Gaza journalists risk everything to tell their stories amid personal tragedies

Dozens of journalists have been killed since the start of the Israeli-Gaza conflict

A Palestinian journalist comforts his niece after she was wounded in an Israeli strike on Nuseirat refugee camp. AP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

Photojournalist Motaz Azaiza has viewed Gaza’s unspeakable human tragedy through a camera lens.

Since the beginning of the Israel-Gaza conflict, he has captured images of the violence and relayed it to his more than nine million followers on Instagram.

Journalists in Gaza, including The National's correspondent Nagham Mohanna, say that along with the emotional toll of the conflict and immense personal risk from constant Israeli bombardment, there are major logistical problems in conveying the scale of the suffering.

Last week, Azaiza was seen discarding his gear and cradling two wounded toddlers in his arms as he took them to safety.

“Heading to a place ... of air strike … and these people came with two babies injured in the bombing, I just see them,” Azaiza said in a shaky video, gasping for breath while comforting the children, one screaming in pain and the other drenched in blood from a head injury.

The Instagram video, which went viral, encapsulates the harrowing experiences of journalists in Gaza, where more than 7,000 people have been killed in Israeli strikes.

The violence has followed an attack on Israel by Hamas that killed about 1,400 people.

For the journalists reporting from the Palestinian enclave, the battlefield is all around them. Even the simple task of stepping out for an interview or to buy food means risking everything.

The stories they write and the grief they capture often becomes personal, when the victims of the war are their own family members and colleagues.

“I don’t feel like I’m going to make it to the end, so please forgive me,” Azaiza said in a video last week, echoing the fears of many of his colleagues.

His fear is not unfounded. A total of 23 journalists have been killed since the start of the war on October 7, with several dozen wounded, according to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate.

That toll passes the number of journalists killed during the Second Intifada, an uprising against Israeli occupation between 2000 and 2005, during which 14 journalists were killed.

About 1,000 Israelis and 3,500 Palestinians were killed in the violence.

Salam Mema and Mohammed Imad Labad from Al Resalah news agency, Khalil Abu Aathra of Al-Aqsa TV and reporter Mohammad Balousha are among the journalists killed in the last conflict. They were identified on a list published by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah was filming in southern Lebanon when he was hit by Israeli artillery, as the conflict spread.

'Everyday could be the last'

Unrelenting air strikes, shortages of food and water, power cuts, lack of communication and long, gruelling working hours are among the grave risks journalists face in Gaza.

Nedal Hamdouna, 34, a freelance journalist in northern Gaza told The National that he starts each day with the fear it could be his last.

“I always have this feeling that it could be my last day, or even last hour, or even of my reporting. Even now, this could be the last minute of my life. We are being targeted all the time,” said Hamdouni, who works for several international media outlets, including Reuters.

“There is no safe zone. Your house, hospital, bakery – we are being targeted everywhere."

He said journalists were under stress and feared for the safety of their families and relatives, many of whom have been wounded in air strikes or displaced.

“While you are reporting the news of people who got killed, you could get the news anytime about your wife or kids," he said.

“My family is in Gaza and if you ask me if they are safe, the answer is ‘No’. I can only hope so. We keep thinking of our families wherever we are. There is nothing else we can do.”

Stories become personal tragedies

Living and working in the heart of a humanitarian catastrophe in the besieged enclave means journalists are not detached from the stories they cover. Some have become the story, including journalist Wael Al Dahdouh.

His wife, son, daughter and grandson were among 25 civilians killed in an Israeli air strike on Nuseirat refugee camp on Tuesday.

A seasoned journalist who has covered several Gaza wars, Al Dahdouh was on air when he received the tragic news. Several other journalists have also lost family members and had their houses or offices destroyed in air strikes.

Apart from the challenge of staying safe, Hamdouni said it was a “mission” to stay connected to ensure his stories reached the outside world.

“We hardly have internet or electricity. To keep our mobiles and laptop connected, we are using several batteries and it is a struggle to keep them charged. Every day it is another battle," he said.

The work is relentless. "We hardly sleep or eat. If we are not reporting, we follow news day and night,” he said.

Israeli tanks enter northern Gaza in overnight raid

Israeli tanks enter northern Gaza in overnight raid

'I am alive'

“I am OK. I am alive today,” Mohanna said during a morning briefing with her editor at The National.

She said fear gripped Gazans as the unrelenting air strikes intensified, with a ground invasion by Israeli troops looming.

“I don’t know what will keep me and my family safe. It is hard to guess as even schools and hospitals are being targeted," she said.

Having moved twice to escape the strikes, and now living with her brother, she said survival was a daily battle.

"It is getting harder and harder day by day. I don't know what to say any more or what will happen to us," she said.

She conducts interviews with witnesses and survivors of air strikes, as well as officials from the authorities in Gaza.

She sometimes has to assess the situation before leaving her home to do her job.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has aid journalists in Gaza face particularly high risks.

“The CPJ emphasises that journalists are civilians doing important work during times of crisis and must not be targeted by warring parties,” said Sherif Mansour, the group’s Middle East and North Africa programme co-ordinator.

“Journalists across the region are making great sacrifices to cover this heartbreaking conflict. All parties must take steps to ensure their safety.”

Updated: October 28, 2023, 2:49 AM