Journalists risk lives and much more in covering genocide

Journalists hold up a banner depicting their slain colleagues

Palestinian journalists in Deir al-Balah hold up a banner depicting their slain colleagues on World Press Freedom Day on 2 May. The Committee to Protect Journalists says Gaza is the “most dangerous situation” ever for journalists. 

Omar Ashtawy APA images

Photojournalist Sami Shehadeh lost part of a leg after being wounded by an Israeli tank shell.

Fellow photojournalist Mohammed Alaloul lost four of his five children in a bombardment of al-Maghazi camp in the center of the Gaza Strip.

Diaa al-Kahlout, Gaza bureau chief for The New Arab, was detained for 33 days after the Israeli invasion of Beit Lahiya during which he suffered physical abuse at the hands of his captors.

Journalists working in war zones have always been in the line of fire, no matter the protections in place.

But Israel’s genocidal aggression in Gaza has surpassed any previous conflict, making Gaza the “most dangerous situation for journalists we have ever seen,” according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

At least 105 journalists and media workers have been killed in the first seven months of Israel’s genocide according to the CPJ.

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate puts the number of killed journalists in Gaza at at least 135.

“In addition to documenting the growing tally of journalists killed and injured, CPJ’s research has found multiple kinds of incidents of journalists being targeted while carrying out their work in Israel,” as well as in Gaza and the West Bank, the organization said in a 23 May story on its website.

Al-Kahlout was displaced with his wife and his five children to his parents’ house in Beit Lahiya in the northeast of Gaza City after Israel committed a massacre in the Karama neighborhood in October.

Abuse in detention

In December, he was detained along with 11 male relatives and about 200 other men. The men were handcuffed behind their backs, blindfolded and forced to get on trucks. Some were verbally and physically mistreated and mockingly photographed, al-Kahlout says.

Before the sun set, the truck took them to the Israeli military’s Zikim base over the boundary from Gaza where al-Kahlout was identified by eye print. The detainees not released were interrogated by an Israeli officer for about 20 minutes each. Al-Kahlout said he was asked about his journalism work. He was also offered a medical checkup and diagnosed with a back problem but was not given any medication.

Al-Kahlout was then taken to a barracks serving as a temporary detention center for Gazan residents before some were moved to Israeli jails, often having been verbally insulted and severely beaten.

During his detention, al-Kahlout said he was interrogated every day and asked similar questions about the nature of his journalism work, some of his reports on the heroism of the Palestinian resistance during previous Israeli attacks on Gaza, as well as the nature of his contact with Palestinian fighters.

He said he was made to answer an Israeli officer’s questions while on his knees and handcuffed. The officer slapped him in the face when he didn’t answer as demanded, al-Kahlout said.

After each interrogation, al-Kahlout said he was moved to a new barracks with about 100 detainees and spent most of his time in a squatting position while handcuffed, legcuffed and blindfolded, causing him severe skin inflammation, boils on his feet and swelling of his feet and ankles.

He said he was given little food and allowed to go to a bathroom only once a day. He lost more than 40 kilos while being held by Israel.

On the 25th day of his detention, after several interrogations, al-Kahlout was taken to an unknown place where he was asked to strip and given diapers to wear. Then he was handcuffed behind a small, low chair with his legs shackled. He said he stayed in this position for more than eight hours while being interrogated and tortured.

“I felt much pain in my shoulders, legs and back. I was then transferred to another barracks where I was examined by a detained physician from the Indonesian Hospital,” al-Kahlout told The Electronic Intifada, in an account he has also given to the CPJ.

“[The doctor] shouted at soldiers to transfer me to the prison clinic where I was given a muscle relaxant that relieved my pain a little that day. A few days later, I was released along with 120 other detainees.”

Al-Kahlout said he eventually moved to the Rafah border where he was welcomed by his family. “I am happy this suffering and humiliation ended,” al-Kahlout said, who was unable to resume his work in Gaza, and in March eventually found passage to Egypt.

Nothing will stop us

Sami Shehadeh, a 35-year-old photojournalist working with the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, TRT, went with other journalists to document the displacement of Palestinian families in Gaza.

The journalist’s vehicle was clearly marked as media, and the journalists were all wearing vests and helmets marking them out as members of the media.

“While taking pictures away from my colleagues, I saw something above me that I couldn’t escape from before befalling me. I don’t know if it was a missile or a shell. All I saw was that my leg was bleeding,” Shehadeh said.

Two colleagues, TRT’s Sami Barhoum and Ahmed al-Louh, of another Turkish news agency, Anadolu, were injured too, but none were killed.

Shehadeh used first-aid knowledge gained during journalism training to survive.

“I tied my bleeding leg with my pants belt to stop the bleeding and then crawled on my back to a safer place away from the constant bombardment so my colleagues could reach me and transfer me to a hospital,” he said.

Shehadeh had hoped his leg could be saved, but because of the severity of the fractures, it was eventually amputated from below the knee.

“I begged the doctors not to cut off my leg because nobody wants to lose a limb. And now I cannot resume my work in the way I used to do,” he said.

He had planned to leave Gaza to be given a prosthetic limb at a hospital in Turkey, but said with the Israeli army closing the Rafah border during its current invasion, this is impossible. Instead, he went back to work, even though his leg injury has not completely healed yet.

“I returned on a crutch,” Shehadeh said.

“Nothing will stop me from resuming my work and covering the ongoing genocide against my people. My injury or Israel’s targeting of journalists will not stop me.”

Losing his family

Mohammed Alaloul and his wife are trying to move on from the unimaginable: Four of their five children were killed in an Israeli attack on al-Maghazi camp in November. Only one-year-old Adam survived.

The day before the photojournalist, who works for the Anadolu Agency, lost most of his family, he was at home having fun with his children.

He said they begged him to quit his job and stay with them.

“It is my work. It is how we earn money and are able to find food, and I will come to you once again in a week,” he recalled telling them.

“The Israeli occupation stole them from my embrace and killed them in cold blood without any explanation. I never imagined I would live such a horrible nightmare.”

He said he had received a call from a neighbor telling him, in a shaky quiet voice, that his house had been hit in an Israeli attack and that his family members were under debris with people frantically trying to dig them out.

After the call was over, Alaloul remembers seeing photos of his four oldest children, now gone, circulated on social media.

He rushed to the hospital they were transferred to, to say his farewells. On the way, Alaloul told The Electronic Intifada, he said he wished someone had woken him up from this horrible nightmare.

“I am trying to be strong for my wife and little boy,” Alaloul said from Turkey, where his wife is receiving medical care.

“But I am a body without a soul. Every minute, I feel the pain eating away at my heart over their loss.”

Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman is a journalist living in Gaza.