Al Jazeera Journalism Review

Hisham Zakkout in Gaza, reporting from war zone
Hisham Zakkout and his fellow journalists in Gaza, reporting from war zone

"I Am Still Alive!": The Resilient Voices of Gaza's Journalists

This article was originally written in Arabic

The Israeli occupation has escalated from targeting journalists to intimidating and killing their families. Hisham Zaqqout, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Gaza talks about his experience covering the war and the delicate balance between family obligations and professional duty.

 

No one had anticipated that a war on Gaza could persist for such an extended period. Months have passed, seasons have changed, yet the world has been unable to halt a genocidal war waged by an occupation against an Arab people who have been besieged for seventeen years and counting.

Despite our experiences in Gaza, where we, as journalists, have endured multiple wars and thought we had developed a resilience and understanding to withstand their severe and devastating impacts, the occupation still manages to surprise us with each new conflict of a different kind. The constant in every war is the destruction and death. A significant change in this war is the shift of the journalist's role from simply reporting events and bearing witness to becoming the target of those events; the occupation has utilized every tactic of oppression, intimidation, and violence against them.

The families of journalists have not been exempt from the occupation's targeting; in efforts to intimidate, the occupation has retaliated against journalists by harming or killing their families. This comes after Palestinian journalists emerged as the voice of Gaza to the world. They are the sole conveyors of Gaza's reality—the civilian casualties, which the occupation seeks to misrepresent. With the prohibition on foreign and Arab journalists entering Gaza, the Palestinian journalist's voice stands alone, piercing through the occupation's globally-promoted narrative.

To counter the spread of this narrative, the occupation has subjected Palestinian journalists to its longstanding tactics: killings, displacement, home demolitions, and targeting their workplaces, among other violations. In response, we have shown resilience and a steadfast commitment to continue reporting, particularly through unedited and unaltered live broadcasts, providing the world with a live view of the reality in Gaza.

We countered the occupation's narrative with perseverance and insistence on continuing coverage, the hallmark of which has been live broadcasting, unaltered and unedited, so the world can witness the truth of what is happening in Gaza.

Al Jazeera played a pivotal role in covering the war. We moved from one location to another in a broadcast van, conveying the truth of what was happening in Gaza, from houses being razed with their inhabitants inside to the targeting of mosques, churches, hospitals, and ambulances.

Day after day, we have paid the price for this coverage, facing direct targeting as journalists and threats to our families, with demands from the occupation to stay away. Nowhere else in the world has electricity been cut off for months, or access to fuel, food, and medicine been denied, while live broadcasting continues without interruption, except in Gaza. It has posed a challenge to the occupation's narrative, a challenge that has come at a great cost to journalists.

As events have unfolded, numerous aspects of life have faded into the background, particularly the severe daily challenges encountered by Palestinian journalists in Gaza who cannot leave their posts despite urgent personal and familial needs.

I will share my experience, which spans over six months. Every day is measured in seconds, brimming with numerous incidents; some are broadcasted, but many remain unseen as we endeavour to survive and persist in our reporting.

There is no place in the world where electricity has been cut off for months, and fuel, food, and medicine have been withheld, yet live broadcasting continues without interruption, except in Gaza. It has been a challenge to the occupation's narrative, one that has cost journalists dearly.

War has forced us to face daily struggles, primarily the search for safety. The existence of a safe haven in Gaza is a question with a known answer, yet even well-informed journalists struggle to find shelter, just like tens of thousands of civilians.

Our families have been dispersed, and we have sought refuge in places we believed were safe, only to discover that many neighbouring homes had been bombed and destroyed, causing injuries and fatalities. The families of our colleagues—Wael Dahdouh, Momen Al-Sharafi, Mohammed Al-Qumsan, and Khaled Labad—bear witness to the extent of the crimes committed against journalists and their families.

Unfortunately, we failed in the first battle we fought behind the lines of coverage, which was and remains one of the most crucial battles—securing a safe place for the family and the team. Finding safety in Gaza is an impossible task, but we continue to try as long as the war persists. From one place to another, each time we moved to report the events, we embarked on a new journey of displacement. In previous wars, our wives took on the responsibility of securing the family and providing necessities, but during this unprecedented war, everything is different.

Displacement has been a constant companion for my colleagues and me. As we relocated from one location to another in our broadcast vehicle, we brought our families, tents, a few secured supplies, and essentials borrowed from friends. We had hoped to return home shortly after the war's end, but the conflict persists, and we have not returned. Now, we must source basic necessities such as food and water to sustain life in the temporary shelters or homes to which we have escaped.

In this conflict, obtaining basic necessities has turned into an overwhelming challenge. With each phase, we've depleted our reserves of vital supplies—be it flour, salt, sugar, or others, many necessitating hours-long waits in lines. Acquiring bread, a gallon of water, or other staples at fair prices, or even withdrawing cash from the bank, demands enduring lengthy queues outside of safety zones.

During the ongoing journey of displacement, Rafah emerged as a crucial stop. There, a tent served as the bedroom, office, living area, and kitchen. Here's a secret: we couldn't afford a bathroom, so we relied on the nearby mosque or hospital for our sanitary needs, often bathing in cold water, which was sometimes chillier than the air outside, due to the lack of alternatives.

Falling ill presented a separate struggle; hospitals were inundated with casualties, relegating the sick to a lower priority. Securing medicine became a harrowing quest, with obtaining prescriptions often entailing long waits in line, only to be told by the pharmacist, with regret, that the needed medication was out of stock.

As we return to the screen, the many battles cease, leaving one paramount struggle: to persist in reporting and keep the image of Gaza alive on air. This involves communicating the full scale of the appalling offences against the Gaza Strip and its inhabitants and debunking the occupier's narrative that justifies destruction, bombardment, and threats while claiming righteousness. The reality, however, is starkly portrayed by Palestinian journalists who, with professionalism and resolve, navigate the ongoing bans on foreign journalists' entry, preventing them from witnessing and being appalled by the atrocities that would otherwise haunt their sleep.

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