The sacrifices of Palestinian journalists

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A faceless journalist is pictured from behind. They have a helmet reading “PRESS” slung across their back and have lifted respiratory protection up from their face. Their hand rests on the mask.
Local journalism is the only thing bringing the reality of the violence in Gaza to the rest of the world. Engin_Akyurt via Pixabay

As of March 28, 2024, at least 95 journalists have been killed in less than six months

Since the most recent escalation of armed conflict between Israel and Hamas-led militant groups on Oct 7, 2023, the world has watched violence so extreme it is near-unfathomable.

 According to the Gazan health ministry, the death toll in Gaza now stands at 32,000 casualties – civilian and combatant combined.

According to a report published by Oxfam International on Jan 11, 2024, Israel’s military is responsible for killing Palestinians at an average rate of 250 people a day. This average death toll exceeds the daily death toll of any other major conflict of the 21st century, yet many major powers still have not called adamantly for a ceasefire. As a result, civilians continue to lose their lives without any foreseeable end.

Reports from the ground have been instrumental in exposing the reality of what is happening in Gaza. Hospitals are being bombed, leaving children to bleed to death, and surgeries are taking place without anesthesia.

A United Nations (UN) expert panel confirmed in February 2023 that allegations of Palestinian women and girls being subjected to sexual assault, rape, and threats of sexual violence while in Israeli detention “are credible.” Evidence also exists that sexual violence took place against Israeli women and girls during the initial conflict on Oct 7. This marks the weaponization of gender-based sexual violence in an already violent conflict.

As a result, a wave of collective disgust has swept through the globe. Protests, walk-outs, and rallies have taken place across the world. Journalists have played an indispensable role in covering the realities at great personal risk. Many journalist have lost their lives while reporting from the conflict zone. In a report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), as of March 28, 2024, 95 journalists and media workers were confirmed dead. 90 were Palestinian, 2 were Israeli, and 3 were Lebanese. 16 journalists were reported injured, 4 were reported missing, and 25 journalists were reported arrested.

Multiple incidents of assaults, threats, cyberattacks, censorship, and killings of family members were also reported. CPJ also claimed that over 75 per cent of the journalists who were killed lost their lives in Gaza.

The Israel Defense Force (IDF) told Reuters and Agence France Press (APC) news agencies back in October that it could not guarantee the safety of their journalists operating in the Gaza Strip, after they had sought assurances that their journalists would not be targeted by Israeli strikes.

“The IDF is targeting all Hamas military activity throughout Gaza. […] Under these circumstances, we cannot guarantee your employees’ safety, and strongly urge you to take all necessary measures for their safety,” read a letter by the IDF letter to Reuters and APC. It should be noted that journalists are to be protected by international humanitarian law when covering armed conflicts.

CPJ’s report also had the names and lives of each and every individual journalist who has been reported dead or injured since October 2023. The story of every single journalist is a reminder that these were individuals with their own lives, dreams, and aspirations. Individuals whose dedication to their jobs and determination to report on and about the lives of those surviving in a war-torn region stripped them of their own lives.

“CPJ emphasizes that journalists are civilians doing important work during times of crisis and must not be targeted by warring parties,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Journalists across the region are making great sacrifices to cover this heartbreaking conflict. Those in Gaza, in particular, have paid, and continue to pay, an unprecedented toll and face exponential threats. Many have lost colleagues, families, and media facilities, and have fled seeking safety when there is no safe haven or exit.”

Unlike conflicts in other Middle Eastern countries like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, which were covered by both local and international journalists, reports from Gaza come primarily through local journalists. Heavy airstrikes and restricted access to Gaza by the IDF have made it practically impossible for international journalists to enter the conflict zone. As a result, local journalists have been left to work alone.

“The lack of access for outside journalists means these journalists are left with an outsized burden of coverage, […] so it’s really the Gazan journalists who are paying this price,” said American journalist Amat Khan.

Nizar Sadawi, a Palestinian correspondent with Turkish Radio and Television who is currently based in Gaza, remembers getting a call from his brother in the middle of an assignment. His brother told Sadawi that their entire family had been told to evacuate and that an IDF air strike could hit at any moment.

“We’re not looking for appreciation or for words of encouragement,” Sadawi said. “We just need to be protected. We’re telling stories. It’s our job.”

Although the conflict between Israel and Gaza has been highlighted in the last six months, it is important to note that the crisis is not new in any sense. The region has been under conflict for nearly a century, and journalists and media personnel have continued to risk their lives to report on it.

181 journalists were reported injured in 2018 while covering rallies in Gaza. A building housing international media offices – including the Associated Press and Al Jazeera – was targeted and destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in May 2021. The attack claimed the lives of several journalists.

Al Jazeera’s Shireen Abu Akleh was executed in 2022 by the Israeli forces. According to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), an estimated 50 Palestinian journalists were killed between 2000 and 2022.

Reporters Without Borders states that at least 144 journalists have been wounded by Israeli forces, including with bullets, batons, and stun grenades, since 2018.

Journalism requires courage. To bring the truth to light, be a voice for the masses, and be a check and balance to those in power is not only brave but selfless as well.

As a result, we “must work collectively to ensure that journalist killers are brought to justice […] and that the public’s right to be informed is protected from those whose power is threatened by the scrutiny of reporting,” said Jodie Ginsberg, CPJ’s chief executive officer. “Every journalist killed is a further blow to our understanding of the world.”

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