The Israeli onslaught on Palestinians is having a chilling effect on the media and its ability to report on events. So far, since 7 October, 46 Palestinian journalists have been killed and there has been the complete or partial destruction of “at least 117 press offices”.
A further 11 journalists have been injured, two are missing, and 18 journalists were reported arrested. The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor monitoring group said “Israel has launched a killing spree against journalists” in the Gaza Strip, while the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) labelled the first month of the war “the most lethal suffered by journalists since 1992”.
The attacks on journalists has become so extreme that an editor of a news outlet told me that their Palestinian correspondents are struggling to find places to live as civilians do not want to reside in the same building in case they are targeted. Palestinians are also hesitant to be in proximity to journalists for the same reason, as having ‘PRESS’ emblazoned on flak jackets and vehicles appears to make them a target of the IDF. This is clearly having an impact on reporting on what is happening within Gaza, on top of the difficulties of filing stories and footage amid power cuts and telecoms blackouts. Newsrooms can go for days without hearing whether journalists are alive or dead, or have been injured.
Over in Southern Lebanon, three journalists have been killed by Israeli strikes, two reporters from Al Mayadeen TV on the 21 November, and Reuters video-journalist Issam Abduallah on 14 October.
Four Israeli journalists were killed in the 7 October attacks, and one is missing, while in the ensuing weeks Israeli journalists that have spoken out and tried to be objective have faced intimidation. Palestinian journalists working within Israel have also faced intimidation. This past week, Israel’s communications minister has proposed banning Israeli daily Haaretz, claiming it is “sabotaging Israel in wartime” and was an “inflammatory mouthpiece for Israel’s enemies.”
The same editor mentioned earlier, said that their Israeli correspondents have stopped working with the news outlet, although it is not clear whether this is out of fear of reprisals or not willing to work for a news organisation that is not pro-Israel, with recent events causing a change of heart amid rampant nationalism.
How is there supposed to be proper journalism under such conditions? As the CPJ has noted: “We have said, especially after the (Israeli) army targeted communications facilities, that we have reached a news blackout. We also have the problems with censorship, assaults and detentions in the West Bank.”
So far, since 7 October, 46 Palestinian journalists
have been killed and
there has been the complete or partial destruction
of “at least 117 press offices”
This suffocating news environment ensures that the devastation, killings and inconvenient truths cannot be published or aired. The targeting of journalists also makes checking out the facts on the ground that much harder.
As in any conflict, the media war is a major influencer in swaying public opinion, a fact that has long been understood by the powers that be. As British minister David Lloyd George said in December 1917 of the bloodbath of World War I and the need to keep such horror out of the press: “If people really knew [the truth], the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know, and can’t know.”
In the twenty-first century we do know that horror is unfolding, as images and news are released beyond the twentieth century dominant news mediums of newspapers and TV. Furthermore, we can watch and read news from around the world online, and not be reliant on local news, as in the past. It is our choice to look away or not.
That said, the traditional media is clearly still seen as a threat. The US and Israel are very aware of the power of the image, and have tried to muzzle one of the Middle East’s most courageous news outlets, Qatari-state owned Al Jazeera. The network was deliberately targeted in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and is once again in a valley of death, in Gaza. Its staff have suffered immensely. Al Jazeera’s chief correspondent, Wael al-Dahdouh, had his entire immediate family killed in an Israeli airstrike in October.
Israel has banned Beirut-based, Pan-Arab news channel Al Mayadeen, although held back from restricting Al Jazeera. However, US secretary of state Anthony Blinken told Qatar to ‘turn down the volume‘ of Al Jazeera’s coverage of the war on Palestinians. The reason given was that it was inflaming public opinion in the Middle East amid concerns about the conflict widening. This is indicative of Al Jazeera’s influence and power, and why the channel has been considered an enemy.
Indeed, in 2004, there was the infamous Al Jazeera bombing memo, in which then US president George W Bush reportedly told UK prime minister Tony Blair he wanted to bomb the network’s headquarters in Doha, Qatar. Bush said it was a ‘joke’.
The network has long been a thorn in the side of the US and the Israelis, with its unflinching satellite news coverage widely considered to have globalised the Second Intifada, in 2000 to 2005, and of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, showing images that no Western channel dared to show. Signalling in a brutal fashion its disapproval of the network, the US bombed Al Jazeera’s office in Kabul during the 2001 invasion, and attacked the media outlet multiple times during the 2003 Iraq invasion.
The US-instigated Global War on Terror, in which Israel plays a strong role, has also been in many ways a war on the media. Look at what happened to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for revealing US war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay – he is in solitary confinement in a British high-security prison, and faces extradition to the US.
As for Israel’s attacks on journalists, a report by the CPJ in May stated that the Israeli military has not been held accountable for the killing of 20 journalists, 18 of whom were Palestinian, over the past 22 years. This includes the killing of Palestinian-American, Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh “by an Israeli bullet to the head while she was reporting on an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on May 11, 2022,” as AJ reported.
The CPJ report noted a “a pattern of the killings of journalists by [Israeli military]”…“No one has ever been charged or held accountable for these deaths … severely undermin[ing] the freedom of the press”.
The same pattern is playing out today. Including the 20 journalists killed over the past two decades with the 49 journalists killed in the recent onslaught, that is a staggering 69 journalists killed by Israel. Targeting the messenger to kill the message has to stop.
Paul Cochrane is an independent journalist covering the
Middle East and Africa.