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Israel kills more than one journalist per day in Gaza

A funeral ceremony is held for Palestine TV correspondent Mohammed Abu Hatab, who was killed in an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis on November 03, 2023 [Abed Zagout/Anadolu via Getty Images]

Peter Greste, The University of Queensland

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Gaza-Israel war has been the deadliest conflict for media workers since the organization began counting statistics in 1992.

At the time of writing, the committee said at least 39 journalists and media workers had been killed in the month since the war began. Reporters Without Borders put the number slightly higher at 41. But the rate of fatalities is so high – more than one per day – there will likely be more dead by the time you read this.

The victims are primarily Palestinian journalists and media workers killed in Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Still, they include four Israelis, whom Hamas murdered in its initial cross-border raid on October 7, and one Beirut-based videographer killed in south Lebanon. He died in shelling that also injured six other journalists. Witnesses said the shelling came from the direction of Israel and hit a group of journalists in clearly marked vehicles and body armor.

It is worth pausing for a moment to remember these are not merely numbers. Each of the victims has a name, relatives, loved ones, and a story. The committee has a grim list of all those who have been killed, injured, or are missing.

The dead include Palestinian freelance journalists working for international news services and others who work for local news outlets crucial for local understanding of what’s happening. Many have died in air strikes on their homes, some alongside their children and families.

The Israeli Defence Forces insist they do not target journalists, but Reporters Without Borders says at least ten have been killed while clearly covering the news.

Of course, the life of a journalist is worth no more than any other civilian, and in such a horrifically violent crisis, which has already killed more than 10,000 people, it is hardly surprising some of them will be journalists.

But there is mounting evidence journalists have been targeted, harassed, beaten, and threatened. A Committee to Protect Journalists list blames Israeli authorities for the vast majority of incidents.

On October 12, Israeli police assaulted a group of BBC journalists in Tel Aviv and held them at gunpoint. The BBC said reporters Muhannad Tutunji, Haitham Abudiab, and their BBC Arabic team were driving a vehicle clearly marked “TV” in red tape, and both Tutunji and Abudaib presented their press cards.

On October 16, Israeli journalist and columnist Israel Frey went into hiding after a mob of far-right Israelis attacked his home the previous day. The mob was apparently angry at a column he wrote expressing sympathy for Palestinians in Gaza.

On November 5, Israeli police arrested 30-year-old freelance Palestinian journalist Somaya Jawabra in Nablus in the northern West Bank. She was summoned, along with her husband, journalist Tariq Al-Sarkaji, for an investigation. Her husband was later released, but Jawabra, who is seven months pregnant, remains in detention.

The International Federation of Journalists has called on the Israeli government to rigorously observe international law that requires combatants to take all reasonable steps to treat journalists as civilians and safeguard their lives. The Israeli military has told at least two international news agencies it cannot guarantee the safety of its staff covering the Gaza crisis.

Propaganda war

This matters, and not just to the reporters who are putting their lives on the line or being attacked and abused.

In our digitally connected world, distortions, disinformation, and outright lies speed around the world faster than a ballistic missile. The online narrative is at least as important as the fighting on the ground, as each side works to portray itself as the victim, harnessing numbers and narratives to support their arguments and win backing.

This has real consequences. In the propaganda war, public support translates to political, financial, and even military aid.

That appears to be one reason why Israel has repeatedly imposed communications blackouts on Gaza. As the crisis draws on, painful stories about the consequences of Israel’s attacks erode public support; controlling the narrative becomes increasingly important.

The more journalists are killed or intimidated away from their work, the more space there is for the propagandists of both sides to work unhindered. Without good journalists, we are forced to rely on unchecked and unchallenged statements from protagonists or unfiltered social media posts that create more confusion than clarity. Neither gives us a solid basis for understanding what is going on.

That is why good journalism is more important than ever. Journalists are not perfect, but most trade on their credibility. They rely on well-established professional protocols that commit them to factual accuracy, independence, rights-of-reply, and so on. In the process, they give their work a degree of trust that keeps their readers and audiences coming back for more.

Collectively, the goal is to create a core of information that is reliably independent and – as much as possible in a crisis as foggy as this one – broadly accurate. Without that commitment, journalists lose their authority and, hence, their value.

The issue is so crucial that the United Nations has created a special Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists. The plan is now a decade old and not working as well as it should. The wars in Ukraine and Gaza have pushed journalist deaths to near-record highs, while about eight out of every ten journalist murders globally remain unsolved.

The International Federation of Journalists warns that if Israel has a policy to target journalists, as some news outlets have alleged, it would constitute a war crime. In that case, the best strategy may be for journalists to do what they are best at – gathering evidence and exposing abuses.

It is a thin hope given the scale of the bloodshed, but unless the slaughter of reporters and media workers comes to an end, all of us will be more ignorant and the world poorer as a result.The Conversation

Peter Greste, Professor of Journalism and Communications, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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