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Journalists’ Unions Organize to Provide Internet and First Aid to Press in Gaza

Reporting in Gaza has become nearly impossible with limited access to power, internet, and basics like food and water.

Journalists gather in solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues at the Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate on December 31, 2023, in Cairo, Egypt.

Part of the Series

On May 29, the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS), a labor union for Palestinian media workers, unveiled a monument commemorating the 100th anniversary of the union’s founding, while also memorializing its members. Israeli forces have killed thousands of Palestinian journalists since 1967 when Israel invaded East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, all internationally recognized Palestinian territories.

The occasion was both inspiring and tragic: While the memorial was unveiled in Ramallah in the West Bank, the Israeli genocide in Gaza continued. The nearly nine-month Israeli assault has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians, including 15,000 children, according to Al Jazeera at the time of this writing. Per PJS, at least 135 of the dead were journalists or media workers.

In the face of both the ongoing Israeli genocide and restrictions on international media, PJS and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have been supporting Palestinian reporters in Gaza, who are the only ones in the enclave able to cover the Israeli crimes against their communities and themselves.

As the scale of destruction wrought by the Israeli military has grown, PJS and IFJ have pivoted from providing professional resources to humanitarian aid to mobile press centers to aid journalists in continuing to report in spite of the near-total destruction of newsrooms in Gaza.

“Not Only Facing Killing”

Since the October 7 attacks by Palestinian militants on Israel, the Israeli government has curtailed practically all international access to the Gaza Strip. As a result, Palestinian journalists in Gaza are the only ones able to report on the Israeli response since October 7, which has escalated from a blockade of food, water and medicine, to indiscriminate bombings of homes and civil infrastructure, to a ground invasion from north to south. Living the events they are covering, Palestinian journalists face the same circumstances as other civilians, including homelessness, starvation and death.

“We have lost, up to now, 135 journalists and media workers, who formed more than 10 percent of the journalists in Gaza,” Rania Khayyat, communications officer for the PJS, told Truthout. “On the other hand, the journalists in Gaza are not only facing killing, they are facing arrest, they are facing losing their families, they’re facing siege, they’re facing displacement, they’re facing working in very hard conditions. And as you know, no international journalists are allowed into Gaza, so they are the only ones who can report within those very hard conditions.”

Those journalists who have not lost their lives have had to face the loss of their livelihoods. PJS has documented the destruction of more than 80 press institutions in Gaza by the Israeli military since October 7. PJS itself was forced to abandon its branch in Gaza, as well as its headquarters in East Jerusalem, for the relative safety of Ramallah in the West Bank, where Khayyat is based. The PJS office in Gaza now serves as a shelter for displaced families.

“Currently, the working and living conditions of journalists in the Gaza Strip are the worst the IFJ has ever experienced,” Monir Zaarour, IFJ’s director of policy and programming in the Middle East, told Truthout. “The scale of human loss is hard to comprehend. Journalists have lost their lives alongside their entire families. Others have lost families or been injured. The destruction of homes and workplaces is without precedent.”

Zaarour said there are zero functional newsrooms remaining in the Gaza Strip. “Power and internet are available periodically, but even when [they are] available, most cannot afford to pay. The ones who are determined to work are clustered around hospitals or relief centers to get power and internet. These places have been one of the main targets of Israeli army attacks, and on several occasions, journalists have been hurt in these attacks.”

IFJ, a federation of labor unions for journalists from around the world, including PJS, has been collecting funds to provide reporters in Gaza with basic humanitarian aid and recently announced a new effort to establish mobile press centers throughout the Strip.

Modeled on previous efforts in Pakistan and Ukraine, the centers consist of two to three conjoined tents housing workstations for up to a dozen journalists, equipped with laptops, power sources and internet connections. The centers will be staffed by PJS managers with IT support, security and consulting from IFJ. Once a permanent ceasefire is declared, the centers will be moved into permanent homes, but until then, they are meant to be mobile, moving with the tides of the war.

“We’ve just started working on equipping the first center in the city of Khan Younis, which has been made possible through donations,” he continued. “We are trying to raise more funds to launch at least three such centers: in Gaza City, the central Gaza Strip and Rafah.”

As Zaarour explained, the cost of equipping and staffing such mobile press centers varies depending on the availability of resources, and the dire conditions in Gaza have made the Khan Younis center the most expensive one set up by the IFJ, at around $85,000 for the first year. He also noted that, without a ceasefire and loosening of the Israeli blockade, setting up the additional centers may cost even more.

Besides financing, the primary challenge to establishing the press centers is safety. In the hopes of avoiding any military entanglements, IFJ will be sharing the centers’ coordinates with both Israeli and United Nations authorities, as has been their practice in other conflicts in the past.

“We’ve been analyzing the patterns and circumstances of Israeli attacks that resulted in journalists in Gaza being killed,” said Zaarour. “We believe that the media solidarity centers will help reduce risks to journalists, especially in accessing media infrastructure without risking being killed through ‘collateral damage’ or ‘misidentifications.’”

Still, fears abound in providing the Israelis with information about journalists’ whereabouts.

“There is always fear,” Shuruq Asad, a Jerusalem-based member of PJS’s general secretariat, told Truthout. “But we really want to provide the journalists with what they need, and the main thing is to help with their protection, to help them to not be harmed, not to lose their lives. Providing the coordinates — this is usually what press people do, and humanitarians, doctors, and so on. So this is one of the responsibilities for us.”

“There’s no stability in Gaza, no protection for journalists,” she continued. “You’re under military orders, Israeli military orders, and they think they have the right to do anything.”

“So Many Things That Journalists Need”

Mobile press centers are only the latest initiative between PJS and IFJ to support journalists in the Gaza Strip. Shortly after October 7, when Israeli forces first began their bombardment of Gaza, PJS and IFJ focused on supporting journalists reeling from air strikes and artillery shelling. But even this basic support can be difficult to provide, because since 2007, the Israeli blockade of Gaza has restricted the entry of anything Israel deems “dual use,” or potentially beneficial to Palestinian militants. That means, while PJS distributes ballistic helmets and bulletproof vests in the West Bank, it is prevented from doing so in Gaza, where such life-saving gear is even more desperately needed. Instead, PJS and IFJ have been issuing first aid kits to journalists in Gaza, which nevertheless proved to be life-saving, according to Zaarour, as well as providing professional resources like power banks and internet connections. But as the Israeli blockade of Gaza intensified, cutting off even food, the necessary support became even more basic.

“Since the Israeli army resorted to weaponizing food and other basic needs, we had to focus on providing food parcels, clothes and shelters,” Zaarour said.

Now, nearly nine months into the Israeli genocide with a permanent ceasefire still appearing elusive, Zaarour says what journalists in Gaza long for is an end to the violence. “There are so many things that journalists need and wish to have, but everything is dwarfed by the need for the war to end.”

The PJS’s Khayyat takes that demand one step further, calling not only for the end of the current Israeli genocide in Gaza, but the Israeli occupation of Palestine in general. As the monument to journalists in Ramallah attests, the current genocide is only the latest manifestation of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Only when the occupation is over will there be no more “martyrs,” as the PJS’s recent monument memorializes.

“End the occupation,” she said. “This is the main demand that we have, because most of our problems, most of the violations, most of the journalists who we are losing, it’s because of the occupation.”

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