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'Direct stories from Palestinian journalists are essential. This is their war to tell'

Representative of the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate (PJS), Shuruq As'ad, says no one could tell the story of Gaza better than Palestinian journalists living there because they want to see change and humanise the Palestinian experience.

November 26, 2023 at 9:30 am

During what has been described as “the deadliest month for journalists”, Israel is deliberately targeting reporters in Gaza. Amidst its genocidal offensive on the enclave, where the death toll has surged past 13,000 Palestinians, Israel is systematically eliminating media professionals.

This systematic violation, according to the spokesperson of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), Shuruq As’ad, aims to shroud the unspeakable atrocities the occupation commits, preventing the world from witnessing the horrors of its brutal onslaught.

Born in Jerusalem, Shuruq has covered news in the region since 1994 and has become accustomed to the ever-present threat to her safety. She said, “Living as a journalist and under Israeli military law means no guaranteed protection from international law. There’s no safety and no ethical rules because we are a target for Israel.”

Journalism is a crucial pillar of democracy that holds those in power to account, so it comes as no surprise that Israel takes extreme measures to block any accurate reporting of the rights violations and crimes committed by its security forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

As Palestinian journalists face growing threats, intimidation and violence as their freedoms are curtailed by the Israeli Occupation, Shuruq highlights the alarming increase in attacks on journalists since 7 October. She reports that nearly 90 journalists have been attacked, with instances ranging from physical assault to the destruction of equipment.

Moreover, 32 journalists, both women and men, have also been arbitrarily arrested under Israeli military law, reminiscent of emergency laws used during the British mandate.

This includes journalist Somaya Jawabra, a member of the monitoring team at the Palestinian Information Centre. She was arrested by Israeli Occupation authorities earlier this month after she was taken in for questioning at the Huwara camp. She had only managed to make a brief phone call to her family, informing them of her detention before the call abruptly ended.

Somaya is a mother of three and is currently seven months pregnant, which has raised concerns for her health and that of her unborn child. Her arrest came less than 24 hours after Israeli Occupation forces arrested journalist, Amir Abu Aram, after raiding his house near Ramallah.

“We know nothing about all the journalists who have been arrested since the 7 October till now,” said Shuruq. “The Israeli authorities refuse to tell us anything about the reasons for their detainment or their conditions, but we are sure they were arrested for their social media posts and stories and the pieces they wrote.”

VIEW: MEMO correspondent reports grim scene on Gaza City during ceasefire

“They’re put in administrative detention, a practice that goes back to the British mandate, which is used to arrest Palestinians without any accusations. They don’t bring them in front of court, and they don’t tell them when their time in jail will end. It happens every day, with so many,” explained Shuruq.

This not only stifles press freedom but also stands as a blatant violation of international law, she emphasised. Furthermore, Shuruq highlights the even graver situation faced by journalists in Gaza.

According to PJS, the Israeli military has killed 60 media workers since 7 October. Moreover, the Committee to Protect Journalists has stated this is the deadliest month for attacks on journalists since it started keeping records in 1992.

Shuruq details the deliberate targeting of 61 media offices, some of which were completely demolished. She argues that these attacks cannot be dismissed as collateral damage, as the locations were well-known to Israeli authorities.

She explained, “We’ve been really worried about our colleagues since the war started because, since the third day of the war, we started losing a journalist each day. On the third day alone, we lost three together and then, every week, we’d lose around ten more colleagues. These are huge numbers, considering the population of Gaza. They were targeted in their offices and, in total, 61 media offices have been bombed. Some were completely demolished and some partially.”

She added, “Nobody can deny that it was targeted because Israel has all the intelligence and, when you shoot three missiles at three offices that are one on top of the other, don’t tell me this is not a target. It is unmistakably a clear target.”

After receiving the devastating news on a live broadcast that an Israeli air raid had claimed the lives of his wife, son, daughter, and grandson, Wael Al-Dahdouh, the Gaza Bureau Chief for Al Jazeera, hurried to the hospital, trailed by press cameras. Discovering his son at the hospital, he knelt beside the lifeless body, expressing his grief, crying, “They exact revenge on us through our children.”

“The pain of loss can never be described. “It was unbearable, but I am a different person because of the profession I hold. I fully believe that God has pearls of wisdom, and he is the one who provides a man with patience and strength.”

For Wael, documenting Israel’s crimes is not just a professional duty; it’s a way of honouring the memory of his family and standing resilient in the face of tragedy.

READ: Gaza journalists appeal for support amid ongoing Israeli attacks

It is this very resilience and connection to the people and land that Shuruq highlights why it is important to amplify the voices of Palestinian journalists conveying the realities of life under Occupation. While recognising the valuable contributions of international journalists, she contends that local journalists offer a unique perspective, intimately connected to the places and stories they cover.

“For Palestinian journalists, journalism is more than a job,” explained Shuruq. “It’s a lived reality for not only themselves, but also their families, neighbours and communities. I started journalism to share my story and that of my country, enduring over a century of Occupation. Jerusalem, my city, holds memories of Al-Aqsa where I played as a child and prayed with my mother. The roads taken by settlers were once my school routes.  So, for Palestinians in Gaza, when they see Al-Shifa Hospital get bombed, it’s not just a hospital to them. It’s the oldest hospital and a landmark to them, around which they have many memories.”

She noted how Palestinian journalists risk their lives to tell these stories, driven by a desire to be part of the fight for freedom and justice, as well as countering dehumanisation in foreign narratives.

To further highlight the gravity of what journalism means to the Palestinians, Shuruq shared an incident involving a colleague in Gaza during the second week of the war. She recounted: “A colleague from Gaza, a cameraman, told me he was waiting in a long queue to get two pieces of bread for his children. But suddenly, there was a bombing nearby and he didn’t know if he should leave the line to document what was happening as his duty as a journalist or buy the bread to take home for his children. In the end, he rushed to film the Israeli bombing in the local neighbourhood and did not get the bread.”

Their direct voices and stories, she concluded, are essential in conveying the raw human side of the conflict. “The war is their story to tell.”

READ: 60 journalists killed in Gaza since 7 October