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Snapshots: Palestinian journalists capture life under bombardment in Gaza

Despite the risks, the journalists continue to try to keep the spotlight on the suffering of Palestinian civilians.

This photo shows some people on top of a small loaded truck on the road. They sit atop miscellaneous belongings. Mohamed Soulaimane/TNH

Like everyone now in the Gaza Strip, photojournalist Mohammed Zaanoun, journalist Maha Hussaini, and journalist Mohamed Soulaimane have been living breath by breath, in fear of what might fall from the sky, but they continue to send photographs and video and audio clips to keep the spotlight on what people there are experiencing. Here is their latest dispatch:

20 February 2024 - ‘How much longer will we survive this?’

With an Israeli ground invasion of Rafah looming, some displaced people who sought shelter in the southernmost region of Gaza are now packing their few belongings and heading back north. Palestinian journalist Mohamed Soulaimane – who has been reporting from Gaza for The New Humanitarian since 7 October – sent this dispatch about the dire humanitarian conditions people are facing in Rafah and the ever-elusive search for safety. Around 1.4 million people are crammed into Rafah, more than four times the number living there before 7 October. Many are sheltering in makeshift tents as humanitarian organisations struggle to meet even their basic needs. World leaders and NGOs are warning that an Israeli ground invasion would lead to mass casualties and bring an end to even the limited aid operations currently taking place. But with ongoing hostilities and widespread destruction in all of Gaza, there’s nowhere else for people to go. As one mother Soulaimane spoke to said: “I have no place to take my children, other than to jump in the sea.”


Back in May 2023, The New Humanitarian began working with Mohammed Zaanoun on a special project to explore what daily life looked like in Gaza. Media coverage then was sporadic, even though the impacts of decades of occupation and the effects of war were constants.

Everything changed overnight on 7 October, after a raid into Israel by Hamas gunmen left around 1,200 people dead, most of them civilians who were killed deliberately, according to the Israeli authorities. Hamas, the political and militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, also took around 240 hostages back into the coastal enclave. An estimated 134 remain in captivity.

Gaza has faced nearly four months of intense Israeli bombardment since. A total siege has almost entirely cut off water and electricity and blocked the entry of food, fuel, and medical supplies. And a ground invasion has seen Israeli forces take control over most of northern Gaza and push into the south. Only a trickle of humanitarian aid has made it into the enclave. The population of around 2.3 million people – an estimated 1.7 million of whom have been displaced from their homes – is facing crisis levels of food insecurity, with the potential for famine looming, according to the World Food Programme.

More than 29,000 people – including at least 12,300 children – have been killed by Israel’s military operations as of 2 February, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

The level of death and destruction – as well as rhetoric from Israeli officials – prompted South Africa to file a case in the International Court of Justice, the UN’s top court, accusing Israel of committing genocide in Gaza. In an interim ruling on 16 January, it found “at least some” of South Africa’s allegations to be “plausible”.

At least 88 Palestinian journalists have been killed in Gaza since 7 October. Amid the extreme level of violence and desperate humanitarian conditions, reporting from the enclave has become increasingly difficult and dangerous. To keep a spotlight on what is happening, we have supplemented Zaanoun’s dispatches with reports from Hussaini and Soulaimane.

To view Zaanoun’s Snapshots from before 7 October, click here, and find more of Hussaini, Zaanoun, and Soulaimane’s recent dispatches below:

2 February 2024 - ‘The attacks are indiscriminate’

Hussaini has been forcibly displaced for a second time by Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip. In November, she wrote about how the concept of “home” was already becoming a distant memory, after she was forced to flee her apartment in Gaza City – where she had lived for 17 years – to seek safety in the central area of the enclave. Now, with Israel’s ground invasion approaching her place of refuge, she’s been forced to flee again to southern Gaza, where over one million people have been packed into an area that used to have a population of around 280,000. But even in the south of Gaza, “the situation is still unsafe”, Hussaini says.

