Israel’s War On Gaza Is the Deadliest Conflict On Record for Journalists

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This investigation, conducted by Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, is part of the Gaza Project, a collaboration involving 50 journalists from 13 organizations coordinated by Forbidden Stories.

Salman Bashir had been covering Israel’s war in Gaza on the ground for a month when his fellow journalist, Mohammed Abu Hatab, was killed. He threw his vest emblazoned with “PRESS” down on the ground in anguish during a live broadcast.

“We are victims on live TV,” Bashir said.

Abu Hatab, who worked for Palestine TV, was killed in November in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis in an Israeli strike that destroyed his home and killed 11 of his family members.

He is among the more than 100 journalists who have been killed in the nine months of the war, marking it as the deadliest conflict on record for reporters — even more than World War II, which lasted six years.

When Israel launched its military offensive in Gaza, following the October 7 Hamas attack, the lives of journalists in the Gaza Strip were upended. No one anticipated the scale of loss and pain that was to follow.

Over four months, Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, or ARIJ, partnered with 13 other news organizations to investigate the killing, injury, detention, and threats against Palestinian journalists and the destruction of media offices in Gaza. We also investigated attacks on journalists in the West Bank.

“They’ve been killed while reporting on the aftermath of a bombing.”

Despite telecommunication blackouts, the consortium interviewed 120 witnesses in the Gaza Strip and West Bank and consulted around 25 weapons experts and analysts.

The exact number of journalists who have been killed is difficult to determine, with several organizations collecting the information differently, but they all agree that the number is record-breaking.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, documented the killing of 102 Palestinian reporters and other media workers as of June 25, making this the deadliest war for journalists worldwide since the organization began collecting data in 1992.

“They’ve been killed while picking out food. They’ve been killed while resting in a tent,” said Carlos Martínez de la Serna, program director at CPJ. “They’ve been killed while reporting on the aftermath of a bombing.”

“They Are Doing Journalism”

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, or SPJ, a nonprofit based in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, puts the figure even higher, at 140 journalists and media workers killed from the start of the war, and another 176 injured.

The deaths represent 10 percent of the journalists in Gaza, according to Shuruq As’ad, a spokesperson for the syndicate. “Journalists everywhere should be protected regardless of the country they work in,” she said.

The vast majority of journalists — 89 — were killed in airstrikes. At least 16 were killed while working. At least 56 were killed at home, and most of the time family members were killed with them.

While those killed were overwhelmingly men, 12 of the journalists were women.

The newsroom that lost the most journalists was Al-Aqsa Media Network, a media network affiliated with Hamas: 20 of its journalists were killed.

The Israeli military denied it targets journalists. “The IDF outright rejects the false accusation of targeted killing of journalists,” it said in a statement. “The IDF takes all operationally possible measures to reduce any harm to civilians, including journalists.”

The Israeli military said it “only targets military targets” and claimed Al-Aqsa often employs “terrorists” posing as journalists, but did not provide evidence.

CPJ says it is confident that every name on its casualties list is a journalist. “They are doing journalism, and they’re not engaged in incitement to violence. We clearly draw a line there,” said Martínez de la Serna. “We don’t get into evaluating Al-Aqsa or any other publication.”

“We will describe propaganda as propaganda, because it’s what the IDF has been traditionally doing when they have killed a journalist.”

He said the Israeli military is known to discredit journalists by calling them terrorists without evidence, noting that in the 30 years of CPJ’s work, they have never had to remove a name from their lists based on information provided by the Israeli army.

“We will describe propaganda as propaganda, because it’s what the IDF has been traditionally doing when they have killed a journalist,” Martínez de la Serna said.

Irene Khan, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, said Israel has not provided evidence when it makes these accusations.

“The Israelis not only have spread disinformation about journalists being linked to militants, but they have not actually provided enough evidence of what care they are taking [to avoid killing journalists],” Khan said. “So they failed on both sides.”

“Why Do We Wear Press Vests?”

