The bombs had rained down on Gaza for 19 hours straight. Wajeeh Abu Zarifeh, a journalist and manager of White Media, a reporting syndicate, had spent the first night of the war sheltering in his house, monitoring the news and trying to plot out the week’s coverage for his team of 15 journalists. On Sunday morning, as he arrived at White Media’s office on Al Wehda Street, he found the entire building had been bombed out. Steel ridges jutted from its side, warped by the shock of the blast. Rubble spilled across the road, giving up plumes of dust. Reams of office papers were strewn over the ground.
“We lost everything,” Zarifeh says. “Flak jackets. Sound system. Internet. Laptops. Computers. Everything we had. We lost it in one minute.”
But somewhere amid the wreckage, there was a ray of fortune: None of his staff were there when the building was bombed. Neither were their cameras.
Since the Israel-Hamas conflict began on October 7, at least 24 journalists have been killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The NGO says that’s more than in every previous war in Gaza since 2001. Over 5,000 people have died there since the conflict began. Services are collapsing, and many in the humanitarian sector fear an impending catastrophe. It is circumstances like this in which journalism is most urgently needed. With few international press able to enter Gaza, the responsibility for reporting has fallen on the shoulders of local Palestinian journalists. They are having to work amid electricity and internet outages, shortages of food and water, and constant fear of death. Most have had to flee their homes. Many have lost family members. And some have been directly targeted as a result of their work. But many journalists in Gaza have continued to work despite these pressures, figuring out ways to stay online and keep the news moving.
And for Zarifeh—who has lived in Gaza for 55 years and covered its conflicts for 30 of them—the destruction of White Media’s office was not going to put him off.
That first morning, his team set about rebuilding. The key requirement was power: Israel had begun to cut off Gaza’s electricity. So they got creative, harnessing solar energy, hunting down generators, and sourcing extra large portable batteries for on-the-go charging. Now, his journalists will often travel by foot across the 25-mile-long Gaza Strip in order to save fuel for their generators.
They found a new office space in the North Rimal district of Gaza City, and moved their operations there. Two days later, the building next door was bombed—and the windows of their new office were blown through. Despite the damage, they decided to stay. “There are no safe places in Gaza,” says Zarifeh, “They destroyed most of the city. The new office is in an area near the Shifa Hospital, so it’s safer than other places.”
Many journalists have begun using hospitals and the areas surrounding them as makeshift offices, on the understanding that they’re less likely to be targeted. At Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis, over 150 journalists have set up camp on the hospital grounds, including Wajeeh Abu Zarifeh’s son, Samed. “I spend my day trying to charge my phone and camera, access the unstable internet, and report human stories from the hospital and mortuary, which continues to be filled over and over again,” he says.
But the idea of hospitals providing protection was brought into question last week by an incident that shows both the dangers of reporting this conflict and why it’s so important to do so up close. At around 7 pm local time on Tuesday, October 17, the Al Ahli Hospital complex in downtown Gaza was struck by a huge explosion. The initial reports were horrifying: Hundreds had allegedly been killed. For Zarifeh, the first task was to check the safety of his colleagues. The next: Send someone down there to report.
As local journalists like Zarifeh scrambled to reach the scene, narratives around what had happened splintered across social media. Open source intelligence analysts began scouring footage from news channels and surveillance cameras, building 3D graphics of the hospital, consulting munitions experts and analyzing the sound of the explosion. Respected research groups, including Forensic Architecture and Bellingcat, released findings that were far from conclusive, some saying the cause was probably an Israeli bomb, others a misfired rocket from within Gaza. Shortly after the strike, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) released an audio clip purporting to show two Hamas fighters discussing a misfired rocket that hit the hospital. The UK’s Channel 4 News had two local independent journalists analyze the audio clip. They claimed “the language, accent, dialect, syntax, and tone” was not credible. Essentially, Channel 4 alleged the clip had been faked.
“Disinformation and fog of war tactics have been part of the arsenal of the Israeli military for years, especially when it comes to military action in Palestine, and in Gaza in particular,” says Francesco Sebregondi, a forensic architect who helps investigate human rights abuses. Sebregondi is also a research fellow for Forensic Architecture, which has been critical of Israel's response to prior incidents.
On social media, a cohort of Palestinian journalists like Plestia Alaqad, Bisan Owda, and Motaz Azaiza have seen their followers grow into the millions since the war began. Their unflinching coverage of the situation has brought in praise—but has also seen their objectivity questioned. After Alaqad was seen wearing a necklace with the Palestinian flag on it during a video, she received heavy criticism online. “She's not a journalist—she is Hamas,” one person wrote on X, in a comment typical of the discussion under her posts.
“Attempts to discredit Palestinian journalists and narratives are not new,” says Tamara Kharroub, deputy executive director of the Arab Center, a think tank in Washington, DC. “They range from smear campaigns and false accusations of supporting Hamas to being called biased. This is in addition to them being targeted with online abuse and threats [and] censorship on social media platforms.”
The idea that journalists aren’t impartial—or even that they are linked to combatants—can put them in danger. Media workers have often found themselves on the firing line. In May 2021, the Associated Press offices in Gaza were hit by the IDF, which gave staffers inside an hour to evacuate before striking it with missiles. The IDF claimed Hamas militants had also used the building. In May 2022, Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was fatally shot as she reported on an army raid in the West Bank. For months, the IDF claimed it wasn’t responsible, before eventually admitting there was a “high possibility” that it was.
Around two weeks ago, on October 9, journalists Saeed Al-Taweel and Mohammed Sobboh were killed when Israeli warplanes struck an area housing several media houses in the district of Rimal in western Gaza.
“The majority of those killed are local Palestinian freelance and photojournalists who lack safety resources, backing of a newsroom, or now access to the outside world because of lack of internet and electricity,” says Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Between reporting and staying alive, journalists in Gaza also have to maintain the livelihoods they had before the war. For Amal Helles, a journalist working in southern Gaza, the biggest challenge is balancing her work with her role as mother. “Whenever I leave my children,” she says, “they need my hug and the touch of my hand to ease their fear of explosions.” Sometimes, she stays the night away from home in order to continue her coverage.
The task of keeping in touch with both family and colleagues is becoming increasingly difficult. Internet outages are so widespread that journalists are often running between reporting and hospitals, most of which have Wi-Fi, in order to maintain comms with colleagues. Even then, videos and photos can take hours to upload. On-the-go comms are usually conducted via cell phone signal, but that often doesn’t work either. To keep up with the news, many have started carrying around small battery-powered radios.
“A lot of time, we are losing the story because of the internet. We have the material, but we cannot upload it,” says Zarifeh.
Despite these challenges, many journalists feel they have no option but to keep documenting the war. “If I stop working and others stop working, who will deliver our message to the world about what’s happening in the Gaza Strip?” says Helles. “Who will cover these catastrophic events? Who will cover the massacres? This is our work and our duty as Gazan journalists. Wounded Gaza is in our hearts, and this is the greatest incentive for us to continue.”
“If those cameras stop rolling, the world will not know what’s happening here,” Zarifeh says. “If we lose the electricity, if we lose the internet, we will stop. This is what Israel wants, to do everything in the dark.”
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