A deadly time for journalists as media numbers decimated in Gaza

The number of journalists and media workers killed in the war in Gaza since October 7 passed the triple-digit mark in the past week and now totals 102, including 95 Palestinians, according to the International Federation of Journalists.

While estimates vary between organisations, the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) lists journalist and media worker deaths at 88, making this the deadliest period for journalists and media workers in a single country since the committee began keeping records in 1992.

Al Jazeera journalist Wael Dahdouh holds the hand of his son Hamza, who also worked for Al Jazeera and was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza in January.
Al Jazeera journalist Wael Dahdouh holds the hand of his son Hamza, who also worked for Al Jazeera and was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza in January.Credit: AP

By comparison, in the two years since Russia invaded Ukraine, the committee lists journalist and media worker deaths at 17, while 229 were killed across eight years in the Iraq War (2003-11).

Monday night’s military operation in the south Gazan city of Rafah marked another watershed moment in Israel’s offensive, as strikes bombarded the previously marked safe zone which houses almost 1.5 million Palestinians.

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Following the January strike, Al Jazeera directly accused the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) of deliberately targeting reporters in the war zone, an allegation several official Israeli sources have rejected. An IDF statement later said the journalists were members of Gaza-based terrorist organisations, and operators of a drone posing a threat to Israeli soldiers.

Like much of Gaza’s population, journalists there are coming under bombardment while restricted to an area around half the size of Canberra. Committee to Protect Journalists president Jodie Ginsberg said there was mounting evidence the deaths of some journalists were deliberate, while they faced the challenges of “trying to cover the war whilst also living it”.

Palestinian journalists are living the war while reporting it, says Jodie Ginsberg, the president of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Palestinian journalists are living the war while reporting it, says Jodie Ginsberg, the president of the Committee to Protect Journalists.Credit: AP

What is different about this conflict for journalists?

International Federation of Journalists deputy general secretary Tim Dawson said the approximate 1000 journalists inside Gaza have been the only source of on-the-ground news outside official Israeli sources since October 7, as foreign access has been shut off.

Based on Dawson’s figure, almost one in 10 of the Gaza-based journalists have now been killed since Hamas’ insurgency into southern Israel on October 7, when it killed more than 1200 people and took around 240 hostages.

Dawson said the high percentage of casualties among journalists made it hard to make the case that some deaths were not the result of a deliberate campaign.

‘When you look at the numbers, it’s a very difficult to find an alternative explanation when there’s a mortality rate that’s three or four times that of medical staff.’

Tim Dawson, International Federation of Journalists

“When you look at the numbers, it’s a very difficult to find an alternative explanation when there’s a mortality rate that’s three or four times that of medical staff,” he said.

An IDF spokesperson told this masthead the force took all operationally feasible measures to mitigate harm to civilians, including journalists, and had, in some cases, aborted strikes.

“Given the ongoing exchanges of fire, remaining in an active combat zone has inherent risks,” the spokesperson said.

The reason the remaining journalists continue to report on the conflict despite the risks, Wael Dahdouh explained, was to show the world “what is happening here in the Gaza Strip”.

A different arena of war

Front-line war reporting is infinitely more dangerous in 2024, said Tony Walker, a former foreign correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, as war munitions were far more destructive.

“No one can leave or enter the Gaza Strip while Israel’s got a dragnet by land and sea around it,” Walker said.

On assignment for The Herald in 1993 in the West Bank city of Ramallah, a stray bullet fired by an Israeli soldier at Palestinian demonstrators struck Walker in the leg. He put the injury down to being caught in the crossfire.

By contrast, he said, journalists in Gaza were “sitting ducks confined to a killing field”.

Tony Walker on November 10, 1993, after being shot by an Israeli soldier while reporting for The Sydney Morning Herald.
Tony Walker on November 10, 1993, after being shot by an Israeli soldier while reporting for The Sydney Morning Herald.

“Now, the big question is whether Israel’s actually targeting Palestinian journalists. I would say unequivocally, the loss of life among journalists in Gaza is appalling. I think all journalists should be appalled.”

Gaza health officials said at least 28,500 Palestinians have been killed since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. More than 1400 Israelis have been killed, including about 1200 on October 7, according to Israeli tallies.

How do we define journalist deaths?

With Gaza controlled by Hamas, many media organisations there have contact with the terrorist group. Hamas runs some media, such as the Al-Aqsa TV network, while other outlets, such as the Al-Quds newspaper, maintain a pro-Hamas position.

As a result, Israeli officials have periodically questioned the integrity of Palestinian journalists and suggested they are extensions of Hamas.

On November 9, former Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz said journalists found to have known about the October 7 attack were no different from terrorists and “should be treated as such”. A senior member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, Danny Danon, also called for the “elimination” of some photographers who covered the massacre.

Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev said Al Jazeera’s editorial policy “isn’t necessarily at all based on truth”, and also questioned the network’s relationship with Hamas.

Al Jazeera’s press office rejected and condemned the Israeli army’s “false and misleading” attempts to justify the killing of Hamza Dahdouh and other journalists.

“He, like so many journalists before him, was killed simply for doing his job and for shining a light on events that the Israeli army would rather stayed in the dark and hidden from scrutiny,” the network said in a statement.

“Israel has a well-known history of making false allegations and of fabricating evidence to conceal its heinous actions, including against journalists.”

Ginsberg said the CPJ sought at least two sources of verification confirming individuals were involved in journalistic work, news-gathering activities or worked for a media outlet, as well as confirming their media affiliation. The committee regularly updates on its website the list of journalists killed, and Ginsberg confirmed it includes names regardless of their media outlet.

“We do include people who work for outlets that do have Hamas affiliations,” Ginsberg said.

In the controlled environment, that some journalists have closer ties to Hamas than others was an inevitability, Walker said.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev says the idea that Israel targets journalists is unfounded.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev says the idea that Israel targets journalists is unfounded.Credit: AP

How the Israel and the IDF has responded

Regev has said Israel is the only Middle Eastern country that has and respects a free press, and rejects the contention journalists were targeted.

“It’s not true. Israel does not target journalists,” Regev told the BBC in January. “The idea that we target journalists is totally unfounded.”

The federation for journalists has committed to legal action against Israeli politicians and military leaders should they not commit to respecting recent orders by the International Court of Justice that Israel take “take all measures within their power to desist from killing Palestinians in contravention of the Genocide Convention”.

Ginsberg said any meaningful investigation into the deaths was unlikely while the war continued.

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