|[Published: Sunday November 19 2023]
In Israel's war against journalism, press safety is a slogan: The lost stories of Gaza's fallen journalists
By Dana Hourany, The New Arab, 07 November 2023
More Gazan journalists have been killed over the last month than any conflict in at least three decades. Their work to counter the Israeli narrative should be highlighted, so we've profiled some of the fallen journalists to keep their legacy alive.
Israel's war on Gaza since October 7 has resulted in unprecedented levels of violence, with more than 4,000 children killed and the death toll exceeding 10,000.
As of November 7, a total of 49 journalists have been killed, according to Gaza's media office.
Reuters and Agence France Press have sought guarantees that Israeli strikes would not target their reporters in Gaza, but the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have refused to comply, as reported by Reuters on October 27.
As the death toll rises rapidly, Palestinians risk being reduced to mere numbers. Nevertheless, each of these individuals has a unique story and memories that should be remembered.
This article highlights some of the fallen journalists who risked their lives to report on Israel's continuous aggression in Gaza and had their dreams cut short as a result.
Famed Palestinian filmmaker and journalist Roshdi Sarraj was killed by an Israeli airstrike on his home in Gaza on October 22. The 31-year-old's death came as a major shock, says his friend Palestinian journalist Mona Khader.
"The news left us [journalists] with a profound sense of disbelief that we are still grappling with," Mona told The New Arab.
Roshdi co-founded Ain Media, a Palestinian media company specialising in "media production services", alongside his friend Yaser Murtaja who was killed by Israeli forces while covering the Great March of Return.
In the days before his passing, Roshdi used to send live updates about the Gaza war via his account on the social media platform, X.
His dream, according to Ain Media colleagues, was to present a different image of Gaza to the world, one that was not tainted by violence and war.
Mona recalls Roshdi's passion for capturing picture-perfect angles of Gaza to share on his social media, adding that he possessed a deep love for Gaza's beauty, and continuously strived for personal growth and career advancement. He also had a one-year-old daughter "he had not had the chance to spend time with yet," she lamented.
"Roshdi always used to say that Gaza is beautiful and that we, the people, make it all the more beautiful. Gaza is a city of love and the city of life," Mona said.
His favourite pastimes included travelling, swimming, and horseback riding. She adds that he aimed to establish enduring partnerships with international organisations so that his work continues to reach people.
"He loved filmmaking and cinema, and he loved to give back to the community. It is a loss not just to us, but to the entire journalism community in Gaza," Ain Media told The New Arab.
Ain Media also mourned the death of one of its cameramen and sound engineer, Ibraheem Lafi.
The 21-year-old, as described by company colleagues, was "vibrant, full of life, and had dreams of reaching worldwide fame through his work."
Similarly to Roshdi, Ibraheem was an avid fan of cinema and aspired to work on big international films.
"Despite his tender age, he rapidly honed his expertise with Roshdi's guidance," a colleague from Ain Media remarked. "He stood out as one of our finest reporters, always at the forefront whenever events unfolded."
A leg injury once prevented him from joining his colleagues in the field, which left him completely devastated and disappointed, the company stated.
Several Instagram pictures showcase Roshdi and Ibraheem working closely on visual content.
In a caption beneath a photo taken on the set of a film called The Siege last June, Ibraheem wrote, "Every day, we grow more confident that something better is on the horizon," and referred to Roshdi as "our incredible director."
On his Instagram, it's clear Ibraheem possessed a talent and deep passion for capturing people's profiles and landscape photos of Gaza, showcasing all its facets: beauty, nature, land, sea, animals, destruction, and celebrations.
Ibraheem met his end in an Israeli airstrike on October 7 while doing what he loved most — reporting on the latest events.
According to Palestinian journalist Yara Eid, a close friend of Ibraheem's, he was a diligent individual who cherished and supported those around him. He even went to the extent of creating a WhatsApp group to send congratulatory and birthday messages.
"I was trying to surprise him [Ibraheem] in Christmas break but he surprised all of us. I don’t know how I can go on without you by my side. I still am waiting for you to call me back. I still need you. We all do," Yara wrote on an Instagram post," Yara wrote under an Instagram post.
Khaleel Abu Azre
Khaleel Abu Azre's life met a tragic end due to an Israeli airstrike on his residence in Rahaf, situated in the southern region of Gaza, on October 19. This location had been advised by the IDF as a refuge for the people of Gaza escaping the north.
Khaleel had previously worked as a reporter for Al Aqsa TV and actively maintained his Facebook presence, ensuring he regularly delivered news updates to his 2,000 followers.
Mona reminisces about an incident during the Great March of Return in 2018 when she went to cover the protests. Khalil encountered her walking and kindly offered her a ride in his car.
