Palestinian journalists on the front line

7 Aug

images-1Twelve journalist have been killed covering Israel’s four week assault on the Gaza Strip

Yousef Al-Helou reports on the dangers of covering the deadly Israeli assault on Gaza. The Real News, 6 August 2014

As the 72-hour truce under Egyptian mediation still holds in Gaza, people in the war-torn coastal territory inspect the huge damage inflicted by Israel’s month-long, all-out offensive. The scale of destruction dwarfs that of 2008-09 and 2012. The 30-day offensive has left 1,876 dead, including 430 children, 243 women, 79 elderly, 21 paramedics, and 12 journalists, and injured 9,567 more. Thirty Palestinians have been kidnapped and 450,000 displaced. 40,000 homes have been destroyed, 10,000 irreparably, as well as 112 schools, 112 mosques, ten hospitals, 39 private and civil society organizations, 54 fishing boats, hundreds of civilian vehicles, and nine ambulances.

Journalists have had little time to rest, filming and reporting on Israeli attacks and the aftermath of air strikes and tank shelling. “I think Palestinians won the media battle,” said Abed Al-Nasser Abu Own, 35, a journalist from Gaza City. He highlighted the work done by Palestinian journalists and others in solidarity: “Photos of innocent children circulated the planet. Footage of civilians killed by Israeli weapons made the world hear the cries of Gazans. Social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter played an important role in spreading breaking news from Gaza.”

Each one of Gaza’s nearly 2 million citizens has a story to tell. Amongst them are hundreds of journalists, whose hardships are often overlooked. Many have died while covering events, such as the recent massacre in Shuja’iyya, which claimed at least two. According to the Palestine Journalists Syndicate, 12 journalists have been killed thus far, and 25 others have been injured during the current offensive. Another 30 have had their homes damaged or destroyed, and 40 journalists’ families have been displaced. Most are employed by local media outlets and agencies. “It’s very difficult, sometimes, to be neutral, covering Israeli attacks on your own people, family, civilians’ areas, children playing on the beach or on the day of feast, while playing on the swings,” said Majed Shulaq, 32, a journalist and father of two in Gaza City. “Each day passed, we say thank God that we are alive. No one was safe.”

Media correspondents are by no means the only Palestinians vulnerable to such violence, but increasingly, they are questioning the deliberacy of these attacks. “Whether these journalists and media workers were killed in indiscriminate air raids or were deliberately targeted, their deaths should be independently investigated and those responsible should be identified,” said Reporters Without Borders Assistant Research Director Virginie Dangles. “Journalists should not be targeted by belligerents, who must respect the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols, as well as UN Security Council Resolution 1738, adopted in 2006.”

The demand for answers has yet to wane, as the number of journalist fatalities rises. In the last week, the deaths of several Palestinian journalists were added to the list, many of which were the result of Israeli air strikes. Hamada Mkat, the head of the Saja News Network, was killed by an Israeli air strike in northern Gaza City. The Palestinian Journalists’ Union told Reporters Without Borders that Makat was killed at dawn outside his home, after going out to cover the air strikes. Mohamed Noureddin Al-Dairi, 26, a photographer with the Palestinian Network for Journalism and Media, died from the injuries he sustained while covering an airstrike on Shijaeyah on July 30; he was not pulled from the rubble until two days after the raid. Freelance journalist Shadi Hamdi Ayad, 24, and his father, were killed in their home on August 2 by an Israeli air strike on the southeastern Gaza City neighborhood of Al-Zaytoun. Abdullah Nasr Fahjan, 21, a sports journalist with Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV, was killed on August 1 during an Israeli bombardment of the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

Gaza is a war zone: it has faced three large-scale military operations in less than seven years. Foreign reporters are drawn to the ravaged strip, as media outlets around the globe have been eager to get their hands on exclusive information and footage of current events. Palestinian journalists in Gaza work together locally and internationally with other media outlets, often sharing exclusive information and footage of Israeli attacks in hopes of changing the Israeli-Palestinian rhetoric that plagues the U.S., in particular. Though much of U.S. media is still blinded by its Israeli allegiance, even some of its media outlets are unable to turn a blind eye when so many civilians, including fellow journalists, are falling left and right. Some international reports have proven to be sympathetic toward Gazans, most notably the coverage of Channel 4 News. Other foreign reporters ignore the human suffering, showing no sympathy for the victims and focusing, instead, on Palestinian violence. However, this presents a false equivalence between the destruction waged by 100,000 well-trained Israeli soldiers under the command of the fourth most powerful army in the world and the threat posed by about 6,000 Palestinian resistance fighters.

I personally lost 14 members of my extended family. My own house was targeted and sustained huge damage.
As Gazans use this truce to recuperate and salvage what they can from their destroyed homes, Gazan journalists continue to report.

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