November 9, 2023
Israel’s devastating bombing campaign and media blockade in Gaza threatens newsgathering in an unprecedented fashion. We are running out of time.
More than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s four-week siege. Included in the mounting death toll are at least 36 journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in what the group calls the deadliest conflict for journalists since it began tracking deaths in 1992. Scores more have been injured, detained, gone missing or seen their family members killed. As reporters, editors, photographers, producers, and other workers in newsrooms around the world, we are appalled at the slaughter of our colleagues and their families by the Israeli military and government.
We are writing to urge an end to violence against journalists in Gaza and to call on Western newsroom leaders to be clear-eyed in coverage of Israel’s repeated atrocities against Palestinians. Reporters in the besieged Gaza Strip are contending with extensive power outages, food and water shortages and a breakdown of the medical system. They have been killed while visibly working as press, as well as at night in their homes. An investigation from Reporters Without Borders also shows deliberate targeting of journalists during two Oct. 13 Israeli strikes in South Lebanon, which killed Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah and injured six other journalists.
Reporters’ families have been killed, too. Wael Dahdouh, Al Jazeera’s Gaza bureau chief and a household name in the Arab world, learned on-air Oct. 25 that his wife, children, and other relatives had been killed in an Israeli airstrike. A Nov. 5 strike on the home of journalist Mohammad Abu Hassir of Wafa News Agency killed him and 42 family members. Israel has blocked foreign press entry, heavily restricted telecommunications and bombed press offices. Some 50 media headquarters in Gaza have been hit in the past month. Israeli forces explicitly warned newsrooms they “cannot guarantee” the safety of their employees from airstrikes. Taken with a decades-long pattern of lethally targeting journalists, Israel’s actions show wide scale suppression of speech.
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate has urged Western journalists to publicly condemn the targeting of journalists. “[We] call on our fellow journalists around the world to take action to stop the horrifying bombardment of our people in Gaza,” the group said on Oct. 31 in a published statement.
We are heeding that call.
We stand with our colleagues in Gaza and herald their brave efforts at reporting in the midst of carnage and destruction. Without them, many of the horrors on the ground would remain invisible. We join press associations including Reporters Without Borders, the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association and the International Federation of Journalists in demanding an explicit commitment from Israel to end the violence against journalists and other civilians. Western newsrooms benefit tremendously from the work of Gazan journalists and must take immediate steps to call for their protection.
We also hold Western newsrooms accountable for dehumanizing rhetoric that has served to justify ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Double-standards, inaccuracies and fallacies abound in American publications and have been well-documented. More than 500 journalists signed an open letter in 2021 outlining concerns that U.S. media outlets ignore Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. Yet the call for fair coverage has gone unanswered. Newsrooms have instead undermined Palestinian, Arab and Muslim perspectives, dismissing them as unreliable and have invoked inflammatory language that reinforces Islamophobic and racist tropes. They have printed misinformation spread by Israeli officials and failed to scrutinize indiscriminate killing of civilians in Gaza — committed with the support of the U.S. government.
Since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, in which more than 1,200 Israelis, including four journalists, were killed and some 240 others captured, these issues have compounded. News coverage has positioned the attack as the starting point of the conflict without offering necessary historical context — that Gaza is a de facto prison of refugees from historic Palestine, that Israel’s occupation is illegal under international law, and that Palestinians are bombarded and massacred regularly by the Israeli government.
U.N. experts have warned they are “convinced that the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide,” yet Western outlets remain hesitant to quote genocide experts and accurately describe the existential threat unfolding in Gaza.
This is our job: to hold power to account. Otherwise we risk becoming accessories to genocide.
We are renewing the call for journalists to tell the full truth without fear or favor. To use precise terms that are well-defined by international human rights organizations, including “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide.” To recognize that contorting our words to hide evidence of war crimes or Israel’s oppression of Palestinians is journalistic malpractice and an abdication of moral clarity.
The urgency of this moment cannot be overstated. It is imperative that we change course.
Writers of the letter are a group of U.S.-based reporters at both local and national newsrooms. Some members of the group were also involved in a 2021 open letter outlining concerns with U.S. media coverage of Palestine.
Editor’s Note: Writers Against The War on Gaza issued a statement of solidarity on October 26, 2023: Writers Against the War on Gaza (WAWOG) is an ad hoc coalition committed to solidarity and the horizon of liberation for the Palestinian people. Drawing together writers, editors, and other culture workers, WAWOG hopes to provide ongoing infrastructure for cultural organizing in response to the war. This project is modeled on American Writers Against the Vietnam War, an organization founded in 1965.
Message from Israeli journalist: