From writer who lost his ‘orchard’ to mother of 3: Journalist toll rises in Israel-Palestine violence

According to CPJ, 19 Palestinians, three Israelis and one Lebanese journalist have been killed since October 7.

WrittenBy:NL Team
Date:
A map of the disputed region with a picture of a building that collapsed after an Israeli airstrike.
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Portraits of the dead

On October 14, Yousef Maher Dawas, a contributing writer for Palestine Chronicle and for We Are Not Numbers (WANN), a youth-led Palestinian nonprofit project, was killed in an Israeli missile strike on his family’s home in Beit Lahia in Gaza Strip,  according to WANN and Palestine Chronicle.

In January, Dawas wrote about the destruction of his family’s orchard by an Israeli missile strike in May 2022. The orchard yielded olives, oranges, clementines, loquat, guavas, lemons and pomegranates, and its loss “destroyed an important piece of our past. Our family’s history. Our heritage,” he wrote on WANN.

His last piece for the Palestine Chronicle was about a Palestinian couple struggling for medical treatment for a kidney ailment.

Dawas wasn’t the only one to have died along with family members.

The body of freelance journalist Salam Mema, who led the Women Journalists Committee at the Palestinian Media Assembly, was found on October 13, three days after her home was bombed in the Jabalya refugee camp. 

A Washington Post report quoted her friend Nisreen Razayne to say that she could have been saved had rescuers managed to find her under the rubble on time. The report also offered glimpses of her life through her Facebook page. “A photo she posted in July showed her sons dressed in beige suits alongside her young daughter, who was wearing a white dress and flowers in her hair. ‘They are a part of my soul,’ she wrote.”

Her five-year-old son, Ali, is the only survivor in the family.

It’s not just homes that have come under attack. Media offices are part of the damage to civilian infrastructure during the violence.

Saeed al-Taweel, editor-in-chief of the Al-Khamsa News portal, was killed on October 9 in Israeli aistrikes on a neighbourhood housing several media offices in Rimal district in western Gaza, according to The Independent, Al Jazeera English, and the Palestinian Authority’s official news agency Wafa.

UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay sought an independent probe into the circumstances of the death, noting that journalists were protected under international humanitarian law and UN Security Council Resolution 2222/2015.

A Le Monde report said that Taweel died after Israeli authorities warned his neighbourhood to leave their homes before an airstrike. “In the darkness, as the camera on his phone captured the panic of the last remaining residents, al-Taweel's final words were heard: ‘Unfortunately, they’ve just sent a warning to the Haji building that it’s going to be bombed. The whole area has been evacuated. Women, men, the elderly and children have fled the area.’ The three men thought they were at a safe distance. Their helmets and bulletproof vests were of no help. That night, entire blocks of the neighborhood were razed to the ground.”

Press helmets and bulletproof vests do not always protect media professionals against excesses in the region. Journalists wearing clearly marked press vests and helmets have been targeted, freelance journalist Rakan Abdelrahman earlier told Al Jazeera. “Due to bad internet connection and electricity outages, we can’t report on something in real-time. There is no appropriate place to work from anyway,” he reportedly said.

Khalil Abu Aathra, a videographer for the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV, was killed in an airstrike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on October 19, according to Amman-based news outlet Roya News, CPJ reported. In 2018, Aathra was reportedly shot in the leg as Israeli forces opened fire on demonstrators protesting against Israeli settlers in eastern Rafah.

While most of these 23 journalists were killed in Israeli airstrikes, three from Israel were targeted by Hamas, including Yaniv Zohar, Ayelet Arnin and Shai Regev.

Zohar, a photojournalist for Israel Hayom, was killed along with his wife and two daughters. Israel Hayom editor-in-chief Omer Lachmanovitch told CPJ that Yaniv was working on that day.

According to the Washington Post, he had texted his senior Ami Shooman about gunfire outside his home, after receiving a message to “get ready”, and it was the last time Shooman heard from his colleague. “Yaniv was an amazing guy, always ready to take on another assignment,” Shooman told The Post. “His death is a tremendous loss for Israel Hayom.”

Meanwhile, Ayelet Arnin, a 22-year-old sub-editor with the Israel Broadcasting Corporation Kan, was killed during a Hamas attack in the south of Israel. She had reportedly joined Kan about a year ago and served as a sub-editor for the evening news edition at Kan 11. She also served with Israeli army radio as a digital editor, news editor and editorial coordinator. “Like the dedication that characterised her professional work, Ayelet was devoted to her friends, her friends and her soldiers,” the radio station told Israeli portal Walla.

