In Ankara, Turkey, people carry pictures of the journalists killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza. The commemoration was organized by Ankara Palestine Solidarity Platform, for Working Journalists’ Day on Jan. 10, 2024.
Photo by Harun Ozalp/Anadolu via Getty Images
Being a Palestinian journalist has never been easy, but Israel’s escalation of violence against members of the press in Gaza is unprecedented, say press freedom advocates. Can global solidarity help stop the bloodshed?
There were about 1,000 Palestinian journalists working in Gaza when Israel launched its assault on the territory last October. Israel controls movement into Gaza and has barred foreign reporters from entering. A limited number of international journalists have been embedded with the Israeli military since it launched its offensive, but they are forbidden from contacting Palestinians, and Israel requires their reports to be reviewed before publication or broadcast. While international media organizations have challenged the ban, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld it last week. “The news has to be reported by Palestinian journalists. Otherwise, no one will know what’s going on,” says Rania Khayyat, communications officer at PJS. “It is a very heavy duty.”
Palestinian journalists say the support they have received from organizations such as CPJ and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has been a boon during the most horrific period of violence and suppression in living memory. “If there is a bright side, the bright side is being surrounded by good people who believe in us,” says Khayyat.
Material support from various organizations and initiatives has helped Palestinian journalists continue their work in near impossible conditions over the last several months. For example, when damaged communications infrastructure in Gaza began to fail last October, Egyptian journalist Mirna El Helbawi launched eSims for Gaza. The initiative offers virtual SIM cards to help Palestinians stay connected amid communications blackouts. Initially, the effort prioritized journalists and media workers and then pivoted to a broader group, providing more than 100,000 eSims to Gazans. Disabled writers and activists in the United States launched a similar initiative called Crips for eSims for Gaza in December.
The supplies have had a real-world impact. “It was humbling to learn … that Gazan photographer Mohammad Baalousha saved his own life with a blast trauma pack that the IFJ helped supply, after snipers shot him twice in the legs,” said Tim Dawson, IFJ’s deputy general secretary, in a recent statement. Baalousha told The Washington Post that he was shot by an Israeli sniper on Dec. 16, 2023, less than three weeks after he broke the story that at least four premature babies had been abandoned to die and their bodies left to decompose in an intensive care unit at al-Nasr Children’s Hospital when Israeli troops forced hospital staff to evacuate.
Injured reporters, including Baalousha, cannot access needed health care because Israeli attacks have destroyed much of Gaza’s health infrastructure. An Instagram reel posted on Dec. 31, 2023, showed that Baalousha was trapped in a location he crawled to after being shot. With no ambulance able to reach him, he was forced to treat his own injury using makeshift supplies.
While Palestinians face this latest Israeli onslaught, people of all faithsand backgrounds worldwide have come together to show solidarity for Palestine and call for an end to the aggression. Demonstrations in cities like Londonand New York have drawn tens of thousands of supporters. Several vigils for slain mediaand culture workers have also been held over the last few months. Khayyat says these demonstrations of solidarity and mourning have helped spread the message that journalism is under attack in Palestine and the targeting of journalists must be condemned and investigated. “We are impressed seeing the demonstrations in big cities all over the world,” she says. “This is very important, and we need it to continue.”
Ahmad Al-Bazz, a West Bank–based journalist, says that while nothing compares to the situation in Gaza, violations against journalists in the West Bank have also been increasing over the last few months. In December, Al-Bazz was prevented from covering a multiday Israeli military operation in Jenin in which Israeli forces arrested over 500 Palestiniansand killed at least 12. Al-Bazz recalls how he and his colleagues waited for access to cover it. “Once the army left after 55 hours, that is when the journalism started. But my job is not only to go and document what happened later but also to capture what is happening while the army is there.”
Moving through the Israeli checkpoints and road barriers littering the West Bank has also become more difficult and dangerous. While Al-Bazz has an Israeli military–issued permit allowing him to move across the West Bank and the West Bank barrier, he says it has been of little help lately. The same is true of his press credentials. “If you have a press sign on your car or try to show your press card, it does not give you any privileges. Only Israelis can move.”
For years, Palestinian journalists have been calling for global attention to the dangers they face. In April 2022, PJS and its partner organizations submitted a formal complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC) alleging that Israel’s systematic targeting of journalists in Palestine and its failure to investigate killings of media workers amounted to war crimes. Khayyat says the ICC responded that December, stating it would launch an inquiry. But there have been no updates since. “Suddenly, it was like a big silence,” says Khayyat. “Because of this silence, because no one has held them accountable, now … more journalists have been killed by Israeli forces.”
IFJ’s Dawson, in a blog post, wrote that “The fate of Gaza’s journalists is a humanitarian catastrophe” and emphasized the power of international pressure, such as that provided by demonstrations, to encourage the ICC to broaden its inquiries into crimes against journalists in Palestine. Journalists outside Palestine can also play a role in pushing these investigations forward through coverage of them.
“It should be uncontroversial for organizations representing media workers to condemn the slaughter of our colleagues,” said Olivia Schwob, co-chair of the NWU’s Freelance Solidarity Project, when union members gathered in New York in December to call for an end to hostilities against Palestine. She added, “The journalists in Gaza, who are continuing to report on this slaughter [and] bring the truth to the rest of the world … they are really redefining integrity and solidarity. We need to support them.”
CORRECTION: This article was amended at 4:40 p.m. on Jan. 17, 2024, to clarify that the National Writers Union, not Writers Against the War on Gaza, is organizing with the IFJ Safety Fund. Read our corrections policy here.
is a YES! Media contributing writer. She covers social and environmental justice and politics.