We must demand that journalists get access to Gaza immediately

Many of Gaza’s journalists have either been killed or are too exhausted, injured or traumatised to work. We must demand that international journalists are allowed access to Gaza to report freely on the war.

Since 7 October, Israel has killed roughly one out of ten of Gaza’s journalists. In the same period, no foreign journalist has been allowed to enter Gaza to freely report on Israel’s war. For more than 120 days, Gaza’s journalists have single-handedly taken on the responsibility of covering one of the deadliest wars in recent history. 

Everyone in Gaza is suffering immensely right now, but journalists are even more vulnerable. Recently, AFP published a piece that describes the life and work of their eight reporters and photographers working inside Gaza. Their accounts echo what we have heard from the people we have followed and cooperated with over the last four months.

In the piece, AFP reporter Mai Yaghi is quoted: “Because of our work, we see more horrors than anyone else. It is our duty to recount the suffering of people. But when you immerse yourself in it, you realise how enormous it is for us as well, and how powerless we are.” She adds: “I am never safe, I don’t sleep anymore, I don’t eat enough, I can’t wash when I want to.”

It is the same story we have heard time and again from our partners in Gaza: The physical and psychological toll of covering the war is enormous. And understandably so. It is hard to even imagine the horrors they witness on a daily basis and in addition, their personal situations are incredibly dire. Even when they have a moment to rest, they cannot go home, because their houses have been bombed. They are displaced. They’re sleeping on the ground in a tent. They spend hours of their days standing in line for clean water or trying to find food. They have not had a minute to grieve the loss of children, partners, friends or colleagues.

Mai Yaghi says she has lost “neighbours, friends, loved ones, but right now I don’t feel any emotion. I have the sense that my sadness is frozen. I can’t let myself succumb to that sadness, because then I would collapse completely, and I can’t.”

Journalists in Gaza live in constant fear of being killed by the Israeli military, and we know of several journalists that have received threatening phone calls demanding them to stop their coverage. 

Every journalist feels this threat, according to AFP journalist Adel Zaanoun.

“We all know that, at any moment, it could be one of us. Our families know it too. They are panicking,” he says. “When the telephone works, our wives and our children call us all the time to ask where we are, and what we are doing. They tell us not to be away from them for too long, to be careful. Because they know that wherever we go, we are heading to the heart of death, and they hope we will survive.”

If Israel continues to kill journalists at the current rate, half of Gaza’s journalists will be dead by the end of this year. Even now, many are too injured, ill, exhausted or traumatised to continue their work. With Israel continuing to refuse international journalists access to Gaza to report freely on the war, the world risks losing crucial information from inside Gaza. Sadly, the math is excruciatingly simple: if journalists in Gaza keep being killed, injured and otherwise incapacitated – and no-one else is allowed in – reporting will eventually stop.

Even if a lasting ceasefire is negotiated, the role of journalism will not diminish. We have seen in many conflict zones in which we work that a halt in the fighting or an end to war may change the tasks of the journalists, but their work remains crucial. Following the phase of armed conflict during which homes, land, health facilities and other critical infrastructure have been destroyed, journalists report on aid distribution, help collect evidence of war crimes, follow reconstruction efforts and amplify the stories of populations living in fragile and dangerous circumstances.

We know that many foreign journalists are prepared to enter Gaza and that they are willing to take on an enormous risk to work alongside their colleagues and report from the ground. We applaud the effort of Israel’s Foreign Press Association, who filed a petition in December urging Israel’s supreme court to lift the ban on journalists entering Gaza. The petition was denied by the court.

We must continue to use whatever leverage we have to push for access. Everyone loses out if we do not have credible and independent reporting from Gaza. It is the right of every person in this world to receive and disseminate information – especially when the information addresses a war that not only is unprecedentedly brutal and deadly, but also has far-reaching consequences for geopolitics, international law and global cohesion. It is a joint responsibility to ensure that reporting and documentation continue.

We must demand of governments, media organisations and world leaders that they put maximum pressure on Israel and Egypt to allow journalists to enter Gaza. And that Israel do whatever is necessary to keep journalists working in Gaza safe and alive.