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The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that as of this week, at least 95 journalists and media workers have been killed in Gaza since 7 October 2023. CPJ has called it the “deadliest period” for journalists since 1992, when the organisation first began collecting data on fatalities in the media sector. It is vital to keep open the space for first-hand accounts of freedom of expression and association and digital rights violations targeting the Palestinian population. To this end, IFEX, 7amleh, the Palestine Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) and APC co-organised a webinar on 6 March 2024 titled "The Silencing Act: Journalism in Palestine". 

Jalal Abukhater, head of advocacy at APC member 7amleh, introduced the event by painting a grim picture of the humanitarian crisis that has unfolded in Gaza. He noted that the majority of casualties have been women and children. Israel's actions have not gone unnoticed, he reminded us, with charges of genocide levied against the nation at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). However, the need for global attention and intervention remains urgent. Journalists face particularly high risks as they do their jobs to tell the world what is happening in the region. Palestinian journalists face high risks of death, harm to their families, disrupted communications, supply shortages and famine, which means that the world hears less and less of the voices of people facing this genocide, occupation and conflict.

Shuruq As’ad, a Palestinian journalist representing the Palestinian Journalist Syndicate (PJS), told a terrifying tale in numbers. Since 7 October 2023, 125 journalists have been killed by Israeli aircraft, and “Israel has killed over 10% of our colleagues,” she said. Meanwhile, 84 media offices, ranging from major establishments like Reuters to those of local Palestinian channels, have been targeted and bombed. “We have so many colleagues missing and Israel won’t inform us of their whereabouts,” she added. Then there are the number of journalists arrested – over 70 arrested in the West Bank and interrogated so far, said As’ad. Arrested largely for the content they shared on social media, these journalists are being held in administrative detention and have not been allowed to see their families.

What is a Palestinian journalist’s biggest challenge today? According to As’ad, it is for them to just stay alive. Alive while living in a home-made tent. And if, by a miracle, they are not in a tent, to protect their family since journalists’ families are being consistently targeted by Israel.

Shireen Al-Khatib, of the Palestine Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), provided insight into the psychological toll exacted on journalists who witness and experience such violations first-hand. Freedom of the press is not a privilege, it is a fundamental human right and a cornerstone of democracy, said Al-Khatib, but Palestinian journalists have faced restrictions for decades both from both Israel and Palestinian authorities. Now they are being targeted for just doing their work and being starved, as Palestine faces massive famine and hunger.

Independent journalist Riham Abu Aita shared the realities faced by those reporting from the West Bank. When you can be arrested for simply subscribing to a social media channel and when road blocks mean getting anywhere is hell, self-censorship has become a survival strategy, she said. Aita described how journalists are constantly deleting information from their phones to avoid arrests in this lawless situation. The deaths of journalists are not “casualties”, she added. There is a systematic decision by Israel to target journalists covering the situation on the ground, mostly Palestinian journalists but also international journalists.

Kholod Masalha from I’lam – Arab Center for Media Freedom Development and Research contextualised these challenges within a broader historical narrative, noting that the obstacles faced by journalists in Palestine have worsened over decades.

Questions from participants asked if alliances with foreign media can be an effective strategy to ensure the truth gets out. Aita lamented the complicity of mainstream media like the BBC and CNN in perpetuating Israeli disinformation and in dehumanising Palestinians. “As Palestinian journalists, we used to look up at BBC or CNN journalism, but we don’t anymore. The way they cover the situation on the ground has lacked professionalism. We’re not talking about professional mistakes but about editorial decisions to echo lies or stories that have not been proved. More recently, after getting heavy criticism about their double standards, we have witnessed some improvements, but the harm is already done,” she said. This is in stark contrast to what Palestinian journalists are doing, added Al-Khatib. “Despite the horror, we remain committed to providing reliable and trustworthy documentation. We don’t document anything unless we know about the violation first-hand from a primary source.”

As’ad emphasised the importance of holding Israel accountable through international mechanisms like the ICJ, despite pressures and challenges. Al-Khatib and Masalha echoed the call for solidarity, urging concrete actions to confront the escalating impunity of harm faced by journalists in Palestine.

Al-Khatib and Masalha also reminded everyone gathered that international support and solidarity are falling short and lacking a clear action plan, especially considering the magnitude of the attacks on journalism and freedom of expression. More pressure is needed to force Israel to let international journalists into Gaza. “Organisations that used to teach us about upholding human rights can’t continue to do this if they accept what’s being done to journalists in Palestine. We need real actions against the Israeli occupation to face this escalation of impunity, which will only get worse for everyone if it’s not stopped.”

As the webinar concluded, it was clear that the struggle faced by journalists in Palestine is not just a local but a global issue. The erosion of press freedoms and the targeting of journalists must be met with swift and decisive action. International support and solidarity are crucial in amplifying the voices of those who risk their lives to uncover the truth. As long as those in Palestine continue to face violence and repression, the fight for justice and accountability must persist. As one speaker reminded everyone, “While we host this webinar, another journalist will be killed in Gaza or the West Bank.”

Did you miss the session? Watch the recording below or at this link.