Gaza City – Freelance journalist Rakan Abdelrahman works out of a cafe, wearing his vest marked “press”, ready to rush out if he needs to as he reports on Israel’s bombing of the Gaza Strip.
But Abdelrahman, whose work has appeared in Middle East Eye and The National, is not just covering a story. Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip, like Abdelrahman, are trying to defy the odds – and death – to bring the horrors of war to the world amid difficulties that threaten to hobble their work.
For 10 days, Israeli warplanes have been bombing the coastal enclave relentlessly and have killed 2,808 Palestinians, a quarter of them children. A further 10,859 have been wounded in aerial bombardments and on Monday, the interior ministry said that the bodies of more than 1,000 Palestinians are trapped under the rubble of buildings destroyed by bombs.
Last week, Israel bombed the communications tower in the besieged territory and cut off electricity to the strip’s sole power plant. The actions are part of the “total siege” Israel has implemented in response to the surprise attack on October 7 by Hamas fighters on the Israeli military bases and surrounding Israeli towns and settlements outside of the Gaza Strip. At least 1,400 Israelis were killed in the attack.
The bombings and the siege have left the Gaza Strip without reliable internet or electricity. This has made the work of journalists – already risky and challenging in a war zone – even harder.
“Due to bad internet connection and electricity outages, we can’t report on something in real-time. There is no appropriate place to work from anyway,” Abdelrahman tells Al Jazeera, adding that journalists wearing clearly marked press vests and helmets have been targeted.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 15 journalists have already been killed in the Gaza Strip since October 7.
“We can’t cover the site of massacres or even get to the places that have been bombed for fear that another Israeli attack will target the same area,” Abdelrahman says. “Every second you are in danger. Our colleagues have paid the price with their lives, such as Saeed al-Taweel, Mohammed Subh and Hisham Alnwajha.”
The three journalists were killed on October 10 after going out to film a building in Gaza City about to be bombed. They were all standing at a safe distance, hundreds of metres from the stated target of the Hiji building, but the air attack instead hit a different building, much closer to them.
Residents in the Gaza Strip, which has a population of 2.3 million people – more than half of whom are under the age of 18 – have said the current war is the most ferocious out of the previous offensives in the last 15 years. At least 1 million people have been internally displaced.
Abdelrahman says that in addition to fearing for his life when he is reporting, his mind is also preoccupied with concerns for his family and his four children.
“I think about their psychological state of mind, their exposure to this horrific war,” he says. “During the previous Israeli wars, they were too young to remember, but now that they’re older, it’s been extremely difficult for them and for me to witness the fear that’s engulfed them.”
Ghazi al-Aloul, a correspondent for Jordan’s al-Roya TV channel, said that juggling these two fears is part and parcel of being a journalist in the Gaza Strip.
On Sunday, his family, including his pregnant wife and three-year-old daughter, survived an Israeli attack on the building they were staying at in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, the publication al-Roya reported.
“Of course, you’re torn between your responsibility as a journalist in conveying the truth and the risks that come with that, versus what your family is going through,” al-Aloul says. “I think we’re used to these pressures now. We will always continue our work no matter what obstacles come our way.”
“We all know that Israel acts with total impunity and disregard to international law, and we always try convey that as much as possible in our coverage,” he adds.
I am trying to do my job of spreading what is happening in Gaza, but the lack of internet and electricity prevents me from doing so. Very sorry it’s out of my hands.
— Yousef D. Hammash (@YousefHammash) October 15, 2023
Coupled with the lack of internet and electricity, many journalists are not working from their media offices. Instead, they gather in whatever cafe is open, confirming information with each other and filing their reports.
The Shifa Hospital in Gaza City has also become a hub for journalists and reporters, offering them a chance to charge their phones despite running on generators.
It also provides them with access to information they otherwise could not know, due to the lack of electricity and disruption to mobile phone networks, in the form of the dead and wounded arriving from the different areas bombed by Israel.
“When there is no internet, this results in censoring the journalist as they cannot report on information or news in different areas in the Gaza Strip,” Shorouq Shaheen, a correspondent for Syria TV says.
“We are still covering the news but we have become limited in our coverage,” she says. “We learn where an Israeli air attack took place when the dead and injured come to the hospital. But what happens to the attacks in different places that we can’t get to? How can we cover that immediately?”
Al-Aloul admits that journalists know the risk to their lives and that “there’s a chance that we could end up being the news instead”.
But the deaths of their fellow colleagues only “gives us more motivation to carry on working in their names and memories”, he says.
“We, as journalists, have always proved that we are up to the task,” al-Aloul adds. “We are also adamant in showing the atrocities that Israel is committing against us.”