It is not just that journalists die.
They are tortured, imprisoned, wounded, harassed, and kidnapped. Just this week, we watched in real-time as a Palestinian journalist grieved over the dead bodies of his wife and children. These are the same people we task with verifying facts on the ground, informing the public, and speaking truth to power.
In the lead-up to the anniversary of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (IDEI) on 2 November, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay reminded us that “In wartime, the work of journalists is absolutely vital. It gives the impacted populations access to reliable, important information, which can be critical to their safety. It also provides the international community with reports of the real situation on the ground.”
A critical mandate when we consider the war in Gaza. How challenged international media is in verifying numbers, places – and truths in Gaza. When global decision-makers belittle the validity of the information on the numbers of people – Palestinian people – dying under the relentless Israeli carpet bombing and in so doing effectively pave the way for more killing.
To date, 24 Palestinian journalists – including three women – have been killed in Gaza; a death toll which is described by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) as “extraordinarily high for a conflict that has lasted only three weeks.” Compare this to the death toll of Ukrainian journalists which stands at 12 since the Russian invasion in 2022.
Speaking of the conditions under which Palestinian journalists are working, Andrew Heslop Executive Director for Press Freedom at WAN-IFRA highlighted: “Not only are they doing their jobs trapped under a state of siege, as missiles fall, colleagues are killed and injured, and with limited utilities and power, they and their families are living this conflict every moment of every day – there is simply no respite.”
Media consultant and Advisor to the Ethical Journalism Network Abeer Saadi concurred that ‘not only is there no Green Zone but because of the years-long Israeli blockade of Gaza the safety gear local journalists might have is minimal and outdated. And of course, safety gear can not protect them from the bombing.’
Since UNESCO started collecting data in 1993, 1,600 journalists worldwide have been killed for reporting the news, and in nine out of ten cases the killers go unpunished, according to the UNESCO Observatory of killed journalists. In 2020-2021 alone, 117 journalists were killed and only 14 percent of cases of crimes against journalists are currently considered judicially resolved. According to the draft concept note for the official event taking place in Washington DC, “[at]this alarming rate of impunity, States are reminded that they must fully, effectively and impartially investigate these crimes, clarify their motives, and judicially determine the relationship they may have with their activity as communicators.”
While recognising the global scope of impunity against journalists, the plight of Palestinian journalists is probably, and sadly, the most poignant place to start. And not just because of the current violence against them and their people under Israeli occupation and war. But because everything we are seeing today is possible because of the years of impunity that preceded it.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) conducted research from the start of the Palestinian uprising in 2000. They found that all journalist killings took place in the West Bank, territory under Israeli military occupation, or in Gaza. “No journalist was killed within Israel’s internationally recognized borders,” said the CPJ report.
“Over 22 years, CPJ has documented at least 20 journalist killings by members of the Israel Defense Forces. Despite numerous IDF probes, no one has ever been charged or held responsible for these deaths. The impunity in these cases has severely undermined the freedom of the press, leaving the rights of journalists in precarity.”
According to the CPJ report “The military’s probes are classified and the army makes no evidence for its conclusions public. In some cases, Israel labels journalists as terrorists or appears not to have looked into journalist killings at all. The result is always the same — no one is held responsible.”
Let’s allow our minds to flashback to the murder of Sherien Abu Aklah, the Al-Jazeera journalist who was killed by an Israeli soldier in the West Bank town of Jenin a little over a year ago. And mull over the fact that in spite of the international attention and the independent fact-checking efforts, no one has been held responsible. Saadi shared with me then while training journalists from Nablus last August – some of whom had worked with Abu Aklah – they told her how the impunity affected them. ‘Impunity drives the depression and fear,’ she explained.
So, there is a well-documented pattern of Israeli impunity against Palestinian journalists. And accordingly, even some global organisations such as the World Association of Newspapers (WAN IFRA), state that Israel must move swiftly “to investigate killings and attacks on journalists related to coverage of the escalating conflict, notably those suspected to have been committed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF),” it is safe for us to expect that this will not happen.
This reality is in spite of the fact that international humanitarian laws, including UN Security Council Resolution 2222/2015, stipulate that journalists, media professionals and associated personnel covering conflict situations must be protected as civilians. This might sound reassuring until we consider the images on our screens and how Palestinian civilians are being indiscriminately killed in droves.
I can’t help but remember the drive to sign the Perugia Declaration for Ukraine; signed by over 200 members of the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD). The decision to support journalists in Ukraine was clearly the right thing to do. “The targeting , torturing , and killing  of journalists is abhorrent and must be stopped. Those responsible must be held accountable and brought to justice under national and international law,” says the declaration which recognized that these principles are of relevance to journalists everywhere. Where are we in terms of activating these principles for Palestinian journalists?
There is a responsibility on all of us who work within the sector to actively campaign against the violation of the very basic right of journalists to do their job without risk of losing their lives. On the occasion of this year’s IDEI World Editor Forum President Martha Ramos has written that “The story of a murdered and harmed journalist should have repercussions in the media around the world.”
There is a need to revisit what we consider security training and protocols with an eye to different working conditions across the sector: the foreign correspondent and the local journalists; those working for international organisations and those working for national ones. A study by the Dart Center suggested discrepancies between training and needs on the ground in addition to the limited numbers of journalists with access to not just the training but necessary updates and equipment.
‘Training for journalists in Gaza is a luxury and small local organisations don’t have the resources to provide necessary gear and support,’ explains Saadi. ‘All of the basics like medical care and social insurance are just not there.’
We all need to realise what is happening and consider that allowing impunity negatively impacts our access to professionally verified information as opposed to being left to mis and disinformation campaigns.
For more on this year’s IDEI campaign, I leave you with the following hashtags: #TruthNeverDies, #KeepTruthAlive, and #MyFightAgainstImpunity
It is not enough to lament the dead. Let’s keep journalists alive and safe and our right to the truth and justice non-negotiable.
This article was originally published by Ahramonline and is republished with permission.