Z a c Zack

Live Life Deliberately

For Gaza’s journalists, war coverage and personal grief are one story

Youmna Elsayed, a correspondent for Al Jazeera English, narrated the terrifying scenes in Gaza City during a live broadcast last week. Israeli warplanes roared overhead. Airstrikes hit the neighborhoods below.

It was not some distant battlefield. The war was all around her home.

Her children were in a nearby room, along with the neighbors’ families. “Our building is literally shaking now,” she said during the broadcast on Oct. 30 as the channel showed a view from a rooftop with black columns of smoke. Explosions echoed over Elsayed’s phone line. She was sitting alone in a room in her house where it was quieter. Airstrikes, she explained, made her youngest child scream.

“It does not feel safe at all,” she said.

For weeks, hundreds of locally based journalists in the Gaza Strip have provided the world with intimate views of the devastation on Palestinian lives and homes — while trying to find ways to survive themselves and keep their families safe. They calm and console children, scavenge for food and water, and race between the hospitals and destroyed buildings they report from, hoping that no friends or relatives are there when they arrive.

A look at some of the journalists killed in Gaza

During the conflict, Palestinian journalists have been killed at a staggering rate of at least one a day. Between 34 and 50 have been killed, according to different estimates, many in Israeli strikes, according to press advocacy groups. The toll amounts to nearly 4 percent of Gaza’s media workers.

October was the deadliest month for journalists in more than three decades, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The war’s death toll last month included four Israeli journalists who were among more than 1,400 people killed during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that set off the conflict, as well as a Lebanese journalist, Issam Abdullah, who worked for Reuters and was killed in southern Lebanon by missiles fired from “the direction” of Israel, the news agency said.

Israel’s bombing campaign and invasion has killed more than 10,000 people in Gaza, including more than 4,000 children, according to the Health Ministry there.

International journalists have been unable to enter Gaza, barred by Israel and Egypt, which control the borders. A few foreign journalists have embedded with the Israeli army during its invasion of Gaza.

A bottomless global appetite for news — the deepening humanitarian disaster, the soaring civilian death toll and the unfolding battle between Israel and Hamas — has piled even more pressure on local reporters trying to navigate a war.

Some Palestinian journalists have been away from home reporting stories when strikes have killed their families. Their grieving trips to the hospital, to see the bodies of their loved ones, have been carried live on television.

Salman Bashir, a correspondent for Palestine TV, was on air when he heard a colleague, Mohammed Abu Hatab, was killed in what Palestinian authorities said was an Israeli strike that destroyed Abu Hatab’s home. He tore off his blue press vest during the broadcast as the anchorwoman he was speaking with began to sob.

“I felt that the armor I was wearing, which clearly bore the press badge, was not protecting me,” Bashir said in an interview. The strike also killed Abu Hatab’s wife, two of his sons and four of his daughters, Bashir said.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that it was “not aware of any military activity conducted by our forces” in the vicinity of Abu Hatab’s house, in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, on the day he and his family were killed at their home.

“The IDF does not purposefully target journalists, and takes measures to mitigate unintended harm to journalists and all civilians,” the statement said, adding that the military was “targeting all Hamas military activity throughout Gaza,” which entailed “high intensity strikes, which may cause damage to surrounding buildings and areas.”

Hamas, the Israeli military statement asserted, “also has a practice of deliberately locating military operations in the vicinity of journalists and civilians.” Hamas officials have denied using civilians as “human shields.”

The Israeli military provided a similar statement to Reuters and Agence France-Presse last month when the news agencies requested assurances that their journalists would not be targeted in Israeli strikes, according to Reuters.

“Under these circumstances, we cannot guarantee your employees’ safety, and strongly urge you to take all necessary measures for their safety,” the Israeli military said, according to Reuters.

What is the difference between cease-fire and humanitarian pause?