RAFAH, GAZA - JANUARY 07: Al Jazeera's bureau chief in Gaza, Wael Al-Dahdouh's son Hamza Wael Al-Dahdouh and Mustafa Thuraya, who were also journalists are killed in an Israeli bombing on their car in the city of Rafah, Gaza on January 07, 2024. Dahdouh, who is also wounded in the arm, lost his wife and two other children during the Israeli attacks. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Al Jazeera Gaza bureau chief Wael al-Dahdouh’s son Hamza al-Dahdouh and Mustafa Thuraya, both also journalists, are killed in an Israeli bombing on their car in Rafah, Gaza, on Jan. 7, 2024.
Photo: Stringer/Anadolu via Getty Images

Dozens of journalists said they believed they were being targeted by the Israeli army. Many are afraid to wear press vests and helmets. Those around them fear they will be harmed by association, making it hard for some journalists to rent an apartment or get transportation, which is already difficult in a war.

“The [press] jacket, believe me, it’s not a protection,” said photojournalist Motaz Azaiza, who evacuated Gaza in January. He recalled frequenting a cafe to upload his photos before the owner asked him to stop coming, fearing the Israeli army would target the cafe because a journalist was there.

One journalist said he limits his visits to his wife and children, who live separately while he’s reporting, out of fear that being with him would put them at risk.

Sami Barhoum, a correspondent for TRT Arabia, said, “My cameraman and I were on an assignment … we were directly hit by an artillery shell.” The news channel’s crew was attacked in April in Nuseirat refugee camp. He believes they were attacked because they are journalists.

His cameraman Sami Shehadeh, who was injured in the attack, said, “Why do we wear press vests? Why do we wear helmets? So they can target us?” He made the remarks from his hospital bed before his leg was amputated.

Since the beginning of the war in October, Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, filed three complaints with the office of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court “regarding Israeli war crimes against journalists.”

The complaints included the cases of more than 20 Palestinian journalists killed by the Israeli military during the war. “RSF has reasonable grounds to believe that some of these journalists were deliberately killed and that others were victims of deliberate attacks by the Israel Defense Forces against civilians,” the organization said in a statement.

CPJ is investigating over 500 incidents involving suspected targeting of journalists by Israeli forces.

Five months before the war, on the anniversary of the killing of well-known Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, CPJ published a report titled “Deadly Pattern,” which documented at least 20 cases in which journalists had been killed by Israeli forces over the past 22 years. No one has been charged and no one has been held accountable, according to CPJ.

Khan, the U.N. special rapporteur, said, “There is a history of Israeli impunity in the occupied territories.”

Israel’s Full Visibility in Gaza

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate documented 73 media offices that have been partially or completely destroyed by Israel in the war.

An investigation by ARIJ and its partners revealed that the Israeli military made false statements following an explosion at the Agence France-Presse headquarters in Gaza on November 2, 2023. The reporters obtained video of the attack on the Palestinian Media Group office in the tallest tower in Gaza, a few blocks away, on the same day. Both had livestream cameras.

Projectiles that struck the media offices were shells fired by Israeli tanks, according to the findings of the investigation. “Where there is strong potential for a war crime being committed, obviously, the livestream becomes critical evidence,” said Khan.

In February, the headquarters of Press House, a nonprofit supported by the governments of Norway and Switzerland, was destroyed despite donors notifying the Israeli military about the building’s location. One of Press House founder Belal Jadallah’s friends was staying there with his family until late January. He witnessed a tank firing directly at the building and was convinced they were targeting Press House. They evacuated the building, and shortly afterward, it was completely demolished. (Jadallah himself was killed by Israeli tank shelling in November.)

“It’s not like you can easily make a mistake,” said CPJ’s Martínez de la Serna, “Israel knows everything about Gaza.”

It’s not the first time that Israel has destroyed media offices during a war in Gaza. In 2021, Israel struck a tower housing the Associated Press and Al Jazeera — two of the more than 20 outlets whose offices were destroyed in the war that year. “So we see this as part of a pattern of attack on journalism,” Martínez de la Serna said.

Khan said, “According to international humanitarian law, media infrastructure is civilian infrastructure, so targeting it would be potentially a war crime.”

Drones See, Hear, and Kill

Earlier this year, Al Jazeera correspondent Anas al-Sharif said, “We were directly targeted by surveillance drones” in an attack while working in the Tel al-Zaatar area of northern Gaza. He told ARIJ that he received additional threats over the phone from the Israeli military.

