Attacks on journalism and media are dangerous to us all

Relatives and colleagues of two Palestinian journalists, killed in an Israeli strike, mourn over the bodies of Hasouna Slim and Sari Mansoor during their funeral in Deir al-Balah, Gaza, Nov. 19, 2023.

By Aja Arnold, Victoria Bouloubasis, Rebecca Chowdhury, Rae Garringer, Charmaine Lang, Nour Saudi, Tina Vasquez and Lewis Raven Wallace 

This op-ed was co-published by In These Times, Mainline, Mondoweiss, Prism, The Real News Network, Reckon, Scalawag and Truthout.

As journalists and media workers, we know that silencing a free press is a key tactic of authoritarian governments. We are horrified that the Israeli military has now murdered an unprecedented number of journalists and media workers in Gaza — at least 75 people as of Dec. 4. Since Oct. 7, Israeli forces have also killed three journalists in Lebanon and targeted journalists in the West Bank and Jerusalem, arresting 44 journalists as of November 28, according to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate

And Israel’s forced power and communications outages in Gaza have made even the simplest communications mostly impossible, slowing the on-the-ground news out of Gaza to a trickle. The situation has gotten so dire that journalists and media workers are no longer wearing press vests to prevent further targeting by the Israeli military.

These attacks on media workers are not new. They are part of a long-running regime of occupation, apartheid and extermination that dates back to before the 1948 Nakba. Still, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate describes October 2023 as “the worst October in the history of world journalism.” After seven weeks of constant bombardments, a temporary week-long humanitarian pause went into effect on Nov. 24, giving Palestinian journalists in Gaza a moment of respite from covering daily atrocities. (pjs.ps)

But immediately after it ended, it was business as usual, and Israeli forces resumed bombing and shelling all across the Gaza Strip. Even during the pause, journalists and media workers were threatened and assaulted. Without a permanent cease-fire and an end to the violent occupation, Palestinian lives remain in constant, direct danger — and journalists in particular have an additional target on their backs.

We are raising our voices to honor the dead and fight for the living; not because media workers’ lives are more valuable than others, but because attacks on journalism carry extreme dangers to us all. In early November, the Palestinian Youth Movement called for media workers to “use their considerable public platforms in video, print, audio and social media to publish stories about Gaza, speak truth to power, challenge misinformation, reject anti-Palestinian racism and condemn the targeting and killing of Palestinian journalists and their families.” 

As the death toll in Gaza mounts, we as journalists and media workers will continue to make noise, joining Writers Against the War on Gaza and the Protect Journalists open letter insisting on a new paradigm for coverage of these atrocities. (Mondoweiss.net, Nov. 8)

Murder under the guise of ‘democracy’

In these times of increasingly militarized policing and global consolidation of capitalist power, Palestine is a bellwether. Israel’s repression of Palestinian journalism shows us what is possible under the guise of “democracy.” It also validates violence around the world, in other regimes where U.S. and/or Western imperialism and intervention has protected authoritarian governments, from Haiti to the Philippines.

Our “democracies” do not protect us. Truth and freedom of speech are being increasingly criminalized all over the globe — especially when the speakers are Indigenous, Black and Brown people. Journalism that functions as a mouthpiece for the state hinders our fight for collective liberation. People’s movements need movement media now more than ever.

On U.S. soil, journalists and media makers are being fired or pushed out of the profession for their advocacy. Jewish journalist Emily Wilder was fired from the Associated Press in 2021 after conservative activists targeted her for pro-Palestinian social media posts written prior to her employment with the AP. In 2022, The New York Times fired Palestinian journalist Hosam Salem in Gaza, citing his personal Facebook page that he used to speak out against the occupation he lives under. 

Multiple journalists have also resigned or canceled contracts with The New York Times in part because of its Gaza coverage, and in late October, Artforum fired editor-in-chief David Velasco for his participation in an open letter supporting Palestinian liberation. eLife editor-in-chief Michael Eisen was fired in October 2023 for retweeting an article from the satirical paper The Onion. 

These acts go hand-in-hand with the recent cancellation of campus groups at Brandeis University and Columbia University which are critical of the Israeli occupation and siege in Gaza. We urge the public to consider how these efforts occur in tandem with the wave of state laws that ban discussions of racism and gender in schools. These are all signs of just how precarious our “democracy” is. How much silencing will we collectively allow?

The media workers whose lives have been taken by the Israeli military are not mere symbols of threats to our own freedoms. They are people who had dreams for the future and memories of the past, Instagram accounts and favorite foods, first loves and families, homes and daily routines as well as places they would have loved to visit. We mourn and honor them. We remember them without “objectivity” or neutrality, but with the intrinsic understanding that their lives mattered and are interdependent with our own.

