The siege and Israeli bombs silence Gaza journalists: “I just want to tell the truth so that someone stops this” | International

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With hardly any food or water, no electricity to charge their equipment, no internet and under the constant threat of bombing by the Israeli army, local journalists in Gaza are the only voices that narrate the conflict from within the Strip. The total siege decreed by the Government of Benjamin Netanyahu, after Hamas launched an unprecedented attack against Israel on the 7th, has prevented the entry of both the international and Israeli press, causing Gaza to be “on the verge of an information blackout,” denounces Reporters Without Borders (RSF). But the bombs are also silencing informants. The Israeli army's airstrike campaign against the Strip has caused the death of more than 6,500 people, including twenty journalists, and has destroyed or damaged some 50 media outlets in the Palestinian enclave, among the thousands of infrastructure affected.

Hossam B is a Gazan journalist who does not want to give his real name to protect himself and respect the security instructions of the media outlet he works for. He is one of 50 reporters who, RSF estimates, have had to “precipitously abandon their homes in Gaza City” due to Israeli evacuation orders. He has been in the south of the Strip for more than a week with his wife, who has health problems that are aggravated in stressful situations, and four children. “I have already seen a few wars in Gaza, but I have never cried as much as these days, while working,” he says, in a telephone conversation with this newspaper at the end of a grueling work day. “It's not like anything we've experienced before, no one is safe. It's so unfair… I just want to tell the truth, as a journalist that I am, so that someone stops this now and our families can be saved,” he adds, exhausted.

According to cases confirmed by RSF, at least 10 journalists have died while covering the conflict and another nine have lost their lives as a result of Israeli attacks. On Wednesday, Al Jazeera reported that the family – wife, son, daughter and grandson – of one of its Gaza correspondents, Wael Dahdouh, were killed in a bombing. They had moved from the north of the Strip to Nuseirat, in the center, after Israel warned residents to leave the area due to an imminent ground incursion. Also killed on Wednesday, by another Israeli air strike in the south of the Palestinian enclave, was the sister of journalist Mohammed Farra, who was working in Ramallah (West Bank), as well as her husband and her two children. .

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The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) raises the total number of deceased journalists to 24 (20 Palestinians, three Israelis and one Lebanese). “The figure is similar to all the journalists killed in Palestine during the last 10 years,” condemns Edith Rodríguez Cachera, vice president of RSF Spain. The last confirmed victim, Mohammad Baalouche, director of the Palestine Today television channel, was “murdered” in a selective attack against his home in Gaza, denounces this international organization of journalists.

“Exponential dangers”

Sherif Mansour, coordinator of CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Program, denounces that local Palestinian journalists “are the eyes of what is happening on the ground, but they face exponential dangers, including not only airstrikes, but also a possible land incursion.” Many of them “have lost their homes and their families, they have had to flee to the south, where they continue to face great danger when they work, and where they do not have access to computers or the Internet” to carry out their informative work, he continues.

They also cannot receive help from abroad as a result of the blockade, which Israel has maintained since 2007, points out Rodríguez Cachera. “You cannot send them solar batteries to make up for the shortage of electricity, which is what is used in conflict zones, nor can they be equipped or evacuated, as happened with the Afghan journalists. [tras el regreso de los talibanes, en agosto de 2021]", Add.

A Palestinian journalist comforted his niece, wounded in an Israeli attack, on Sunday at a hospital in Deir al Balah, in the Gaza Strip. Ali Mahmoud (AP)

These are precisely the conditions under which Hossam B has to carry out his job. “We are working on our land and we have two duties: one with our people and another with our family. I live it in that order. I go out to work and do everything I can to convey the truth of what our people are suffering. And I also spend part of the day trying to reassure and keep my family safe,” he explains. “Because when you see dead children every day, entire families buried under the ruins or injured mothers who end up dying, you only think about your loved ones. “It only takes one second for your children to be those dead children,” he adds. If at some point Egypt allowed Gazans to leave or this reporter could benefit from an evacuation, he is not sure if he would take advantage of the opportunity. "It is a difficult question. I would do everything to keep my family safe, but I don't know if I would leave or stay working. “Honestly, I don’t know.”

Working as a journalist in any international conflict is complex, but, according to Mansour, in the specific case of Gaza they have detected a decreasing presence of international journalists and media. “Many, because of the risk it entails because in other wars in Gaza the facilities of other media outlets were bombed,” such as Al Jazeera. Precisely, the Israeli Government is now trying to ban the Qatari channel with an emergency rule that will allow it to close media outlets whose information "damages national security." And he continues: “It is very risky, especially after the murder of prominent Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh [por disparos de las fuerzas israelíes, según la ONU, en mayo de 2022 en el norte de Cisjordania]a death for which no one was held accountable.”

A journalist holds a blood-stained bulletproof vest that belonged to Palestinian reporter Mohammed Soboh, who was killed along with two other colleagues when an Israeli missile hit a building where they were reporting in Gaza on the 10th.
A journalist holds a blood-stained bulletproof vest that belonged to Palestinian reporter Mohammed Soboh, who was killed along with two other colleagues when an Israeli missile hit a building where they were reporting in Gaza on the 10th. STAFF (REUTERS)

At other peak moments of this conflict, such as the Israeli offensive in Gaza in 2014, the bloodiest in recent years, in which more than 2,200 Palestinians died, there were foreign journalists inside the Strip. In this case, the two crossings that could give entry to the international press, one in the north, from Israel, and another in the south, from Egypt, are closed. No one has entered or left Gaza since the 7th, except for the few humanitarian aid trucks that have passed through in recent days.

Other forms of repression

Repression against journalism also “takes other forms,” in addition to direct attacks on the lives of reporters and photographers, RSF recalls. According to the Palestinian Press Syndicate, fifty media outlets have been totally or partially destroyed in Gaza, including 24 “radio stations” that broadcast over the air or over the Internet, which are “one of the main sources of information on the local population,” explains Rodríguez Cachera. “Dozens of these media were grouped in large towers in Gaza City, which were among the first to be bombed” by Israel, adds Mansour. In addition, the bombings destroyed a temporary tent housing teams from France Presse, Reuters, BBC and Al Jazeera in the south of the Strip, without causing any injuries, adds RSF.

The pressure also falls on those who practice journalism outside the Strip. Three BBC journalists were held at gunpoint by an Israeli police officer on their way to their hotel in Tel Aviv. And in Jerusalem, Ahmad Darwasha, a correspondent for Al Araby TV, was threatened and insulted during a live broadcast by another Israeli police officer. “I really hope you say good things,” he snapped when the reporter explained that he was telling what “the spokesperson” of the Israeli Armed Forces had said. And he concluded, looking at the camera: “Murderers, murderers… Gaza should be turned into dust.”

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