On 7 January, 27-year-old journalist Hamza Dahdouh was on his way to report on the bombing of a designated “humanitarian zone” in Gaza, according to his colleagues, when an Israeli missile struck his car.
Hamza was killed in the attack along with Mustafa Thuraya, a freelance journalist, while a third journalist was left seriously injured. Images show a burnt-out wreckage of the car in the middle of a residential area.
“Hamza was not just part of me. He was the whole of me,” said his father Wael Dahdouh, who is Gaza bureau chief for the news network Al Jazeera. “He was the soul of my soul. These are tears of sadness, of loss. These are tears of humanity.”
Dahdouh is one of at least 83 journalists to have been killed since Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October, according to the most recent figures from the non-profit Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
The number of journalists killed in the last three months has surpassed the numbers killed during the second world war, according to the nonprofit Freedom Forum, and is already around half the number of those killed in the Iraq war over nine years.
Israel has barred international journalists from entering Gaza, having said it could not guarantee them safety from its strikes. This means Palestinians themselves have been largely left with the task of documenting the 24,000 deaths since Israel began its bombardment.
Like his father, Hamza worked for Al Jazeera. Through his Instagram posts, his one million followers were also able to witness the toll the war is taking on Palestinian civilians: babies being carried into hospital, bloodied children, families grieving over their loved ones. In October, Israeli airstrikes on a refugee camp killed Hamza’s mother, brother, sister and nephew. In January, Hamza’s updates stopped.
The killing of journalists is a human tragedy. It also shuts down comprehensive reporting on the war. As Hamza’s case shows, reporting from the ground lets the world bear witness to what is happening in Gaza. There can be little doubt that Israel’s lack of protections for journalists has seriously affected the coverage of the war.
Attacks on the truth come in many forms. Some journalists are murdered in cold blood, like Ján Kuciak in Slovakia. Others are thrown into prison, like Stanis Bujakera in Democratic Republic of Congo. In the UK, the tool of choice is often a meritless legal threat that drowns journalists and their employers in impossible legal costs.
The means may be different in each case, but they all suppress the truth and allow those with power to avoid accountability. That is what’s happening in the Middle East. “The Israel-Gaza war is the most dangerous situation for journalists we have ever seen,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator. “With every journalist killed, the war becomes harder to document and to understand.”
Mark Regev, senior adviser to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said this month that “Israel does not deliberately target journalists” – but his country’s bombardment is the deadliest event for journalists in living memory.
After Hamza’s death, the Israeli military made the claim that he and Mustafa Thuraya were terrorists, something Al Jazeera described as “false and misleading”.
CPJ’s Mansour has called for the killings to be independently investigated and those behind it to be held accountable. “The continuous killings of journalists and their family members by Israeli army fire must end,” he said. “Journalists are civilians, not targets.”
At Hamza’s funeral, Wael stood by his son’s body, wearing a flak jacket emblazoned with the word “Press”. His face was filled with grief. Vowing to continue his work, he told the mourners: “We are going to proceed as long as we are alive and breathing.”
Main image: Al Jazeera's Gaza bureau chief Wael Dahdouh at the funeral of his son Hamza on 7 January 2024. Credit: Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images