'We dream of being killed in one piece': Israel-Gaza conflict deadliest for journalists on record

To date at least 63 have been confirmed dead, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Credit: AP

By Kieran Carter, ITV News Producer

“This may be my last video,” says Palestinian journalist Ayat Khaddoura in a post on her Instagram page.

“We used to have big dreams, but now we dream of being killed in one piece so people know who we are.”

Less than one week later, Ayat was killed in an airstrike that hit her home in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza.

Ayat Khaddoura was killed in an airstrike not long after posting a tearful video on her Instagram. Credit: Instagram/Ayat Khaddoura

As the conflict in Gaza moves further south, the situation for journalists covering the crisis has become more dangerous.

To date, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an organisation dedicated to defending press freedom, say at least 63 have been confirmed dead.

Speaking to ITV News, Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa coordinator said this was "by far the highest number of journalists we’ve seen killed in one conflict since we started counting".

He continued: “A lot of them have lost colleagues, families, media facilities.

“They continue to mourn colleagues every day. Some of them mourn their families while they continue coverage.”

At the time of writing, the number of journalists killed since October 7 stands at nearly double the yearly total in all but one of the last five years.

Since October 7 foreign journalists have been unable to access Gaza unless accompanied by Israeli armed forces. For those local journalists already working there, the difficulty of their task is compounded by their personal connection to these communities.

“They are the story that they’re telling,” said Mr Mansour.

Wael Al-Dahdouh looks down at his family members who were killed in airstrikes. Credit: Getty

In October, the world witnessed Al Jazeera reporter, Wael Al-Dahdouh learning of his family’s death live on air.

Speaking just one day later, Al-Dahdouh sounded defiant.

“This will never silence our voices. Journalism is our noble mission,” he told Anadolu, a Turkish media organisation.

Palestinian journalist, Plestia Alaqad, has shared footage on her social media of the conflict in Gaza that has been seen by millions.

When airstrikes destroyed her neighbourhood, the footage she filmed and shared with ITV News was some of the first clear picture the West had seen of the war.

Plestia Alaqad, has shared footage on her social media of the conflict in Gaza that has been seen by millions.

Journalists like Plestia report from Gaza at huge personal risk to themselves.

In November, Plestia’s social media accounts were hacked, creating confusion among her followers who relied on her for information.

In the wake of the incident, and amid growing fears for her family’s safety she, like many others, made the difficult choice to leave Gaza.

Speaking on social media, Plestia describes leaving as incredibly difficult.

“I travelled yesterday and this was literally one of the hardest decisions that I took," she said.

“I hope this nightmare ends and I’ll be back in Gaza soon.”

Some say decisions to leave their home and watch the conflict from afar have been fuelled by a fear their role as journalists has made them targets.

“I don’t feel safe, but especially when wearing the press vest and helmet I don’t feel safe,” Plestia said.

This isn’t the first time concerns of this nature have been raised.

In 2019, the UN published a report into Israel’s response to protests in the Gaza strip which left over 200 dead and 36,000 injured.

The UN concluded there were “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists,” despite “knowing they were clearly recognizable as such.”

Some say decisions to leave their home have been fuelled by a fear their role as journalists has made them targets. Credit: Twitter/Plestia Alaqad

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the report, claiming it “set new records of hypocrisy and lies".

Israel maintained the position that these protests could act as a cover for Hamas, despite the UN finding only 29 of those killed identifiable as members of armed factions.

Responding to the killing of Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in 2022, the CPJ decried what they called a “deadly, decades-long pattern” of journalists being killed with impunity, “severely undermining the freedom of the press".

Shortly after publishing this report in May 2023 and following initial denials, the Israel Defence Force’s chief spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari apologised for her death in an interview with CNN.

“This was the first time that we saw them taking our calls seriously, but since then we haven’t seen any sign of them making changes that could reduce the number of journalists killed in this war,” said CPJ’s Sherif Mansour.

In response, Israel’s armed forces said they were aware of claims journalists had been killed.

They added, entering active combat zones risked “a real and immediate danger to civilian lives.”

These concerns were raised by news organisations in Gaza including Reuters and AFP at the start of the current conflict.

According to Reuters, the IDF responded in writing claiming Hamas deliberately put military operations "in the vicinity of journalists and civilians".

“Under these circumstances, we cannot guarantee your employees' safety,” they added.

Six days later, AFP’s offices in Gaza were damaged in what they described as a direct missile strike.

AFP CEO, Fabrice Fries, condemned the damage. “The location of this bureau is known to everyone and has been pointed out several times in the last few days,” he said.

“The consequences of such an attack would have been devastating if the AFP team on the ground had not evacuated the city.”

Israel has denied targeting the building but did not rule out the possibility of damage from nearby strikes.

More than two months into the conflict the mood among some journalists is shifting.

"The stage of risking your life to show what’s happening is over and the phase of trying to survive has begun,” wrote Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza.

In a similar tone, Bisan Owda, who posts social media videos covering the conflict to over 3 million Instagram followers, struck a despondent note.

“I no longer have any hope of survival like I had at the beginning of this genocide, and I am certain that I will die in the next few weeks or maybe days.”

Since making these posts both have continued to share footage from Gaza.

For the local journalists who remain, it’s a sense of duty that drives them, even when hope no longer does.

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