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Exclusive Special Report: Suppressed Media Reporting on Gaza War Conceals Alleged War Crimes

posted on: Jan 10, 2024

Journalist’s funeral in Gaza. Credit: Reporters Without Borders

By: Bishara A. Bahbah / Arab America Featured Columnist

Media coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza has been severely hampered by Israel’s restrictions and manipulation of media outlets and, most blatantly, by the outright killing of journalists and media personnel working to cover Israel’s relentless attacks on Gaza. 

Israel’s primary pretext for attacking and killing Palestinian civilians, including journalists and media personnel, has been that Hamas and its fighters have been operating within population centers, including hospitals, mosques, and residential areas.

The Gaza Strip is almost exactly half the size of New York City and its five boroughs. It has nearly the same land area as Las Vegas but more than three times the population. Its largest city, Gaza City, is “more tightly packed than New York City, with more than 650,000 people living within its 18 square miles.”  

By comparison, Israel’s Defense Ministry is within Israel’s largest city of Tel Aviv. According to the official Israel Defense Forces (IDF) website, Israeli soldiers live on bases that can be located anywhere throughout Israel. On the weekends, these soldiers either stay on their bases or are placed within host families around Israel. 

Hamas and its forces are no different. Given the smaller size of the Gaza Strip, it is inevitable that Hamas and its fighters operate and live within the small confines of the Strip where 2.3 million people live. Much like Israel, Hamas’ bases are located all over the Gaza Strip. To evade Israel’s constantly prying eyes on Gaza, Hamas was forced to build a network of underground tunnels to avoid being spotted by Israel’s satellites and hovering drones fitted with precision cameras.

Israel’s war on Gaza began when Hamas fighters breached the heavily guarded and monitored fences surrounding the enclave. During the three to four-hour Hamas attack on Israel’s border communities, a total of 1,139 were killed. Among those were 695 Israeli civilians, as well as 373 security forces and 79 foreign nationals.


  • Censorship
  • Movement restrictions on journalists
  • Refusal to ensure journalists’ safety
  • Threats of Retribution 
  • The killing of journalists and media workers

This article will address these methods but will highlight the killing of journalists to hamper media coverage of Israel’s atrocities committed in the pretext of self-defense.

I. Censorship

I was subjected to censorship while serving as the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem-based Al-Fajr daily newspaper and its weekly English edition during the 1980s. At that time, my staff was required by the censor to submit “everything” that was to be published in the newspaper, including obituaries. If the censor stamped his rejection or crossed out a portion of an article, I had to comply. Otherwise, the newspaper would have been shut down. The Israeli military censor did not publish guidelines for what can or cannot be published or aired. During that time, no Palestinian radio or television stations were permitted. 

In an unusual move, and since the beginning of the war in Gaza, Israel’s chief military censor, Brig. General Kobi Mandelblit, in a highly unusual memo titled “Operation ‘Swords of Iron:” Israel’s chief censor, wrote:

In light of the current security situation and the intensive media coverage, we wish to encourage you to submit to the Censorship all materials dealing with the activities of the Israeli Defense Forces (I.D.F) and the Israeli security forces prior to their broadcast. 

In the undated memo written in English, a copy was obtained by The Intercept, a media outlet; the censor noted eight topics that would need to be submitted to the censor. These were:  

  • Weapons used by the IDF
  • Security cabinet leaks
  • Stories about the hostages
  • Details of military operations
  • Israeli intelligence
  • Rocket attacks that hit sensitive locations in Israel
  • Cyberattacks, and 
  • Visits by senior military officials to the battlefield.

According to an interview by The Intercept with Guy Lurie, a research fellow at the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute, since the beginning of Israel’s war on Hamas, more than 6500 new items were completely censored or partially censored by Israel’s censorship office. 

A damning report by The Intercept was published on January 4, 2024, accusing CNN of running its stories by a Jerusalem team operating under the “shadow” of the IDF’s censor. It stated that CNN’s Jerusalem bureau “has long reviewed all CNN stories relating to Israel and Palestine. Now, The Intercept concludes that CNN is “helping shape the network’s coverage of the war.” 

II. Movement Restrictions on Journalists

Journalists in Palestine. Credit: i24News

In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the United Nations revealed that 645 movement obstacles are spread across the West Bank – an 8 percent rise since its previous survey. The UN’s count includes 49 permanently staffed checkpoints; 139 intermittently staffed checkpoints; 304 roadblocks, earth mounds, and road gates; 73 earth walls, road barriers, and trenches; and 80 additional obstacles of various types with the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron known as H2. 