We remember Issam Abdallah, age 37, a Lebanese video journalist for Reuters, who was killed by the Israeli army on October 13, 2023, in southern Lebanon in what was likely a targeted attack on a van of media workers. “It is unlikely that the journalists were mistaken for combatants,” said Reporters Without Borders (RSF) following an investigation. Six other journalists were injured in the attack.

Abdallah covered conflicts in Syria, Russia and Ukraine. In 2020, he was nominated as Reuters Video Journalist of the Year for coverage of the Beirut port blast. After reporting for Reuters in Ukraine last year, Abdallah wrote, “I have learned through all the years of covering conflicts and wars … that the picture is not only front lines and smoke but the untold human stories which touch us all inside.” (Reuters.com, Oct. 16)

His last Instagram post on October 7 was a picture of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was murdered by Israeli forces in 2022.

Remember Shireen Abu Akleh!

We honor Shireen Abu Akleh, age 51, the Al Jazeera journalist and TV correspondent killed by the Israeli military forces on May 11, 2022. Abu Akleh joined the network in 1997 and started as one of Al Jazeera’s first field correspondents. She was a beloved Palestinian journalist. On May 11, 2022, Abu Akleh was covering an Israeli military raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. She was shot in the head by the Israeli military while wearing a helmet and a vest that was clearly marked “press.” 

The Israeli military denied responsibility for her death despite clear evidence. This is just one very notable example of how what preceded October 7 was not “peace” for Palestinians.

After ongoing calls from Abu Akleh’s family and colleagues for thorough international investigations into the circumstances of her death, the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory released a report on October 16, 2023, concluding “on reasonable grounds that Israeli forces used lethal force without justification under international human rights law.” The Israeli army eventually conceded a “high possibility” of her death by an Israeli soldier, but did not publicly apologize until a full year later. (ohchr.org, Oct. 16)

Abu Akleh’s killing sent shockwaves through the world. Meanwhile, U.S. democratic leadership remained silent despite the fact that she was an American citizen. Although, as Mohammed El-Kurd and others have pointed out, “American”-ness is sometimes held up in a way that reinforces the dehumanization of Palestinians in Palestine, as if she or others are more human due to holding U.S. passports. 

Her funeral procession was one of the longest in Palestinian history; tens of thousands participated over the course of three days. In turn, Israeli police used batons to attack mourners who carried her coffin, kicking and hitting them, ripping Palestinian flags from their hands, causing pallbearers to briefly drop the casket. A friend who attended her funeral told Al Jazeera, “Shireen was a symbol for Palestinian women and Palestinians. She was the voice for the vulnerable, the underprivileged, the voice for Palestinians and the Palestinian struggle.”

We remember Mohammad Abu Hasira, correspondent for Palestine News and Information Agency (WAFA), who was killed by Israeli occupation forces alongside 42 members of his family during a targeted bombing of his home in Gaza City during an overnight Israeli strike in early November 2023. On Nov. 7, the Palestinian WAFA news agency reported that Abu Hasira, his children and brothers were all killed in the attack.

We mourn Doaa Sharaf, Program Presenter at Al Aqsa Radio, killed Oct.26, 2023, along with her young child in an Israeli airstrike in the Al-Zawaida neighborhood in central Gaza. Her husband is investigative journalist Mahmoud Haniyah.

Journalists buried under rubble, shot to death

We grieve the loss of Salam Mema, leader of the Women Journalists Committee within the Palestinian Media Assembly. On Oct. 9, 2023, Salam Mema and her family were trapped under rubble following an Israeli airstrike on their home in Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza. Mema and her eldest son’s bodies were pulled out from under the rubble on October 13, according to Coalition For Women in Journalism.

Ibrahim Lafi, age 21, Palestinian photojournalist for Ain Media Foundation, was shot and killed at Gaza Strip’s Erez Crossing on Oct. 7, 2023 — seven days before his 22nd birthday. In an article in the Los Angeles Times, fellow Palestinian journalist and friend Yara Eid wrote: “He promised me that we would report on every war together. He would be the cameraman, and I, the television reporter. Our friendship made Gaza, the biggest open-air prison in the world, vast and full of possibilities. But now he has become the news that I must report on. … When Ibrahim was killed, he was wearing his vest and helmet labeled ‘Press.’ 

“My colleagues who were on the ground reporting with Ibrahim emphasized to me that he was not caught in clashes between Palestinian fighters and Israeli soldiers but was actually targeted by heavy bombardment, when two missiles fell on the street he was in at the Erez border crossing. I feel compelled to establish him as a ‘perfect victim’ to convince the callous world of his humanity. But that doesn’t matter. Whether you are resisting the occupation or burrowing your head in the sand, no one in Gaza is safe.”

In the article, Eid mentions her colleagues Nidal Alwaheidi, a producer with Al-Najah TV, and Haitham Abdelwahed of Ain Media Foundation, who are still missing.

