Why the Israel-Hamas War Has Been So Deadly for Journalists 

A vigil was held in Manhattan on Nov. 6, 2023, to remember the lives of journalists killed in the Isreal-Hamas war. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Israel-Hamas war has been one the most dangerous conflicts for journalists in modern history, the United Nations recently said. More than 85 journalists have been killed — 78 Palestinian, 4 Israeli and 3 Lebanese — since the war started on Oct. 7 when Hamas killed around 1,200 people in Israel, according to the independent nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists. That’s more than the total number of journalists killed around the world in 2022, the year Russia invaded Ukraine.

Conflict reporting is an inherently dangerous but long-established beat. However, internet blackouts, destruction of media offices and death threats to journalists have made covering Gaza particularly hazardous and deadly.

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In a recent Washington Post story profiling seven of the journalists killed, many of them had documented the imminent threat of death up until their last days. “We need international protection,” Ain Media founder Roshdi Sarraj told the paper in a voice message in October. Days later, he was killed.

At the onset of the war, the Israeli army told news wires Reuters and Agence France-Presse that it could not guarantee the safety of journalists working in Gaza. “The situation on the ground is dire, and the IDF’s unwillingness to give assurances about the safety of our staff threatens their ability to deliver the news about this conflict without fear of being injured or killed,” Reuters said in response.

When asked for comment on Tuesday, an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson told NBCU Academy in a statement, “The IDF takes all operationally feasible measures to mitigate harm [to] civilians, including journalists. The IDF has never, and will never, deliberately target journalists.”

Sherif Mansour, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, spoke with NBCU Academy about why Israel’s war on Gaza has been so deadly for journalists and what the international media community can do to stand against the erosion of press freedoms. The conversation has been edited for clarity. 

Since the Israel-Hamas war started, it has been the deadliest period for journalists since the Committee to Protect Journalists started gathering data in 1992. Can you put these numbers into context?

Mansour: Gaza was dangerous before this war. Journalists were killed by Israeli army bombardment during the wars in 2009 and 2012, and during the 2014 and 2018 confrontations near the Israeli fence. Two-thirds of the journalists killed by Israeli fire before this current war were killed in Gaza. In this war, 90% of journalists killed were local Palestinian journalists. 

Since 2011, Syria has been the deadliest conflict for journalists, with more than 300 killed. But journalists have been able to flee Syria. In Gaza, there’s no safe haven.

How does CPJ go about documenting and confirming journalist deaths? 

Mansour: We record the death of a journalist if we can get two sources to confirm it. We corroborate with trusted sources in the region, and we also talk to family members when we can find them. This list includes journalists and media workers like fixers, translators, website administrators, archivists — people providing support to journalists. We don’t consider anyone engaged with military activities to be journalists.

Why has this war been so deadly for journalists?

Mansour: The Israeli army has not provided or has even denied requests for safety by media organizations, including Reuters. Dozens of media outlets were concentrated in high-rise buildings that were the first targets of bombardment. More than 50 media offices were destroyed during this war, so many journalists had to do this work while fleeing bombardment. 

Another factor is that journalists in Gaza are all on the frontlines — they’re mainly photojournalists. This is an area of land that’s 6 miles wide and 25 miles long. It’s not even a one-hour drive. There’s nowhere to hide. When you’re covering a conflict with 300,000 Israeli soldiers, all you have to do is look out the window to see the operation.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Al Jazeera have all accused Israel of targeting reporters killed in strikes. Israel has denied these claims. Is there proof of journalists being targeted?

Mansour: Like no other wars before, the families of journalists in Gaza have become casualties. There’s a new apparent targeting pattern for journalists who reported being threatened by Israeli officials and were later killed, or their family members were killed. The families of at least six journalists were killed after they received death threats. We’ve called into investigation incidents where family members were killed in Israeli bombardments after journalists were smeared online or accused of being terrorists by Israeli officials. (The IDF denies targeting journalists.)

We’ll continue to look into these incidents and where there’s evidence of army culpability, we demand an investigation from the international criminal court. We’re working with other organizations to compare satellite images and use visual mapping analyses to corroborate eyewitness accounts that journalists who were killed weren’t close to the crossfire and weren’t posing a threat to the Israeli army. 

CPJ is in direct contact with journalists in Palestine. What kind of support are they asking?

Mansour: There continues to be a shortage of press protective gear. We continue to receive demand but can’t find a safe way to deliver it. For the longest time, they’ve asked for medical assistance, basic needs, hygiene and lifesaving medications. Many Palestinian journalists are also looking for ways through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt, since you could only go through if you had another passport.

Journalist fatalities have been on the rise over the past few years. What does this war’s staggering death toll mean for our industry? How concerned are you about the future?

Mansour: The Israeli army has killed more in three months than any other army has on record since 1992. When journalists are killed without accountability, journalists everywhere are threatened, in democratic societies as well. Impunity spreads like violence across borders. We demand of all governments to uphold journalistic standards of safety and protections, to hold their soldiers accountable. We want to see more transparent rules of engagement from governments because we need our journalists to hold power to account.

From a legal stance, what can the international media community do to help to protect our colleagues?

Mansour: We’ve continued to see solidarity among U.S. newsrooms and unions. As a freedom of speech organization, we’re calling for the Israeli army to end its gag on international media and allow unfiltered access and investigations into Gaza. Israel is only allowing international media access to Gaza through Israeli army-censored tours. The Israeli Supreme Court rejected the request of the Foreign Press Association in Israel to be allowed into Gaza. When we say we stand for press freedom, it means hearing our voices and perspectives. It’s important we allow journalists on the ground to give us eyewitness accounts to understand the motives of warring parties. Otherwise, we’re left with misinformation that can only fuel the war.