According to Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, Palestinian journalists, in particular, face more severe restrictions, as dozens of them are banned from any movement for their work. The restrictions and decisions issued against Palestinian journalists increased during and after “specific political or security events in conjunction with their publishing reports, photos, or videos – through traditional or social media – documenting Israeli violations or criticizing Israeli policies.” 

Since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, movement among various parts of the West Bank has been severely restricted. The movement of people and journalists into Gaza has always been highly restricted. Prior to the war, few journalists were permitted entry into Gaza. After the beginning of the war, no foreign, Israeli, or Palestinian journalists were allowed into Gaza unless they were embedded with Israeli troops. Nevertheless, those journalists had “limited access.” They said Israel did not allow them “access to areas where soldiers are not present.” 

Hence, the war on Gaza was covered primarily by local journalists from Gaza who worked for a handful of foreign news outlets. The two primary foreign agencies operating in Gaza have been Al-Jazeera Television Network and the Turkish news agency TRT. On December 19, the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Jerusalem filed a petition with the Israeli Supreme Court requesting immediate access for international media to the Gaza Strip. The FPA represents some 370 journalists from approximately 130 media outlets, who said they had submitted multiple requests to the Israeli government to gain access but had not received any responses. 

Ironically, the Rafah Crossing between Gaza is still controlled by Israel. No people, including journalists or goods, are allowed in or out of the Gaza Strip without Israel’s prior approval. Israel still maintains a complete siege of Gaza from land, sea, and air.

III. Israel Refuses to Ensure Journalists’ Safety

On October 27, Reuters reported that Israel’s military informed international news organizations, including Agence France Press (AFP), that it could not guarantee the safety of its journalists operating in Gaza. 

Nevertheless, media organizations have emphasized that Israel is obligated to protect journalists in situations of conflict in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law. These commitments are set out in the 1949 Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. In conflict situations, journalism’s free and unhindered exercise is especially important to safeguard the public’s right to be informed. 

UN Security Council Resolution 2222, passed in 2015 and considered a landmark resolution, states that journalists and media workers operating in areas of armed conflict must be treated and protected as civilians and allowed to perform their work without undue interference. The UNSC resolution states that “attacks intentionally targeting journalists, as civilians, constitute war crimes. All states should do their utmost to end impunity for such criminal acts.” It adds that states engaged in armed conflict should instruct their military and police forces to give necessary and reasonable assistance to journalists when they request. 

In a statement by Reuters in response to receiving a letter from the Israel military refusing to guarantee the safety of journalists, it stated that “The situation on the ground [Gaza] is dire, and the IDF’s unwillingness to give assurances about the safety of our staff threatens their ability to deliver the news about this conflict without fear of being injured or killed.” 

IV. Threats of Retribution

Israel National Security Minister Ben-Gvir. Credit: i24News

UN Security Council Resolution 2222 instructs states to “facilitate the access of journalists and their equipment to the territory by providing necessary documentation and permissions.” It adds that states should “refrain from taking any restrictive measures against journalists, such as denial, withdrawal of accreditation or expulsion, on account of their exercise of their duties or the content of their reports.” States should apply these provisions in a non-discriminatory and non-arbitrary manner in their dealings with foreign or local journalists.

UN Security Council resolution 2222 from 2015 confirmed that media equipment and installations constitute civilian objects and shall never be the object of attack or reprisals. In complete disregard to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the Israeli government has arrested more than a dozen Palestinian journalists in the West Bank, presumably due to their coverage and their social media posts about the ongoing Gaza war. Some of those journalists have been placed in detention or house arrest. Under Israeli law, these journalists can be held in what is called “administrative detention” without charge for periods of three to six months that can be extended indefinitely.

Journalists have also been subjected to attacks by Israeli security forces and Israeli settlers roaming the West Bank with newly provided arms by Israel’s national security minister Ben-Gvir. On one occasion, Israeli police “forcibly removed two BBC Arabic reporters from their vehicle, searched them, and held them at gunpoint before hitting one of them on the neck.” Al-Jazeera English videographer Joseph Handal was hospitalized after being assaulted by Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

In the case of foreign journalists, Israel has often threatened them with the revocation of their accreditation by Israel’s Government Press Office located in Jerusalem. 