Murdering and disappearing journalists is a manifestation of the roots of occupation and imperialism: social, political, psychological and physical control and domination. Apartheid, military occupation and genocide are incompatible with a free press. If our governments continue to fund, support and legitimize attacks on journalists in Palestine, it chips away at freedom and self-determination globally. It is well-documented that Israel’s surveillance tools, technology and military tactics set a precedent for authoritarian governments across the world. This includes cities and states across the U.S. where police officers train with the Israeli military.

Ida B. Wells, Marvel Cooke and Ruben Salazar have taught us what Shireen Abu Akleh, Issam Abdallah, Mohamed Mouin Ayyash, Mohamed Nabil Al-Zaq, Farah Omar, Rabih Al Maamari, Ayat Khaddoura, Alaa Taher Al-Hassanat, Bilal Jadallah, Abdelhalim Awad, Sari Mansour, Hassouneh Salim, Mostafa El Sawaf, Amro Salah Abu Hayah, Mossab Ashour, Ahmed Fatima, Yaacoub Al-Barsh, Ahmed Al-Qara, Yahya Abu Manih, Mohamed Abu Hassira, Mohammad Al Jaja, Mohamad Al-Bayyari, Mohammed Abu Hatab, Majd Fadl Arandas, Iyad Matar, Imad Al-Wahidi, Majed Kashko, Nazmi Al-Nadim, Yasser Abu Namous, Doaa Sharaf, Jamal Al-Faqaawi, Saed Al-Halabi, Ahmed Abu Mhadi, Salma Mkhaimer, Mohammed Imad Labad, Roshdi Sarraj, Mohammed Ali, Khalil Abu Aathra, Sameeh Al-Nady, Mohammad Balousha, Issam Bhar, Abdulhadi Habib, Yousef Maher Dawas, Salam Mema, Husam Mubarak, Ahmed Shehab, Mohamed Fayez Abu Matar, Saeed al-Taweel, Mohammed Sobh, Hisham Alnwajha, Assaad Shamlakh, Mohammed Al-Salhi, Mohammad Jarghoun, Ibrahim Mohammad Lafi, Ahmad Masoud, Rajab Al-Naqeeb, Abdul Rahman Shihab, Mustafa Bakeer, Mahmoud Abu Zarifa, Hani Al-Madhoun, Iman Al-Aqili, Haitham Harara, Mohammad Al-Hassani, Assem Al-Bursh, Jamal Haniyeh, Mohammad Matar, Ayed Al-Najar, Zaher Al-Afghani, Mostafa Al-Naqeeb, Nader Al-Nazli, Amal Zohd, Anas Abu Shamaleh, Khamees Salem Khamees, Huthaifa Al-Najjar, Hassan Farajallah, Adham Hassouna, Montaser Al-Sawaf, Abdullah Darwish and Shaima Al-Jazzar can all teach us now: how to stand for the truth and live in dignity even when the risk is insurmountably high.

Importance of community media

We also acknowledge the less formal but equally important role of community-based media makers, content creators and organizers functioning as reporters, those using social media to document and publish in real time moments of crisis and violence. Their work is invaluable, especially in the face of corporatized and state narratives. We mourn them when they are targeted and killed. Even when memorializing the dead, it is reporters with more formal ties to mainstream outlets who have received more visibility.

We are U.S. journalists and media makers calling for a permanent cease-fire, freedom for all Palestinian political prisoners including journalists and a complete end to the military occupation of Palestine and the system of apartheid in Israel. We are joining these efforts in also calling for direct action to demand more from U.S. media, which has for decades failed to provide historical context and balanced coverage of the occupation. Media coverage that defends and obscures Israel’s violence continuously upholds the propaganda of the powerful, in turn excusing the violence of Zionism as well as police departments, the military and the Christian right wing.

Take action!

Action is at our fingertips. Follow the calls from the Palestinian Youth Movement and Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate for media workers in this moment:  Organize strikes, resignations, protests or other acts of disruption to demand fair coverage and honest reporting on Palestine. Become or work with whistleblowers to expose the systems and persons complicit in manufacturing consent for genocide and ethnic cleansing in Gaza. 

Use your platforms in video, print, audio and social media to speak the truth, challenge misinformation, reject anti-Palestinian racism and condemn the targeting and killing of Palestinian journalists and their families. 

Demand that newsrooms insist their foreign correspondents be let into Gaza, and trust the expertise of Palestinian journalists in Gaza. Demand an end to all recrimination against media workers. And finally, publish the names of Palestinian victims. 

This is a defining political moment of our lives. We must mourn the dead, learn from their stories and reject the assumption that journalism can ever be neutral. As we continue to build an internationalist movement for collective liberation, one that rejects all acts of repression and genocide, no one who cares about freedom can afford to see themselves as safe. As James Baldwin wrote to Angela Davis during her imprisonment in 1970, “If they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.”

This article was slightly edited.

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