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What it's like being a journalist in Gaza

Every day, every moment, I meet with the idea that I might be killed.

A group of journalists kneel next to the bodies of Palestinian journalists Sari Mansour and Hasona Saliem that are covered with a white cloth and have two press vests on them. Journalists around lay their hands gently on the cloth. Ali Jadallah/Anadolu
Relatives and colleagues of Palestinian journalists Sari Mansour and Hasona Saliem, who were killed while working, mourn during a funeral ceremony in Deir al-Balah, Gaza on 19 November 2023.

As a Palestinian journalist and human rights worker in the Gaza Strip reporting on the impact of Israel’s now two-and-a-half month long war, I am becoming increasingly aware that I may be the next target of an Israeli airstrike.

Since Israel began bombing and laying siege to Gaza on 7 October – launching a ground invasion of the enclave three weeks later – at least 97 journalists have been killed, according to the government press office in Gaza. The Committee to Protect Journalists, an international NGO, puts the number killed in Gaza during the war at 61.

Many of these journalists and media workers were killed while working; but others were killed along with members of their families while they were at home or in the homes where they had taken refuge after being forcibly displaced.

The journalists who have been killed are a small subset of the almost 20,000 people – around 70% of them women and children – who have been killed by Israel’s military campaign in Gaza since 7 October.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but journalists are civilians, and civilians are not supposed to be targeted in military operations: Doing so is a violation of international humanitarian law.

Due to the difficulty of collecting evidence, it may be hard to prove conclusively in many cases that Israel is deliberately targeting journalists. But the sheer number of media workers killed in Gaza appears either to be intentional or to show that the Israeli military is operating with a total disregard for civilian life – or both.

There is also evidence of Israeli forces deliberately targeting journalists; both during the current hostilities – as in the strike on 13 October that killed Lebanese journalist Issam Abdullah – and in the recent past, with the killing of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank in 2022.

As journalists working during fighting, we wear flak jackets and helmets to clearly identify ourselves as members of the press. This is supposed to be a form of protection, signalling to combatants not to target us. In Gaza, press jackets and helmets are increasingly being seen as a liability. My fellow journalists now sometimes prefer to take them off while reporting in crowded public places, fearing that their visible presence in the area may result in Israel carrying out a strike.

Residents of Gaza are also increasingly afraid of being in the same place as journalists. One recently told me: "Anywhere a journalist is can be targeted.”

Our duty is to shine a light

I’ve lived under Israeli occupation my entire life, and I know that Palestinian journalists have been targeted and killed in Gaza and the West Bank in the past. But I still somehow believed that being a journalist provided me some kind of safety during military attacks. I wanted to believe that when journalists were killed in airstrikes or by sniper’s bullets, they were not the intended target – that their deaths were an accident.

After the past two and a half months, I no longer believe that.

During the second week of the Israeli invasion, I was reporting live for a TV channel from the house where I have taken refuge after being forced to flee my home. I was describing what the situation was like in Gaza and reporting on Israel’s attacks.

If I am killed, I know that there are dozens of journalists who will continue the work. But I also feel I have to fight to continue to be able to work, to keep going, no matter the price.

A few minutes after I finished the interview, I received a call from a relative abroad who had watched it by coincidence. “You know you can be targeted in the house where you are staying, and everyone with you can be killed because of your work?” he asked.

Another foreign colleague later asked me: “How do you feel working in a profession where a fellow journalist is killed every day?”

Despite the danger, and the sense of being a target, journalists in Gaza have continued to cover events on the ground. It is our duty to report on what is happening, especially because Israel and Egypt are not letting international journalists into Gaza except on controlled trips with the Israeli military. Without us, the death, destruction, and suffering caused by Israel’s military campaign and siege would be taking place under the cover of darkness. 

We also live the catastrophe

While we continue to do our work – even as we increasingly come to feel that our lives are under threat because of our profession – we are also living the catastrophe in Gaza the same as anyone else. 

We feel we might get killed at any moment, or that our families or neighbours might get killed. Every day, every moment, I meet with the idea that I might be killed. In my head, I negotiate with this thought, pleading to have one more day to write one more story or interview one more victim of this war. I feel an immense responsibility to stay alive as long as possible, not just for my own safety, but to remain a voice for all the voiceless people I meet every day. 

If I am killed, I know that there are dozens of journalists who will continue the work. But I also feel I have to fight to continue to be able to work, to keep going, no matter the price. 

To be a journalist in Gaza is to be both the person who reports on an attack and the victim who witnesses it. You are the reporter who writes about the hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced people, and you are one of the forcibly displaced people who was forced to flee because your neighbourhood was carpet bombed and your home was destroyed. You are the one who writes about the power outages in Gaza using a paper and pen, taking a picture of your handwritten story to send it via WhatsApp to save your mobile phone’s dwindling battery.

When you cite sources to back up your reports, you are one of the 56% of residents experiencing severe levels of hunger, and one of the 350,000 displaced people – out of 1.9 million in total – suffering from disease and diarrhoea because of the contaminated water and lack of hygiene supplies. And you are one of the 2.3 million residents of this enclave who wish they could be anything but human beings living in Gaza under these inhumane conditions.

Edited by Eric Reidy

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