Human rights Opinion

Israel’s war on Palestinian journalists: A crime against all humanity

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Al Jazeera bureau chief Wael al-Dahdouh (left) with his son Hamza, who was killed by an Israeli airstrike (Screenshot via YouTube)

As Israel’s military onslaught in the Gaza Strip moves into its fourth month, journalists continue to be killed at a rate of about one reporter a day, writes Paul Gregoire.

THE RECENT controlled demolition of Al-Isra University, the last standing centre for higher learning in Gaza, reminded the globe why South Africa is charging the Netanyahu Government with genocide at The Hague, as it’s attempting to annihilate Palestinians, including via the erasure of culture.

Not only has the Israeli occupying force killed over 24,000 mainly civilian Palestinians in the Strip, including 10,000 children, but hospitals have been stormed, healthcare workers targeted and the official witnesses of these new lows in modern warfare, the journalists of Gaza, are being murdered.

Al-Quds Today director Wael Abu Fannouna was killed on Thursday. He was the 119th Palestinian journalist eliminated since 7 October.

Taken out during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, Fannouna was erased on the 104th day of the wholesale massacre — one less voice to report inconvenient truths.

International law recognises journalists and war correspondents as civilians, who are protected due to this status. And while the annihilation of reporters in Gaza is unprecedented, it does follow a general growing trend in the targeting of journalists in war over recent decades, and then it bucks it.

The killing of journalists in Gaza appears to be both indiscriminate and targeted, with a tendency towards the latter. And this obvious attempt by Israel to silence coverage of on-the-ground atrocities and the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip has eradicated 10 per cent of local reporters.

Documenting their own destruction

Journalists have been reprimanded and sanctioned across the globe for reporting on the Gaza catastrophe in an all-too-truthful manner.

But the bravery being shown by the correspondents of Gaza is on another level, as they detail the genocide of their people and the destruction of their culture.

Not only are these reporters documenting their own traumatisation, but they’re working with a target on their back that reads ‘Press’. This was highlighted early on when Palestine TV’s Mohammed Abu Hatab tore off his protective vest marked ‘Press’ live on-air, as it hadn’t protected his colleague.

And no other Palestinian journalist has come to symbolise the strength required to cover atrocities targeting one’s own and the loss this can entail, than Al Jazeera’s Gaza bureau chief, Wael al-Dahdouh, who’s currently in Qatar seeking medical treatment after suffering further tragedy.

A 53-year-old veteran journalist, al-Dahdouh was injured in an Israeli drone strike upon Farhana school in Khan Younis just last week, as he was reporting on the education centre, which resulted in the death of his cameraman, Samer Abu Daqqa.

Al-Dahdouh’s commitment to his profession has gained global attention, as he lost his wife Amna, son Mahmoud, daughter Sham and grandson Adam, who, as Al Jazeera asserts, were systematically targeted at a refugee camp on 28 October, and the journalist had since simply carried on reporting.

And this was not even the end of his grave loss as on 8 January, al-Dahdouh’s 27-year-old son, Hamza al-Dahdouh, who was also a journalist, was killed as the car he was travelling in with several other reporters was targeted in an airstrike by Israeli forces.

Protected status

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) details international humanitarian law (IHL) on its How does law protect in war? website. As it notes, IHL is contained within the Four Geneva Conventions established in 1949, along with its two additional protocols of 1977 and the third protocol of 2005.

‘The general trend is towards the deterioration of the working conditions of journalists in periods of armed conflict,’ the ICRC states, adding that the ‘illegality of attacks on journalists and news media’ derives from the general protection of civilians under article 50(1) of 1977’s Additional Protocol I.  

IHL distinguishes between two types of reporters working in war zones: war correspondents linked to armed forces and independent journalists. Both types of reporters are provided the protections against hostilities or arbitrary measures, including against capture, that civilians warrant.

The drafters of the 1977 Additional Protocol I determined that journalists should not be provided a protected status beyond that of civilians, as they considered that ‘any increase in the number of persons with a special status... tends to weaken the protective value...’

However, those partaking in the 1974 to 1977 Diplomatic Conference of Geneva determined to add a special provision on measures of protections for journalists in Protocol I, in order to supplement the protection article 4(A)(4) of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 extends to war correspondents.

Contained in article 79 of Protocol I, the measures that protect journalists ‘engaged in dangerous professional missions’, involve the protection that civilians receive, unless any adverse actions affect this. Journalists can also obtain a card from their government to prove their profession.

The war on journalism

The persecution of truth-tellers challenging the official line goes back to at least biblical times. However, the Israeli state murder of Palestinian journalists within the walled-in region of Gaza marks a new peak, albeit a dual one, in the extralegal penalisation of those reporting inconvenient truths.

The 2022 UNESCO Report on the Safety of Journalists highlights that over the two years 2020 and 2021, 117 reporters were killed worldwide, and although this incorporated a 14-year low of 55 lives lost in 2021, the general upward trend was again evident by the time of publication.

Seventy-eight per cent of journalists who had their lives taken over those two years were killed outside of their workplaces or assignments. And the UN body underscores that since 2016, there has been a general trend of journalists being killed in countries not experiencing armed conflicts.

And even though journalists are not known to fall in the line of duty in this country, the June 2019 AFP press raids on a News Corp journalist and the ABC Sydney offices revealed a clear crackdown on press freedoms, whilst the ongoing persecution of whistleblowers sees truth-tellers being silenced.

The other peak in the criminalisation of journalism is the ongoing persecution of Australian publisher Julian Assange, who continues to be held in London’s maximum-security Belmarsh gaol for coming up on five years in April. His health has been seriously compromised by prolonged isolation.

The WikiLeaks founder’s final appeal against extradition to the U.S. will take place from 20 to 21 February. If sent to the States to stand trial on espionage charges, a new precedent will be set, where states will be able to punish foreign nationals for publishing information in another country.

Both the targeted killing of Palestinian journalists in Gaza and the persecution of Assange breach international law. And both these crimes are being committed in full view of the international community despite their illegalities, marking a distinct disregard for the values of justice and truth.

Indeed, this mass killing of Palestinian journalists is part of the broader extermination program being perpetrated by the Israeli state against the people of Palestine, which is further serving to murder the notion of an international community that might exist in peace with genuine equality for all. 

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. You can follow Paul on X @PaulrGregoire.

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Israel’s war on Palestinian journalists: A crime against all humanity

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