V. Killing of Journalists

The Gaza war has proved to be one of the deadliest, if not the deadliest, considering the length of time, conflicts for journalists in recent memory.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is investigating all reports of journalists and media workers killed, injured, or missing in the war between Israel and Hamas. CPJ reports that the war “has led to the period for journalists since CPJ began gathering data in 1992. That is as many as were killed during the entire two-decade Vietnam War. In Iraq, the only country to approach this toll in a single year, 56 journalists were killed in 2006. 

As of January 7, 2024, CPJ’s preliminary investigations revealed at least 79 journalists and media workers were among the more than 22,700 killed since the war began on October 7 – with more than 21,300 Palestinian deaths in Gaza and the West Bank.

Most of those killed were Palestinians in Gaza, and dozens more Palestinian journalists have been reported injured, missing, or arrested. Furthermore, the families of Palestinian journalists were killed, including the family of Al-Jazeera’s bureau chief and a CNN producer. Some of those were killed when Israel bombarded the premises that housed 50 media outlets in Gaza. Journalists, according to CPJ, covering the war have been assaulted, threatened, and censored, besides being cut off from the world due to communication blackouts in Gaza.

International watchdogs have concluded that Israel seems to be targeting journalists in Gaza and Lebanon, and it has been manipulating media coverage as well. 

Amnesty International’s investigation of Israel’s killing and wounding of journalists while carrying out their work by reporting hostilities is considered “indiscriminate attacks [on civilians] and are prohibited by international humanitarian law and can amount to war crimes. Amnesty International added that “No journalist should ever be targeted or killed for carrying out their work. Israel must not be allowed to kill and attack journalists with impunity. There must be an independent and impartial investigation into this deadly attack.” 

Among the journalists killed in the Middle East, primarily Gaza, 17 of whom met RSF’s [Reporters Without Borders] definition of having been killed “in the exercise of their duties or connection with their status as a journalist.” Consequently, RSF filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court accusing Israel of “war crimes” over the “deliberate” and “targeted” deaths of journalists killed in the current conflict.

The Facts

Bloody Press uniform. Credit: The Times of India

In 2023, 72% of journalists killed worldwide have been killed in the Gaza conflict, according to the International Federation of Journalists’ records.

As of January 7, 2024, CJP reports that

  • 72 Palestinian journalists were killed in Gaza. Two more were killed on Sunday, January 7, 2024, and have not yet been reported by CJP.
  • 4 Israeli journalists were killed on October 7.
  • 3 Lebanese journalists were shot dead by Israel while filming a report on the border between Lebanon and Israel.
  • 16 journalists have been injured, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
  • 3 journalists were reported missing.
  • 23 journalists were reported arrested by Israel in the West Bank.

Additionally, as of December 23, 2023, CPJ reports that there were “multiple assaults, threats, cyberattacks, censorship, and killing of family members” directed at journalists covering the war in Gaza.

Al-Jazeera reported, based on its Gaza sources on, that 100 journalists have been killed in Gaza since October 7, not including those killed on January 7, 2024.

Six Key Observations About Journalists and the Media from the Gaza War

Palestine in the media. Credit: The New Arab
  • First, the Israel-Gaza war is “probably the most visually documented war in history.” Unlike any war before it, the Israel-Hamas war has seen coverage of the conflict in real-time and around the clock. In most cases, the coverage has been unfiltered. Al-Jazeera Television Network has had live coverage in multiple locations throughout the war. Whether reporters are covering the news, the television cameras keep running and airing around the clock, providing continuous and unprecedented live coverage of the war. 
  • Second, as of December 23 2023, an unprecedentedly large number of journalists have been killed, injured, reported missing, or have been arrested by Israeli forces in a matter of weeks. By comparison, three journalists were killed in the Ukraine war in 2023.
  • Third, most of the Western media outlets have adopted from the very beginning the Israeli narrative of the war and, most likely because of their inability to reach Gaza, filed stories about Israeli hostages and war casualties. Based on their reporting, we know the names and conditions of just about every single hostage taken by Hamas. We know their stories. We know who was released and who is still in captivity. By comparison, Palestinian victims – the 22,700 and the 57,000 who have been injured are faceless numbers. Their stories have not been adequately covered because the foreign press has been banned from entering Gaza.
  • Fourth, Israel used multiple tools to control and manipulate the reporting of the war, including prohibiting the entry of foreign journalists to Gaza to cover the ongoing fighting. When Reuters and Agence France Presse requested assurances for the safety of journalists in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces responded in a letter by stating that “The IDF is targeting all Hamas military activity throughout Gaza.” The letter added that its high-intensity strikes on Hamas targets could cause damage to surrounding buildings and that Hamas rockets could also misfire and kill people inside Gaza. The letter continued, “Under these circumstances, we cannot guarantee your employees’ safety, and strongly urge you to take all necessary measures for their safety.” 
  • Fifth, coverage of the war in Gaza has been carried out primarily by Palestinian journalists working for several international agencies; the most prominent among them are Al-Jazeera Television Network and the Turkish news agency TRT. Oddly, but as a testimony to Palestinians’ resilience, new Palestinian journalists were recruited to replace the ones that have been killed. Many of the new faces reporting from Gaza had not reported prior to the war. 
  • Sixth, social media – YouTube, X, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram – has played an increasingly prominent role in the raging debates about the war, enabling more analysis from different perspectives and thus bypassing the skewed coverage of mainstream media. Nevertheless, those outlets have banned many posts, fearing backlash from investors and subscribers. 