9 January 2024 – Journalists killed near the Rafah border

An Israeli airstrike on 7 January that killed journalists Hamza al-Dahdouh and Mustafa Thuraya while they were on assignment – and severely injured a third journalist – is putting a renewed spotlight on the deadly toll of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza on Palestinian media workers. At least 72 Palestinian journalists have been killed since the campaign began on 7 October, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Al-Dahdouh is the son of veteran Al-Jazeera correspondent Wael al-Dahdouh, a familiar face to millions across the Middle East. Wael al-Dahdouh’s wife, two of his other children, and his grandchild were killed in an Israeli airstrike in October. For a first-person look at the impact of the killing of journalists, read: What it’s like being a journalist in Gaza.

18 December 2023 - Aid shortages in Egyptian border camp

As more and more of the roughly 2.3 million people living in the Gaza Strip – some 85% of whom have now been displaced by the bombardment and Israeli ground invasion – have been driven south towards the Egyptian border, Zaanoun’s focus this week is on a refugee camp of 70,000 people that has now formed at Tal al-Sultan, near Rafah. As the winter rains and cold temperatures hit, he says children don’t have blankets, not to mention shortages of food, water, sewage systems, and medical supplies. “Unfortunately, there are no big international [aid] organisations to support families in these areas,” he says.

5 December 2023 - ‘For the pain to go away, we will live here’

After Israel resumed its bombardment on 1 December, intensely striking areas across the Gaza Strip – including in the south, where most of the enclave’s 2.3 million people have now been corralled – Zaanoun sent this footage of a group of journalists gathering outside Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. “We will stay here,” they sing together in solidarity. “For the pain to go away, we will live here.” At least 57 Palestinian journalists and media workers have been killed since 7 October, in addition to well over 100 aid workers, mostly from the UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA. Zaanoun says the situation has become “catastrophic” and he must now focus on the safety of his wife and their four children. No safe place is left for them, he says.

27 November 2023 - Pause brings some respite

The good news is that Zaanoun, who reported being sick after drinking dirty water in his previous dispatch, is now feeling better after managing to get his hands on some medication. But one of his four children isn’t doing so well, possibly due to the lack of food or the pollution. Zaanoun also had to pull them out of the rubble, for a second time, as the house they were sheltering in was hit by an Israeli strike. That was before the four-day pause in fighting began on Friday, offering some respite. In this clip, Zaanoun shows the Abu al-Ruk family taking advantage of the lull to gather around a fire near the ruins of their home in eastern Khan Younis. Zaanoun says his own family headed there in a rush and has no winter clothes.

23 November 2023 - ‘We couldn’t find anyone to help us’

In his last filing before being struck down sick, due, he believes, to drinking dirty water, Zaanoun filed this report, interviewing Asma Ayad al-Rifi. Last month, she had been ordered, along with many other Palestinians, to evacuate from their neighbourhood in eastern Gaza to an area the Israelis said would be safe. “They were lying,” Al-Rifi says, as she recounts how an Israeli strike led to the roof falling on their heads in the middle of the night. She describes how two women and six children were killed instantly as they became buried in the rubble of the building where they were sheltering, in Nuseirat, in the central Gaza Strip. Al-Rifi had to pull others out, herself, by hand.

16 November 2023 – ‘It’s raining now in Gaza’

In this snapshot, we’ve combined Zaanoun’s photographs with an audio diary from Maha Hussaini, an award-winning journalist and human rights activist in Gaza. Hussaini was forced to leave her home in Gaza City on 13 October. In this voice note, she says that she loves autumn, winter, and the rainy weather that the colder seasons bring. But for the first time in her life she is praying that the rain will stop soon because it is making life harder for the around 1.6 million people in Gaza who have been displaced by Israel’s bombardment and military campaign. Many of the displaced are staying in tents. “I actually cannot imagine their situation now as the rain is pouring down,” Hussaini said. Listen to her full voice note below, and read her recent first-person article: In Gaza, death seems closer than water.

10 November 2023 – ‘Fellow journalists live in the same tent’

Zaanoun and other Palestinian journalists in Gaza continue to cover Israel’s bombardment and near-total siege of the enclave, even as they struggle to cope with the killing of dozens of colleagues and the effects of violence on themselves and their families. They are playing a crucial role by reporting from inside Gaza as Israel continues to bar international journalists who are not embedded with the Israeli military from entering the enclave. Many journalists in Gaza have been displaced from their homes and have sought refuge in hospitals, where they are able to charge their phones, laptops, and cameras, and where they have a better chance of connecting to weak internet signals to send their photos, videos, and stories to the outside world. If the dwindling supply of fuel for back-up generators powering the hospitals runs out, Zaanoun and others could find themselves completely cut off.

