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Oct. 30, 2023, 12:17 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   October 30, 2023

The war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas is shaping up to be one of the deadliest single events for journalists in decades.

In the 23 days since Hamas’ initial attacks in Israel, at least 29 journalists have died, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists: 24 Palestinian, 4 Israeli, and 1 Lebanese. (An additional 9 are currently reported as missing or detained.)

To put that number in context, in all of 2022 worldwide, 57 journalists and media workers were killed. In less than a month — on and around a single patch of land roughly the size of Denver, Colorado — the total in Gaza is more than halfway there.

Additional context: In 2006, three years after the American invasion of Iraq, a total of 71 journalists had been killed in that war. That compared with 63 killed in the Vietnam War, 17 in the Korean War, and 69 killed in World War II. I’m sure there are issues comparing across such a large span of time, but nonetheless, the Gaza conflict has entered that conversation in a frighteningly short time. (By comparison, 12 journalists were killed in the first 11 months of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.)

There were three important updates to the situation over the past few days, as Israel prepared for and appeared to launch a ground campaign.

First, Israel imposed what observers described as a communications blackout on Gaza, sharply limiting (among many other things, obviously) news organizations’ ability to contact their reporters on the ground. CPJ termed this a “news blackout”:

A communications blackout is a news blackout. This can lead to serious consequences with an independent, factual information vacuum that can be filled with deadly propaganda, dis- and misinformation. CPJ is aware that many journalists remain on the ground in Gaza and many international journalists have flocked to Israel to cover the war. We remind all warring factions — including outside of Israel’s internationally recognized borders — that journalists are civilians and must be respected and protected by all warring parties in accordance with international humanitarian law. Deliberately targeting journalists or media infrastructure constitute possible war crimes.

Second, an investigation by Reporters Sans Frontières alleged that a press vehicle “was explicitly targeted” in an attack that killed one journalist, Reuters’ Issam Abdallah, and injured several others:

• On Friday 13 October, at around 6.00 pm, two strikes of different intensity, 37 to 38 seconds apart, hit the spot where a group of seven journalists had been for more than an hour. The first killed Reuters photojournalist Issam Abdallah, according to his colleagues who were with him.

• The second, more powerful strike, with a payload of more than 3 kg TNT equivalent according to RSF’s ballistic expertise, ignited the Al Jazeera vehicle, a white Toyota, next to which the reporter was standing, injuring Al Jazeera journalists Carmen Joukhadar and Elie Brakhya, as well as their AFP colleague Dylan Collins. The strike displaced the vehicle by around 90 degrees from its original position.

• According to the ballistic analysis carried out by RSF, the shots came from the east of where the journalists were standing; from the direction of the Israeli border.

• Two strikes in the same place in such a short space of time (just over 30 seconds), from the same direction, clearly indicate precise targeting.

• It is unlikely that the journalists were mistaken for combatants, especially as they were not hiding: in order to have a clear field of vision, they had been in the open for more than an hour, on the top of a hill. They were wearing helmets and bullet-proof waistcoats marked “press.” Their car was also identified as “press” thanks to a marking on the roof, according to witnesses.

And third, representatives of Reuters and Agence France Presse sought out assurances from the Israel Defense Forces that their journalists (and other journalists) were not being deliberately targeted by IDF attacks. They did not receive them:

Israel’s military has told international news organisations Reuters and Agence France Presse that it cannot guarantee the safety of their journalists operating in the Gaza Strip, under Israeli bombardment and siege for almost three weeks…

“The IDF is targeting all Hamas military activity throughout Gaza,” the IDF letter said, adding that Hamas deliberately put military operations “in the vicinity of journalists and civilians.” The IDF also noted that its high-intensity strikes on Hamas targets could cause damage to surrounding buildings and that Hamas rockets could also misfire and kill people inside Gaza. “Under these circumstances, we cannot guarantee your employees’ safety, and strongly urge you to take all necessary measures for their safety,” the IDF letter concluded.

Hamas did not immediately comment when asked about the IDF’s allegation that it put military operations near where journalists in Gaza are known to be based. Reuters could not verify how many other news organizations operating in Gaza had received the same letter from the IDF. The IDF did not have any immediate comment.

Reuters and AFP said they were very concerned about the safety of journalists in Gaza. “The situation on the ground is dire, and the IDF’s unwillingness to give assurances about the safety of our staff threatens their ability to deliver the news about this conflict without fear of being injured or killed,” Reuters said in a statement in response to receiving the Israel military letter.

AFP Global News Director Phil Chetwynd said his news organisation had received the same letter. “We are in an incredibly precarious position and it’s important that the world understands that there is a large team of journalists working in extremely dangerous conditions,” Chetwynd said.

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