In Europe and the West, the media was initially supportive of Israeli retaliatory actions at the beginning of the conflict. Western leaders descended on Israel to offer their solidarity and support for Israel. Those leaders included U.S. President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuele Macron, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.  

With the rising toll among civilians in Gaza, world leaders became critical of Israel’s war on Gaza. Those leaders, including President Biden, began urging Israel to avoid the targeting of civilians, including journalists. 

The painful truth is that the hostages taken by Hamas from Israel, estimated before any releases at 240 people, received more media coverage than the killing and the wounding of 20,000 and 50,000 Palestinians respectively.

Nevertheless, support for Palestinians in Gaza rose while voices became louder in denouncing Israel’s military operations. The war triggered protests and rallies worldwide in at least 100 countries

The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University has been tracking, for example, the number of worldwide demonstrations for and against the war in Gaza. It has concluded that “The number of pro-Palestinian demonstrations is significantly higher than the number of pro-Israel demonstrations, and this trend is gaining momentum.” Following Hamas’ call for a “Day of Rage” on October 13, INSS concluded that “there has been a significant increase in the number of demonstrations against Israel, and they now represent 95 percent compared to the demonstrations in favor of Israel.”  

Israel has denied that it has targeted journalists in Gaza. Nevertheless, given the large number of journalists who have been killed or injured, Israel cannot escape the accusation that it has not exercised any restraint in dealing with journalists in war zones. Israel, international observers have concluded, has not exercised much caution to avoid targeting journalists and media crews. 

On December 15, 2023, as I turned on Al-Jazeera, I saw and heard of the wounding of Al-Jazeera cameraman Samer Abudaqa, who subsequently died after paramedics were prevented from rescuing him. Al-Jazeera Gaza bureau chief Wael al-Dahdouh was wounded in the same missile attack. They were targeted, according to Al-Jazeera, by Israeli armed drones as they were covering the bombing of a school in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, where Israel had instructed civilians to relocate for safety.

Al-Dahdouh had lost his wife, son, daughter, and grandson, who were killed in an Israeli air raid on November 1 that hit the house they were sheltering in. Al-Dahdouh family was not the only journalist’s family that lost their lives in the war. Many journalists lost family members as well in the Gaza war.

Israel’s assault on journalists has not been confined to Gaza or the Israel-Lebanon border. The most notable attack on a journalist covering the West Bank was that of Shireen Abu-Akleh, a Palestinian-American who had been working for Al-Jazeera Television Network. The UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem and Israel, “concluded on reasonable grounds that Israeli forces used lethal force without justification under international human rights law.” 

Abu Akleh was shot in the head while covering an Israeli military raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank in May 2022. “The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin is a direct result of Israel’s militarization of law enforcement in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” said Navi Pillay, Chair of the UN Commission. 

It is difficult not to conclude that Israel has flaunted international humanitarian law by its indiscriminate killing of civilians, including journalists who have been covering events in the West Bank, Gaza, and the Israel-Lebanon border. Israel has offered no apology for the killing of journalists except by restating that journalists should “take all necessary measures for their safety.” That is Israel’s lame advice to journalists covering Israeli military activities in Gaza, the West Bank, and the Israel-Lebanon border, where skirmishes with Lebanon’s Hezbollah have been a daily occurrence since the onset of Israel’s war on Gaza.

About the Author: Dr. Bishara A. Bahbah was the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem-based Al-Fajr newspaper, which, at that time, was the leading pro-PLO newspaper in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Bahbah taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he was also the associate director of its Middle East Institute. Bahbah serves on the international board of advisors to the International Encyclopedia of Communications, for which he authored an article about the Arab press. He has also written in the Journal of Communication about Israel’s censorship of the Palestinian press.

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