 

6 November 2023 - 'My friend, his family was killed' 

Dozens of people were killed in a blast in the densely populated al-Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on Saturday night, including the family of Zaanoun’s friend and fellow photojournalist Mohammed al-Aloul. The blast was one of several in refugee camps in Gaza over the weekend, as the death toll from Israel’s now month-long bombardment and siege of the enclave continues to spiral. The health ministry in Gaza, which is governed by Hamas, said at least 45 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike on al-Maghazi camp. The Israeli military has said it cannot confirm whether it was responsible for the blast. Four of al-Aloul’s five children were killed. His wife and one-year-old son survived.

3 November 2023 – ‘How long will we be removing bodies?’

Zaanoun reports from al-Shati refugee camp in the north of Gaza, where rescuers are digging through the rubble after an Israeli airstrike. It appears too late to find survivors, and they are now just working to retrieve the bodies of some of the children killed. One man tells Zaanoun that seven homes were destroyed and at least 14 children killed. His sister is among the dead. “How long will we be removing bodies in Gaza?” the man asks. “Until when? You have destroyed us, that's enough.”

31 October 2023 - Shut off completely from the world

For roughly 36 hours, between 27 and 29 October, almost all cellular and internet service in the Gaza Strip stopped working amidst heavy Israeli bombardment and the beginning of a ground invasion. The communications blackout made it so people couldn’t call ambulances after airstrikes, speak with relatives, or deliver information about what was happening in the enclave to the outside world. Even as services have been restored, concerns remain over access to information. Israel and Egypt are blocking international journalists from entering Gaza, while at least 26 Palestinian journalists have been killed, most by Israeli airstrikes on the enclave. After communications were restored, Zaanoun was able to resume sending photos.

27 October 2023 - ‘We bid farewell to the family of our colleague’

Zaanoun goes to Al-Aqsa Hospital to share condolences with fellow journalist Wael al-Dahdouh, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Gaza, whose family were killed in an Israeli airstrike. He says people have been told to go to the south of the Gaza Strip, but then shows civilians bringing in their injured after a strike hit their homes near the Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis. “There is no safe place in the Gaza Strip, and no safe road,” he says.

18 October 2023 - Gaza reels from hospital explosion

Zaanoun photographs the aftermath of the massive blast at al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City on 17 October that killed nearly 500 people and wounded 300, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Thousands of civilians had taken shelter from Israeli bombardment in the facility. Health officials in Gaza said an Israeli airstrike caused the blast. Israeli officials blamed it on a misfired rocket from Palestinian Islamic Jihad – an armed group based in Gaza that has denied any involvement.

17 October 2023 - ‘The smell of death is everywhere’

Before the al-Ahli blast, people in Gaza were already suffering the effects of Israeli bombardment and siege. In addition to those killed and injured, around one million people have been displaced from their homes, out of a population of roughly 2.3 million. Entire neighbourhoods have been reduced to rubble, and first responders and residents in Gaza have scrambled to dig people out from under flattened buildings, often only using their hands.

12 October 2023 - ‘Maybe this is the last message from me’

On the night of 11 October night, shortly after Gaza’s only power station ran out of fuel, and as Israeli artillery thudded nearby, Zaanoun took shelter in Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in the enclave. Israel cut off the electricity it provides to the territory after Hamas fighters launched a deadly assault inside Israel on 7 October. Many Gazans have headed to hospitals and UN-run facilities hoping to find safety. 

11 October 2023 - ‘Civilians thought they were safe in their homes’

Zaanoun reports on the worsening situation inside Gaza. In his first video for our latest Snapshots series, the Palestinian photojournalist says civilian buildings have been destroyed by Israeli strikes that have killed dozens of people.

Videos edited by Ciara Lee. Text edited by Andrew Gully and Eric Reidy.

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