When Israeli soldiers unleashed gas bombs on the protesters and media professionals, Mona found herself nearly on the brink of fainting. She struggled to breathe and move. It was Khaleel who came to her rescue, pulling her out of the crowd and escorting her to safety in his car.
"In that moment, Khalil saved my life," Mona recounted.
A friendship was established, with Mona describing him as a "man who cherished life's simplicity and eagerly extended a helping hand to his colleagues, providing valuable contacts and information."
Mona added that Khaleel had created WhatsApp groups to share information, updates, and potential story ideas. He was a devoted family man, married with four children.
"He held a deep affection for Gaza and a strong sense of nationalism. He dreamt of travelling abroad and visiting the Al-Aqsa mosque. He was unable to fulfil that either," Mona lamented.
October 13 marked the death of 32-year-old journalist and mother of three Salam Mema.
Salam held a significant role as the head of the Women Journalists Committee at the Palestinian Media Assembly, a dedicated organisation striving to advance media work for Palestinian journalists.
Mona shared that Salam's case struck the deepest chords of sorrow. It took three days to recover her lifeless body from the rubble. Her home in the Jabalia refugee camp, located in the northern Gaza Strip, was struck by an Israeli airstrike on October 10.
"We searched tirelessly for them in those initial two days, but our efforts were in vain. It pains us to think of her trapped under the rubble, unable to escape," Mona expressed.
"Salam cherished life and was incredibly beautiful. Her strongest bonds were with her children, and she aspired to expand her career by collaborating with international organisations."
Salam's husband, their two-year-old daughter Sham, their seven-year-old son Hadi, and other family members were also killed, leaving her five-year-old son Ali as the sole survivor.
Mona fondly remembers Salam as a "devout woman who relished gathering with her female friends and took great care to stay connected with everyone she knew... Her favourite pastime was playing with her kids, whom she adored.
"Watching her interact with her children outdoors, you'd swear she was one of them. Her time with them was her greatest joy," Mona recounted.
Nidal Al Wahidi
Nidal Al Wahidi's situation remains shrouded in uncertainty. He went missing on October 7, following the surprise attacks launched by Hamas on Israel.
As a photographer with Al Najah, Al-Wahidi's fate remains enigmatic to this day, with his family maintaining that he was detained by the Israeli military.
However, the Israeli Prisoners' Information Office reported that "the Israeli Supreme Court has rejected an appeal to disclose the fate of journalists Nidal Al-Wahidi and Haitham Abdulwahed."
"Nidal holds a special place in our hearts. He had a strong desire to serve others and a deep love for life. He independently established the NewPress agency and worked tirelessly to enhance it," Mona said.
For Nidal, assisting his colleagues was a fundamental commitment, Mona recounted. He enjoyed helping others discover job opportunities and was known for his distinct and boisterous door knock, which reflected his vibrant presence and made him a beloved figure.
"His office was an open space for fellow journalists seeking a workspace without any fees," she continued. Additionally, he used to provide press vests to those in need.
Nidal had a profound passion for the sea and a strong desire to travel. Despite the considerable challenges of travelling from Gaza, Mona says that he managed to do so for the first time last year, visiting Turkey and the USA. This experience had a profound impact on him, transforming him in many ways.
Prior to his tragic absence, Mona recalls that he aspired to expand the reach of NewPress beyond the borders of Palestine and was actively pursuing English courses to enhance his skillset.
"We used to gather by the sea every week. His absence has deeply affected us, and we wish he returns soon," Mona expressed.
Protecting freedom of the press
Jad Shahrour, the Communications Officer at the Lebanese Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, told The New Arab that journalists often find themselves as vulnerable targets. They usually play a crucial role in conveying the real events happening in war zones to the outside world, which could contribute to the pro-Palestinian narrative that Israel seeks to undermine.
"This content originating from Gaza serves to debunk Israeli misinformation and the proliferation of fake news that Israel consistently attempts to present as facts," Jad explained.
In 2005, the ICRC published a study on customary international humanitarian law that cites Rule 34, which states that "civilian journalists engaged in professional missions in areas of armed conflict must be respected and protected as long as they are not taking a direct part in hostilities."
Jad stresses that having protective laws for journalists is not enough; there's a need to establish mechanisms for punishment to ensure that those responsible for harming journalists are held accountable.
"Telling their stories and helping them share their content is essential to preserve the truth and ensure the abuse done to them and their fellow Palestinian civilians is not forgotten and unnoticed," Jad concluded.
Dana Hourany is a multimedia journalist based in Beirut. - (ANA) -
AB/ANA/19 November 2023 — - -