues “weighing heavily on [her] soul.”  

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At the same time, there have been efforts to cast doubt on these journalists’ reporting, with fake social media accounts adding to the confusion. HonestReporting, the US-based media advocacy group that says it exposes “anti-Israel media bias” questioned whether several news organizations had prior knowledge of Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel, an allegation denied by the organizations in question—Reuters, CNN, the New York Times, and AP (HonestReporting later accepted these accounts).

In addition to the on-the-ground challenges Palestinian journalists face, there are also "attempts to dehumanize and undermine them," says Hind Hassan, an Emmy Award-winning journalist at VICE News. "Without them and many others putting their lives on the line, Gaza would be an information black hole, and the atrocities taking place would have remained buried under the rubble.”

Concurrently, "some Western news organizations are buying into an Israeli narrative that says nothing the Palestinian journalists say can be trusted,” says Bazzi. Meanwhile, Western media regularly relies on local reporters and so-called fixers to assist them with information gathering, he adds. "There’s a long history of Western news organizations treating local journalists as sort of a second-class journalist [compared to] Western journalists.”

There’s a silver lining in this moment of reportage, as harrowing as it may be, Bazzi says. Given foreign media can't freely access Gaza, "it's harder for traditional news organizations to play the gatekeeper role when Palestinian journalists can share their news directly" with audiences online. This, he says, has resulted in a shift in the narrative in some spaces, despite the power of counternarratives.

With the rising death toll, pleas to the international community are becoming increasingly urgent. CPJ demands a "review and reform of the rules of engagement to ensure there are safeguards for media, and when media is identified, to respect press insignia," says Mansour. "These are issues we would like to see Israeli allies, including the US and European governments, raise directly and publicly with their Israeli counterparts."

Meanwhile, Owda, Azaiza, Khoudary, and others continue to report, sometimes quoting one another – they are civilians experiencing this war like any other, after all. On November 4, Owda interviewed a fellow journalist, asking him what he'd say if his message were to be heard by people all around the world.

"We as journalists are trying our best to publish and spread the truth, despite the closures and restrictions we face," he says. "We’ll continue to publish, to live, to rebuild our lives, and to revive the region. We won't give up."

[Zahra Hankir is a Lebanese journalist who writes about the cultures and communities of the Middle East. Her work has appeared in Conde Nast Traveller, The Rumpus, Times Literary Supplement, McSweeney’s, Guernica Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Los Angeles Times, Vice, BBC News, Al Jazeera English, Businessweek, Roads & Kingdoms, and Literary Hub, among other publications. She was awarded a Jack R. Howard Fellowship in International Journalism to attend the Columbia Journalism School and holds degrees in politics and Middle Eastern studies from the American University of Beirut and the University of Manchester, respectively. Her first book, Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World, was awarded the Susan Koppelman Award for the best anthology in feminist studies. She was a finalist for the 2022 Popular Features award at One World Media and the 2022 Best Coverage of the MENA Region award at the Arab and Middle East Journalists Association and has had stints at BBC News in London and at the New York Times Syndicate in Manhattan. Hankir was born in the United Kingdom during Lebanon’s civil war, and has lived in Sidon, Beirut, Dubai, New York, Manchester and London. She is based in Brooklyn and regularly travels to the Middle East.]

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