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Chicago Sun Times
Chicago Sun-Times
18 Nov 2023

NextImg:Journalists in Gaza deserve protection — not death

Their stories can’t be told when the narrators are dead.

No one is voiceless, as acclaimed Indian writer and political activist Arundhati Roy once noted. Rather, Roy said, “There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.”

The Israeli military has shown no pretense in its attempt to mute the Gaza Strip through its inexorable siege that has so far claimed the lives of more than 11,500 Palestinians, including 4,700 children and dozens of journalists documenting the humanitarian disaster, as it careens toward what some scholars and United Nations experts have described as a genocidal abyss.

After Israel started bombarding Gaza in response to Hamas’ horrific Oct. 7 attack, a few international news outlets were told their employees’ safety wasn’t guaranteed.

Some American correspondents since then have opted to enter the region by embedding themselves with the Israel Defense Forces, on the condition they submit their footage for review prior to publication.

That leaves the Palestinian journalists to fully relay the harsh, unvarnished reality on the ground. But their press corps keeps dwindling as its members are plucked off one by one in the violence.

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Thirty-seven Palestinian journalists and media workers were killed, mostly by Israeli airstrikes, within the last six weeks in the Middle East, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. A Beirut-based Reuters videographer was also killed when he was struck by shelling that volleyed over from the direction of Israel near the Lebanon-Israeli border on Oct. 13.

Six days before, two Israeli photographers and a pair of editors lost their lives when they and roughly 1,200 others were massacred by Hamas militants in Israel.

All together, the international conflict has unleashed the deadliest period for journalists since the nonprofit CPJ started collecting data over three decades ago. In Gaza, the grim statistics have been especially traumatic for surviving journalists who have become part of the story digging through rubble with their bare hands in search of their loved ones.

“Gaza was a dangerous place for journalists before Oct. 7,” but the rate at which they are now being killed — about one a day — is “unprecedented,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.

Not only have these journalists been providing information about the oppressive conditions in the occupied territories along with the motives and implications of the warring parties, their news tips help Palestinians access food, water and electricity, Mansour stressed.

Raising honest objections

Hamas should be held accountable for the killings and kidnapping of Israelis and foreign nationals. Israel’s bloody counteroffensive, however, has hardly appeared as a just retort to thousands of observers around the world, including a sizable number of Israelis and American Jews.

But Israel’s allies, including the United States, uphold the country as a civilized democracy, as they would put it, in a sea of savage Arabs, allowing it to vilify innocent civilians and skate by the gravest war crime allegations while it pummels Gaza.

Those who raise honest questions or objections are reprimanded instead. Just last week, several friends in the business told me they were scolded or disciplined for being among the 1,200-plus journalists who signed an open letter condemning their peers’ killings in Gaza and calling for Western newsrooms to stop sugar-coating Israel’s treatment of innocent Palestinians. Yes, I too signed the letter.

Israeli officials say they don’t deliberately target civilians or journalists as they attempt to eradicate Hamas. The militants, they say, use “human shields” and have been positioning themselves near news crews, leading to the “collateral damage.”

This isn’t the first time Israel has swiftly contested responsibility for a journalist’s death.

Israel also stood its ground last year, denying its forces killed Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh as she covered a raid on Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.

The Al Jazeera Arabic veteran was “likely” hit by Palestinian militants, then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett concluded, even though witnesses said otherwise.

Months later, after several independent investigations, the IDF conceded there was a “high possibility” Abu Akleh was gunned down by Israeli fire.

No one has been charged for fatally shooting Abu Akleh or the 19 other journalists killed by members of the IDF since 2001, the CPJ said.

But on the first anniversary of Abu Akleh’s death last May, the IDF did issue an apology.

“In Israel, we value our democracy, and in a democracy, we see high value in journalism and in a free press,” IDF’s chief spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said at the time. “We want journalists to feel safe in Israel, especially in war time.”

Hagari may have spoken too soon, as concern for the media’s well-being looks like it has become just another casualty of war. Or maybe it just isn’t applied in Gaza.

Rummana Hussain is a columnist and member of the Sun-Times Editorial Board.

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