Al Jazeera Journalism Review

Palestinian journalists reporting in Gaza

Under Fire: The Perilous Reality for Journalists in Gaza's War Zone

 

More than 120 journalists have been killed during the ongoing Israeli conflict in Gaza, according to reports from local media sources. Many of these journalists saw their rights obliterated at the moment of their deaths, with their employers often doing little more than publishing brief obituaries. This marked a definitive end to their recognition, as if, tragically, nothing significant had occurred.

"There needs to be an outcry! I hope this report serves as that outcry, and that it resonates with legal and human rights organisations around the globe, to bring justice to the journalists of Gaza, both living and deceased," stated journalist "S," who prefers anonymity due to restrictions imposed by her international media employer, which forbids staff from speaking to other organisations.

Journalist "S," with approximately 15 years in the field, discussed the extensive injustices faced by many journalists in Gaza, particularly those less known or "non-celebrities." These journalists are typically not featured on international television broadcasts or employed by major media outlets with robust legal protections and teams. Instead, they often work for smaller, local media entities under precarious, temporary, or non-existent contracts. Their rights are seldom acknowledged in peacetime, a situation that only worsens during the brutal realities of war when journalists are at great risk of becoming targets.

There is no union or governmental body to protect our rights should we be targeted during the conflict.
 

Closer to fiction than reality

Seemingly more akin to a scene from a historical novel than modern reality, journalist Wafa Abu Hajaj traverses the war-torn landscape of Gaza on a donkey-drawn cart to gather information and craft reports. With communication networks down, no internet access, and public transportation halted, she finds herself enveloped in a world dominated by the cacophony of warplanes, smoke-filled skies, and pervasive fear and anguish. At times, she feels as if she has been transported back to the Middle Ages.

Wafa has spent years freelancing for a local website and occasionally for international digital platforms when opportunities arise. The war has markedly intensified the peril and difficulty of her work. She is painfully aware of the lack of safety measures or insurance to protect her in the event of harm.

Over 80% of the journalists killed during this conflict had no legal protection

"There's no insurance for our lives, no organisation advocating for our rights during peace or conflict. Many journalists who lost their lives were not acknowledged by their employers, and their families were left uninformed. Their rights perished with them."

Wafa has opted against obtaining accreditation from the Journalists' Union or a press card from the government media, criticising their ineffectiveness in providing genuine protection. "We need support from both local and international bodies that can secure our rights and offer us a working environment with at least some measure of protection," she asserts.

A journalist and paramedic assist one of the Palestinian workers who were stranded in Israel since the October 7 attacks after he collapsed upon arriving at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt after crossing into the Gaza Strip at the Kerem Shalom commercial border crossing with Israel in the south of the Palestinian enclave on November 3, 2023. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
A journalist and paramedic assist one of the Palestinian workers who have been stranded in Israel since the October 7 attacks after he collapsed upon arriving at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt after crossing into the Gaza Strip on November 3, 2023. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Mohammed Abu Shaar, another journalist from Gaza, echoes this sentiment. Despite years in the field, he has been unable to secure basic safety equipment like a shield and helmet for reporting in conflict zones. "Can you imagine a war correspondent without the most basic safety gear amidst battle?" he asks. According to Mohammed, the institutions tasked with safeguarding journalists' rights offer limited assistance to only a few, leaving many to navigate frequent power outages, internet interruptions, and a scarcity of essential journalistic tools during the conflict.

The dual burden of potential targeting and personal and familial responsibilities further compounds the challenges faced by journalists in Gaza. Mohammed adds, "We lack any union or governmental body to protect our rights should we be targeted during the war." This grim reality underscores the urgent need for robust support systems for journalists operating in such hazardous conditions.

 

Exploitation of journalists by institutions

Exploitation in the media sector is a pressing issue, particularly during times of conflict. Many local companies fail to provide clear contracts for their journalists, essentially denying them any legitimate claim to rights or compensation, particularly in perilous circumstances. Television correspondent Israa Al-Bahisi notes that a vast majority of journalists who lost their lives during the war had no legal protection. Moreover, she revealed that some of her colleagues at local media companies had their salaries halved during the war, with the justification being that their workload had decreased.

The rationale behind such decisions by media companies remains questionable. Mohammad Abu Shaar explains, "Many local institutions enforce arbitrary practices upon their journalists. These professionals often acquiesce to avoid the daunting, complex legal battles that typically conclude with minimal settlements, barely covering a fraction of their entitled rights."

The plight of journalists in Gaza is exacerbated by the lack of large, influential institutions that can highlight their targeting or possess legal teams robust enough to challenge aggressions on an international stage, similar to Al Jazeera's efforts following the targeting of their correspondent Wael Dahhuh's family in Gaza, which resulted in tragic losses.

A lawyer from the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, Alaa Freijat, disclosed in an interview with Journalism magazine, that a comprehensive media reform plan is currently being developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Information. This initiative aims to secure the rights of media workers through clear, fair contracts that are compliant with local laws. However, Freijat also pointed out that the primary challenge in implementing this reform is the ongoing political division between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which has persisted for 17 years and significantly hindered the establishment of a unified legal framework.

This continual political rift has not only impeded reforms but also worsened the abuses faced by journalists, whether from external aggression or from the very local institutions and companies they serve. These entities, responsible for media production for both Arab and international outlets, often fail to protect their workers effectively, leaving them vulnerable both during and outside of conflict scenarios.

Palestinian Journalist in Gaza

Lack of legal accountability

Israel consistently denies responsibility for the deaths of journalists and their targeting during conflicts, frequently attributing such actions to claims that the individuals were linked to armed factions in Gaza and acted in their interests, effectively stripping them of legal protection. This rationale was notably applied in the case of photojournalist Hassan Isleeh, who has faced a vigorous campaign against him by Israel since the onset of the war. He was accused of participating in the events of October 7th simply by documenting the incidents. This accusation has led some international agencies to sever ties with Isleeh, significantly impacting his and his family's livelihood.

The lack of real international pressure or legal accountability enables Israel to continue targeting journalists. Most organisations dedicated to journalists' rights typically limit their response to tallying the victims and issuing condemnations rather than taking concrete steps to halt these policies. These policies not only target journalists and their workplaces but often extend to their families as acts of retribution. Farajat highlighted this brutal reality, stating that Israel "kills the journalist, his family, and his institution."

Amid these harrowing conditions, some journalists have relinquished their roles, setting aside the ineffective helmets and shields of their profession, driven away by the unrelenting threat of death. Farajat discusses initiatives to seek justice through legal avenues, including filing complaints with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and courts in the United States to prosecute the Israeli actions against journalists in Gaza. Additionally, there are plans to assemble a local legal team post-conflict to document all crimes against journalists and media institutions and present them to the appropriate authorities.

The only constant for journalists in Gaza is to live under the shadow of mortality daily, with many abandoning their protection gear after bearing witness that these gears were ineffective in documenting the killings of colleagues, in an environment devoid of effective international intervention to curb the violence against them and their profession.

The only constant for journalists in Gaza is to live under the shadow of mortality every day. Many have abandoned their protective gear, having seen firsthand its ineffectiveness in the face of danger. As they document the killings of their colleagues, they operate in an environment where international interventions to curb the violence remain conspicuously absent, leaving them and their profession perilously exposed.

 

 

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