Silencing the journalists

An explosion from an Israeli strike glows in the sky, amid the ongoing attack on Gazans. Picture: Reuters / Mohammed Al-Masri

An explosion from an Israeli strike glows in the sky, amid the ongoing attack on Gazans. Picture: Reuters / Mohammed Al-Masri

Published Nov 16, 2023


By Zeenat Adam

“Hello Everyone, this is Bisan from Gaza and I’m still alive.”

These are the words I have woken up to for 38 of the 40 days of onslaught on Gaza – two of which Bisan did not post and left many of us in deep anxiety as to her safety.

With at least fifty journalists already targeted and killed by Israel in Gaza, each breath Bisan takes as she shares her stories is critical. The world needs her reports and that of other voices emerging from the rubble in Gaza. The horror and carnage we have witnessed through their TikTok and Instagram reels has completely altered the public perception of the situation in Palestine, much to the dismay of the Israeli aggressor.

The raw, unedited, brutally honest videos have documented the ethnic cleansing first hand. Viewers can never erase the image of Motaz struggling to hold onto two critically injured babies, playing paramedic and journalist all at once.

We all shared in the grief of Al Jazeera’s Wael Dahdouh, as his family was exterminated by Israel, and we watched in awe as he returned to reporting immediately after their funeral.

The direct phone call made by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) to Youmna El Sid’s husband threatening that if they didn’t leave their residence and move South, they would be targeted sent shivers down my spine, and then watching her conversations with her young daughters about the risks of death absolutely broke my heart.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I woke one morning to the screams of anguish and horror from Saleh Al Jafarawi at the bloodbath from an attack on Al Shifa Hospital complex, where people were sleeping out in the open. That morning, four hospitals were struck before dawn.

The genocide on Gaza has had a profound impact on the reporters who are risking their lives to get the truth of the situation out. Foreign correspondents have been barred from working in Gaza apart from the embedded western journalists who have now entered Gaza with the IDF and have been exposed for their complicity in the propagation of untruths and misinformation, cutting away at their integrity for reporting factually.

A greater tragedy than the deception lies the betrayal of the profession, as most of the mainstream media have seemingly abandoned their colleagues in Gaza, almost as deliberately as the assassinations.

The Foreign Press Association (FPA), a non-profit organisation representing journalists working for international news organisations reporting from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, delivered insipid one-line statements that lacked any honour or respect for the journalists under fire.

The eerie silence emitted from organisations in South Africa, including the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) renders thoughts that the media is still colonised with apartheid-era mindsets, where there isn’t just self-censorship and curtailing of opinion pieces, but a deep media bias and hypocrisy in not even acknowledging the depravity of the genocide.

Basic human decency has been abandoned for fear of reprisals.

It is difficult to reconcile this, knowing and understanding the critical role the media played as an agent of the apartheid regime and need to give a voice to the oppressed.

A group of journalists (South Arican Journalists United for Palestine) have, however, circulated a petition stating: “We have been privy to the unfiltered scenes of grotesque barbarity towards those in Palestine.

“We have lost contact colleagues on the ground in Gaza, only to later see their press vests covered in rubble. And where there is a failed attempt on one of our lives, we have seen occupation forces instead killing the family and loved ones of Palestinian reporters, as further means of oppression.”

The petition calls on SANEF to release a memorandum of solidarity, as they did in the case of Ukraine. It further implores newsroom editors to allow for greater and more objective coverage of the plight of Palestinians, “being critically aware of how framing can contribute to the undermining of human rights and promote misinformation,” and also encourages journalists who face undue discrimination or intimidation at the hands of the police for their coverage of protests to file a report with the Press Council, CCMA or relevant ombudsman, and to report those impersonating the media in order to unlawfully gather footage to the local law enforcement.

Finally, the petition affirms commitment to promote the voices of the oppressed and pledges unwavering support for the media fraternity.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has, however, filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes committed against Palestinian journalists in Gaza. This is the third such complaint since 2018.

The complaint was lodged on October 31, 2023 and detailed the cases of nine journalists killed in the course of their work since October 7. The complaint further cites two wounded journalists in the course of their work, as well as the deliberate, total or partial, destruction of the premises of more than 50 media outlets in Gaza.

RSF Secretary General, Christophe Deloire said: “The scale, seriousness and recurring nature of international crimes targeting journalists, particularly in Gaza, calls for a priority investigation by the ICC prosecutor. We have been calling for this since 2018. The current tragic events demonstrate the extreme urgency of the need for ICC action.”

The United Nations declared journalism one of the most dangerous professions in the world.

At the time of writing, an unprecedented fifty journalists are reported to have been killed in Gaza, two are missing and more than thirty have been injured as a result of the current excessive, disproportionate carpet-bombings by Israel on the Gaza Strip, compared to the entire period from 2002 until 2022 in which Israel killed 44 journalists in Palestine.

* Zeenat Adam is a former diplomat and international relations strategist.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.