Lebanese journalist Issam Abdallah, who was a Beirut-based video journalist for Reuters, was killed in shelling near the Lebanon border while covering the violence near Al-Shaab in southern Lebanon between Israeli forces and Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group.

According to the Washington Post, Abdallah was known among his peers for “reporting carefully and with empathy, while lifting the mood in difficult environments. His death sparked an uproar in his native Lebanon, as colleagues called for accountability.”

“I have learned through all the years of covering conflicts and wars with Reuters from around the region that the picture is not only front lines and smoke, but the untold human stories which touch us all inside,” he wrote last year.

An Instagram user pointed to the “poetic and tragic irony” of his last Instagram post – a picture of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

Last year, several American outlets concluded that Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by an “Israeli bullet”, but the US government accepted the Israel government’s report that the killing was just an “accident”.

Outside the region, sackings, ‘censorship’

Apart from the 23 dead, eight other journalists were reported injured while three were missing or detained, according to the US-based non-profit CPJ.

In the last two decades, Israeli forces have killed around 35 Palestinian journalists while they were on duty, according to Reporters Without Borders. This is besides the unexplained detentions, assaults, and attacks on press offices. In 2021 as well as this year, Israeli forces targeted areas housing media houses.

Meanwhile, for journalists outside the region, it’s gradually becoming even more challenging to cover the recent flare-up with fairness and accuracy amid repeated allegations of bias. 

Upday, the largest news aggregator app in Europe and a subsidiary of German publishing giant Axel Springer, has allegedly given directives to prioritise the Israeli perspective and minimise Palestinian civilian deaths in coverage, according to interviews with employees and internal documents obtained by The Intercept

Meanwhile, MSNBC has denied a Semafor report that it has sidelined three Muslim anchors,  including Mehdi Hasan, Ayman Mohyeldin and Ali Velshi, amid American outrage over the Hamas attack. The network’s ratings have dipped as pro-Israeli commentators accused it of bias. The Semafor report pointed to internal rifts at the network over the conflict and its coverage. MSNBC parent NBC Universal told Semafor it did not sideline the hosts, saying the changes in the lineup were “coincidental.” 

MSNBC is not the only network that’s facing such allegations. 

At least six BBC reporters were earlier taken off air over their posts and likes on social media that “seemed to support activities of Hamas against Israel”, Financial Times reported. These BBC News Arabic reporters, including the ones reporting from Egypt and Lebanon, haven’t been officially suspended. The British broadcaster has launched an “urgent investigation” in the matter.

The media outlet said “disciplinary action” would be taken if the reporters were found to have violated the outlet’s rules on impartiality. The FT said, one of the reporters had allegedly liked a message that appeared to describe Hamas as “freedom fighters”.

In an open letter in June 2021, nearly 500 American journalists, including those from several prominent media outlets, urged the news industry to make certain changes to its reportage on the conflict. “For decades, our news industry has abandoned those values [professional journalism] in coverage of Israel and Palestine. We have failed our audiences with a narrative that obscures the most fundamental aspects of the story: Israel’s military occupation and its system of apartheid.”

After the open letter by 500 journalists in June, pro-Israel group CAMERA wrote to the Los Angeles Times about nine journalists linked to the daily being part of the letter pushing a “false” narrative. 

Under similar pressure, NBC sacked its Gaza correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin after his report on an Israeli attack which killed four Palestinian children playing on a beach in 2014. After public outrage, he was reinstated. CNN sacked Marc Lamont Hill for a speech in 2018, AP fired Emily Wilder in 2021 for tweets made before she became a journalist, and The Hill sacked Katie Halper for calling Israel an apartheid state.

It’s not just journalists who are under pressure.

UK-based The Guardian earlier said it would not renew the contract of its cartoonist Steve Bell – who has been contributing to the outlet for over 40 years – reportedly over an alleged “antisemitic cartoon” of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Days before his dismissal, Bell had criticised the British newspaper on X saying that it was “getting pretty nigh impossible” to draw about the Israel-Palestine conflict for the publication “without being accused of deploying ‘antisemitic tropes’”.   

The cartoon in question reportedly showed Netanyahu marking out Palestinian territory on a human body, in what the editorial team construed as a reference to the pound of flesh extracted by the Shakespearean character Shylock, perceived as antisemitic by some.

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