Even before the recent war, Israeli drones were constantly flying over Gaza, gathering information and conducting surveillance. Local residents call them “zanana,” an Arabic word to describe the buzzing sound they make.

Khalil Dewan, a lawyer and researcher in the use of drones at the University of London, said the Israeli army “hits its targets with a high degree of knowledge of who it is killing.” He added that drones accurately identify their targets, based on information gathered from cellphones, social media, livestreams, and location detection if activated on phones.

As with human sense, drones have sensors that allow them to hear and see, with collected data transmitted to a ground station. Three experts said Israeli drones have sensors strong enough for a drone operator to see a press vest.

“We were directly targeted by surveillance drones.”

Asa Kasher, who drafted the Israel Defense Forces’ 1994 code of ethics, said, “I believe that if the press markings are clearly placed on the journalist, the drone operator will see them.”

The Israeli military claimed it doesn’t “deliberately target journalists.”

Since the war began, at least 20 journalists and media workers were reportedly attacked by precision strikes likely launched from drones. At least seven were wearing press vests identifying them as journalists.

“Journalists killed by drones are a priority for us, and they need to be very carefully investigated,” said Martínez de la Serna.

Surveillance technology used by Israel in Gaza goes beyond drones. A New York Times investigation published in March showed that, by the end of 2023, Israel had deployed facial recognition software in Gaza, collecting and cataloging the faces of Palestinians without their knowledge or consent. In addition, a recent investigation by +972 Magazine revealed that the Israeli military has used artificial intelligence to identify targets.

DEIR AL-BALAH, GAZA - DECEMBER 30: Relatives, colleagues and loved ones of Al-Quds TV journalist Cebr Abu Hedrus', who died in Israeli attacks on Nuseirat refugee camp, attend the funeral ceremony in Deir al-Balah, Gaza on December 30, 2023. The Israeli army has killed 106 Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip in 84 days of continued intense attacks. (Photo by Doaa Albaz/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Mourners at the funeral of Al-Quds TV journalist Cebr Abu Hedrus in Deir al-Balah, Gaza, on Dec. 30, 2023.
Photo: Doaa Albaz/Anadolu via Getty Images

The Survivors

Amid ongoing Israeli bombardment, neighborhoods in Gaza have been reduced to rubble, and the threat of famine looms, particularly in the north, where insufficient aid is being allowed in.

Palestinian journalists, besieged alongside all Gazans, have been key in informing the world about what’s happening in the war, especially given Israel’s ban on foreign media entering the Gaza Strip.

Of the 213 journalists from Gaza surveyed in June by ARIJ, 59 said they had been injured during the war.

Many have lost family members.

A third of the 213 respondents said they lost family members, including 49 who lost a member of their immediate family and 11 who said one or more of their children died in the war.

There were five journalists who lost 40 members of their families or more. The total number of family members lost by all journalists surveyed was 661.

Almost all of them have been displaced from their homes. Half of them have been displaced from homes at least five times, and four of them have been displaced 20 times or more.

Almost half are living in tents. The homes of 183 journalists were partially or totally destroyed. One hundred ninety-five people lost equipment used for reporting, and 100 lost their jobs.

One aspect of the war’s toll that is difficult to capture with numbers is the combination of fatalism and dedication among the journalists.

Roshdi al-Sarraj, a journalist who ran an independent media company that did work for the BBC and Le Monde, wrote on October 13 on Facebook that he intended to defy an Israeli army order to evacuate Gaza City.

“We will not leave … and if we leave, we will go to the sky, and only to the sky,” he wrote in his post.

Nine days later, al-Sarraj was killed by an Israeli airstrike on his home in the Gaza City neighborhood of Tal al-Hawa.

With additional reporting by Ethar AlAzem of ARIJ; Léa Peruchon and Mariana Abreu of Forbidden Stories; Frederik Obemeyer of Paper Trail Media; and Madjid Zerrouky of Le Monde.

The post Israel’s War On Gaza Is the Deadliest Conflict On Record for Journalists appeared first on The Intercept.