December 20, 2023
DHAKA – For Al Jazeera journalist and cameraman Samer Abudaqa, December 15 was a day like any other. He tagged along with his colleague, Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent Wael Dahdouh, to report on the devastation and massacre committed by Israel at a UNRWA-run refugee shelter at Farhana School in Khan Younis.
After covering the story, as the journalists were trying to get back to their transport—since the area could not be reached by car—they came under Israeli attack, with Samer Abudaqa receiving critical injuries to the lower part of his body. He could only manage to crawl some 200 metres for help. He lay there, bleeding, for more than five hours before succumbing to his injuries. An Al Jazeera statement condemned Israeli forces for preventing medics from reaching Abudaqa on time. Wael, who had also received injuries to his upper arm, survived.
Abudaqa—a father of four—is one of the more than 90 journalists and media workers killed in the ongoing Palestine war. This particular war has been termed by both the UN Human Rights Office in Occupied Palestinian Territory and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as the deadliest for journalists and their families—and for obvious reasons. While many of the journalists have perished in the carpet bombing of the densely populated strip by Israel, there is mounting evidence that Israel is deliberately targeting journalists to prevent the stories of genocide and devastation leaking out from Gaza.
Israel has now assumed the licence to kill journalists due to the silence of the international community over decades in reaction to it doing so.
— Tasneem Tayeb
To coerce journalists into docility, Israel is also killing their families. Take the case of photojournalist Yasser Qudih, eight members of whose family were killed by Israeli strikes targeting his home only days after he had been exposed to death threats after Israeli media advocacy group, HonestReporting, speculated if Qudih, along with some other journalists, had prior knowledge of the October 7 Hamas assault.
Mohammad Abu Hatab, a Palestine TV correspondent, was killed along with 11 members of his family in what is being called a targeted Israeli strike on their home in Khan Younis—a locality considered safe from Israeli attacks. Wael Dahdouh’s family, killed in an Israeli attack, was also taking shelter in southern Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp, considered a safer area.
However heart-wrenching and blood-curdling they are, these killings do not come as a surprise because the current Israeli regime has been very vocal in supporting and even provoking the killing of journalists. For instance, after the baseless speculation by HonestReporting, many of the Israeli officials and politicians openly called for the killing of journalists who took photos of the October 7 attacks. Israel has developed a tendency to suppress journalists, with spillover effects going outside Palestine.
Just a few days ago, footage emerged on social media showing Israeli forces torturing Anadolu photojournalist Mostafa Alkharouf, who was on duty in the occupied East Jerusalem, covering a story near Al-Aqsa Mosque. His injuries were so critical that he had to be taken to a hospital for medical care. Instead of holding to account the police officers involved, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir expressed his explicit support for the one officer who had been suspended as a result of the attack on Alkharouf.
Israel’s intention in Gaza is clear: carrying out genocide and completely taking over the besieged strip for Israelis. This is how Benjamin Netanyahu plans to dodge the corruption charges facing him, safe in the knowledge that his “ironclad” ally the US will back him up as always.
But, in the face of the unabashed atrocities being committed by occupation forces in Gaza, pressure is mounting on the White House to force Israel to agree to a permanent ceasefire. The last US veto of a humanitarian ceasefire resolution at the UN Security Council (UNSC) has garnered the country scathing condemnation from various quarters, including its traditional Middle Eastern ally the UAE. Thousands have been killed and injured in Israeli attacks since the US veto on December 8. In the face of a worsening humanitarian catastrophe, the UNSC is set to vote again, this time on a milder call for “cessation of hostilities,” which the US is negotiating for an even softer approach of “suspension of hostilities” so that it can support it.
The vote has been postponed by a day to December 19 for negotiators to find common ground. With a growing divide within its own administration over its approach to the Palestine war, the country might as well relent this time to abstention instead of an outright veto, despite Netanyahu and Eli Cohen’s extremist rhetoric, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant servicing visiting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Palestinian journalists exposing Israel’s barbarism have added to the pressure on both Israel and the US. As a result, these resilient journalists have become Israel’s arch-nemesis.
But Israel must understand that journalists cannot be silenced. Journalists know that they are historians in their own right—documenting facts for the future generations to study and use to shape their opinions regarding the past. Journalists are the defenders of truth. They are the messengers who hold all parties to account, especially in times of war since during these precarious times there are no parties that will tell one the entire truth. Journalists know the significance of their work, and will not be silenced—till the very end.
Israel obviously fears journalists and wants to stop this flow of information, which is why it has frequently targeted communication channels and caused blackouts during intensified operations.
Unfortunately, Israel has now assumed the licence to kill journalists due to the silence of the international community over decades in reaction to it doing so. Between 2001 and October 7, 2023, around 20 journalists were killed by the IDF; 18 of them were Palestinians and two were Europeans. This includes the targeted killing of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in 2022, whose funeral procession was also attacked by Israeli forces. No party ever held Israel to account for these crimes, resulting in its daring that we are witnessing today.
Israel has committed war crimes by killing journalists, their families, and unarmed civilians in Palestine, and must be investigated and tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Samer Abudaqa’s son and Al Jazeera are preparing to lodge complaints with the ICC. While that happens, based on the complaints lodged so far and the referrals made—including the referral by Bangladesh and four other nations for investigating Israeli war crimes—the ICC should take prompt action to prosecute Israel. If the ICC feels hesitant in prosecuting Israel, it must come out with that truth. Special Prosecutor Karim Khan has been accused of not doing enough. If that is the case, his actions should not be considered above the law. If the ICC is being coerced by Israel or its allies, then it should be investigated for obstruction of justice. The case should also be brought before the International Court of Justice; Israel has committed more than enough crimes over the last seven decades, killing civilians and journalists alike, to warrant this.