If Israel was targeting media, “it’s a crime,” said Shuruq As’ad, a journalist and member of the general secretariat of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, which is based in the West Bank. The syndicate had tallied 42 journalists or media workers killed in Gaza, two others who were missing, as well as attacks on 60 media offices, she said in a voice message to The Washington Post on Tuesday.

Half an hour later, she sent another, saying the tally had risen to 44 media workers. “Sorry,” she said. “We keep having updates.”

Some Gaza journalists struggle with aging equipment, such as protective vests without armored plates. Several times over the past few weeks, internet and other communications have been cut off to Gaza. Local outlets, including radio stations, had been forced to stop broadcasting, and journalists have taken to disseminating news on their social media feeds.

Mahmoud Abu Hassira, a photojournalist with Falasteen Online, a Hamas-affiliated outlet, was away from his home Saturday, at his parent’s house, when an Israeli strike destroyed the building, he said. It killed 26 members of his family, including his wife, two sons and his father-in-law, Mohammed Abu Hassira, who worked for the Palestinian Wafa news agency.

Mahmoud Abu Hassira said did not think he or his father-in-law were a target. “Israeli airplanes do not differentiate between children, the elderly, journalists, a nurse,” he said.

In response to questions about the strike, the Israeli military said that “Hamas has a documented practice of operating from nearby, underneath and within densely populated areas.” The statement added that the strikes on “military targets are subject to relevant provisions of international law.”

It was dark when Abu Hassira reached his house. He and others could recover only a few of the bodies that were trapped under the rubble, using the lights from their phones. They were forced to stop and continue digging the next day, he said.

“We used to transmit the news,” he said. “But now we are the news. We are the coverage.”

Some of the tightknit circles in Gaza’s journalist community were reeling from multiple deaths. Roshdi Sarraj, a journalist and filmmaker and a co-founder of Ain Media, was killed in an Israeli airstrike that struck his parents’ home on Oct. 22, according to his wife. A few weeks earlier, his friend Ibrahim Lafi was fatally shot near the Erez Crossing with Israel.

Five years ago, Yaser Murtaja, another co-founder of Ain Media, a production company, was fatally shot by Israeli troops on the Israel-Gaza border.

For other journalists, surviving has been its own agony.

Elsayed, the correspondent with Al Jazeera, talked about the trauma of reporting from the hospitals: “You’re constantly seeing bodies in front of you. You’re constantly seeing injuries.”

“It haunts me at night. It haunts when I want to eat. It haunts me when I want to sit and rest,” she said. “You can’t get any peace.”

Israa Al-Buhaisi, a correspondent for Al-Alam, an Iranian channel, said her children were staying with her parents in a house that was built for 10 people but was now hosting 50. While reporting at Gaza’s hospitals, she had started “scanning the faces of kids who come in the ambulances, to check if any of them are mine.”

“We are scared of a ringtone or a text message. We’re scared of everything,” she said. “We are dying alive, and we are envying the dead.”

Harb reported from London and El Chamaa from Beirut. Hazem Balousha in Cairo, Miriam Berger in Tel Aviv, Niha Masih in Seoul and Ellen Francis in London contributed to this report.

Israel-Gaza war

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Israel should not reoccupy the Gaza Strip, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Israel would assume responsibility for Gaza’s security “for an indefinite period.” As the war passes a month of fighting, Israel’s endgame for Gaza is no clearer. Understand what’s behind the Israel-Gaza war.

Hostages: Israeli officials say Hamas militants abducted about 240 hostages in a highly organized attack. Four hostages have been released — two Americans and two Israelis — as families hold on to hope. One released Israeli hostage recounted the “spiderweb” of Gaza tunnels she was held in.

Humanitarian aid: The Palestine Red Crescent Society said it has received over 300 trucks with food, medicine and water to the Gaza Strip through Egypt’s Rafah crossing. However, the PRCS said, there hasn’t been permission yet to bring in fuel, which powers the enclave’s hospitals, water pumps, taxis and more.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has a complicated history, and its rulers have long been at odds with the Palestinian Authority, the U.S.-backed government in the West Bank. Here is a timeline of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)