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One year later, Gaza journalists remember stories of resilience

January 24, 2014 at 3:28 am

The memory of his shattered leg will never leave photojournalist Khader Al-Zahar. One year later, Al-Zahar, along with many Palestinian journalists, continues to live the days of Israel’s November 2012 offensive.

Al-Zahar was wounded in his leg when an Israeli aircraft missile hit the branch office of Al-Quds satellite channel in central Gaza City, where he works. At the time he was busy sorting some photos he had shot during the offensive.

After having his leg amputated, he overcame his disability and continued along his media journey by joining the video production department.

“It is true that my injury prevents me from standing in the field behind the camera lens, so today I stand in front of this small screen to produce what other journalists have filmed. [The Israeli occupation] will not screen the world from the truth; they will not silence us,” Al-Zahar told Safa Press.

Despite his injury, Al-Zahar is resilient and his morale is high: “I enjoy my work thanks to my parents who encourage me to continue with this kind of resistance.”

He urged his fellow journalists “to continue their media work and not to surrender to the occupation, which tries to silence anybody seeking to expose its attacks and targets those who do so in order to mislead world opinion and hide the truth.”

“The Palestinian journalists know very well how to convey the true picture of the Israeli occupation’s violations. The media is not only a pen or a camera that can be destroyed, but also a thought and a message impossible to erase,” he continued.

Safa interviewed the BBC’s reporter in Gaza, Shahdi Al-Kashif, who says “a Palestinian journalist who works under occupation should be aware that he must face an open confrontation one time or another.”

Remembering the moment when his fellow colleague, Jihad Al-Mashharawi, had been targeted and his son was killed, Kashif explains that, “all journalists then sensed that they were not far from Israel’s targets.”

“During the 2008-09 and 2012 aggressions, all media staffs were working together as members of the same team having common feelings and the same message, regardless of which media organisations we were working for,” he says.

The reporter notes that “during these times of war, we managed to risk staying in the field and continue our work.”

Cameraman Ashraf Abu Amra, who has enjoyed a decade-long journalistic career, believes that “any Israeli escalation begins with a media upheaval which is then used to justify a military action, where bombs have the upper hand.”

“The Israeli occupation is well aware that Palestinian journalists are critical of its image, but cannot flout all international norms and laws that prohibit the targeting of civilians including the media workers,” Abu Amra adds.

He stressed that “Palestinian journalists have become professionally trained in the media because international journalists rarely come into Gaza to cover the ongoing aggressions, and they want to contribute that part of the picture.”

Abu Amra says Palestinians’ contribution to media has been comparable to the international effort in terms of power and influence; many Palestinian journalists have won international awards, the latest of whom is photojournalist Ali Ali, 28, who won the 2013 Frontline Club Award for documenting daily life in the Gaza Strip.

For his part, Al-Jazeera reporter Tamer Al-Misshal believes that the success of journalists comes with their ability to continue reporting the voice and image against all odds, even if in the most difficult of situations.

“It’s impossible for any force, no matter how powerful it is, to silence the media, not even a direct threat from the Israeli occupation,” Misshal says.

Indeed on 20 November 2012, the Israeli military targeted a car demonstrating a “press” sign on a Gaza City street, killing two cameramen from Al-Aqsa TV, Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama.

Human Rights Watch cited four such Israeli attacks on journalists and media facilities in Gaza during the November 2012 aggression, all of which “violated the laws of war by targeting civilians and civilian structures that were making no apparent contribution to the Palestinian military operations.”

The UN SC Resolution 1544 reiterated “the obligation of Israel, the occupying power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War”. It called “on Israel to address its security needs within the boundaries of international law” and expressed “grave concern at the continued deterioration of the situation on the ground in the territory occupied by Israel since 1967”.

Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, journalists and media workers are civilians and therefore should be immune from attack unless they are directly participating in the hostilities. Television and radio stations are civilian structures protected from attack unless they are used to make an “effective contribution to military action” and their destruction in the specific circumstances offers “a definite military advantage”.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.