“More important than ever” and more deadly

Credit: DALL.E

Caitlin Barr on journalists on the Gaza frontline dying to report the truth

At least 63 journalists have been killed while covering the Gaza conflict – three Lebanese, four Israeli, and 56 Palestinian. Behind each of these numbers was a person trying to do what all good journalists do: speak the truth, expose injustice, and tell stories with people at their centre. They were also trying to survive. Alaa Taher Al-Hassanat, a Palestinian journalist and presenter, wrote in 2015 that “our role as journalists is now more important than ever”. She was killed along with multiple family members in an Israeli airstrike on the Gaza Strip on the 20th November. On the same day, Palestinian journalist Ayat Al-Khadour posted a video on her social media channels from her home in Beit Lahia, telling her viewers that people had been told to evacuate and had run panicked into the streets. She ended her video by saying “May the Lord have mercy on us,” after having stated that “This could possibly be my last video.” She died in an airstrike that night. On November 6th, she had said, in a different video, “We had big dreams but our dream now is to be killed in one piece so they know who we are.”

It is unclear whether the attacks which killed these two women were random or targeted, but in other cases it appears far more clear cut. A Human Rights Watch report has found that Israeli attacks on journalists were deliberate, particularly focusing on the death of Lebanese journalist Issam Abdallah in an airstrike which also injured six other journalists in south Lebanon. The report states that the journalists were “well removed from ongoing hostilities, clearly identifiable as members of the media, and had been stationary for at least 75 minutes before they were hit by two consecutive strikes.” Israel have consistently stated that they never intentionally target journalists, which is a war crime, but Israel’s UN envoy Gilad Erdan has said “we’re in a state of war, things might happen”, a statement which some commentators have regarded as a deliberate obfuscation of Israel’s campaign to hide what they are doing. Many journalists, including 22-year-old freelancer Plestia Alaqad, no longer feel safe and are fleeing their homes, leaving behind their families and work. A day before she left, Alaqad told her followers that she no longer felt safe wearing her press helmet and vest, and that she was worried her reporting was putting her family’s lives at risk.

How can the people of Gaza speak without journalists, in a place where the Internet is often turned off or restricted? How can they be memorialized after they’ve died? With so much uncertainty surrounding Israel’s version of events, how can we begin to excavate the truth, if those seeking and reporting it are being killed? The Associated Press has stated that the Israel-Gaza conflict has been responsible for 72% of all media deaths in the world in 2023 – “more deadly for journalists than any single conflict since [records began in] 1990” (in print in Guardian). It’s clear that there needs to be more protection for media workers, but in a conflict which has claimed the lives of nearly 18,000 Palestinians at the time of writing, there seems to be little hope. With swathes of the population being wiped out, about 40% of them children, who will carry on telling their stories?

There are still many people on the ground reporting what they are seeing, providing updates during airstrikes and risking their lives each day as they make the unthinkable choice to stay and illuminate what is going on. One of them is Bisan Owda (@wizard_bisan1), a 25-year-old filmmaker whose Instagram video diaries since October 7th have been one of the most consistent ways of keeping up with the conflict. She films frequent updates, as well as videos like a “nighttime routine” in which she packs her bag and puts her shoes by the door, ready to escape if her home is bombarded, and posts calling out powers like the US for failing to support a ceasefire.

Israel seems determined to bomb Gaza to the ground in their mission to eradicate Hamas. Those still left are faced with almost certain death, yet still find the courage to tell their stories, even when they are increasingly feeling like their reporting is placing a target on their backs. It is up to those of us privileged enough to be able to disengage from the news to fight this urge, seek out the truth, and do whatever is in our power to support the journalists on the frontlines of the Israel-Gaza conflict.

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