FFor several weeks, Motaz Azaiza’s Instagram feed has exclusively borne witness to the horrors taking place in Gaza. Since October 7, the 24-year-old photojournalist has devoted his days to capturing the scenes of death, destruction and anguish that have become associated with the besieged enclave.
But as Israel’s military campaign to expel Hamas from the Gaza Strip enters its third month and its ground invasion continues further south, where millions of civilians are now sheltering, Azaiza warned that it might not be able to continue his work for a long time. longer. “The phase of risking your life to show what is happening is now over,” he told his supporters in a statement this weekend, “and the phase of trying to survive has begin “.
The plight of journalists like Azaiza matters, not only to Palestinians in Gaza, many of whom now rely on their local press to report on what is happening to a world that feels increasingly out of reach, but also to the press international community as a whole, which has no means of reporting independently on what is happening on the ground in Gaza. For both, they have become a vital source of first-hand information in what constitutes the worst war ever witnessed in the Gaza Strip. Raw and unfiltered, their coverage offers a rare glimpse into life in Gaza, which numbers alone – 17,000 dead, 100,000 buildings destroyed, 1.9 million displaced – simply cannot capture.
None of these journalists are neutral observers, nor do they claim to be. Each of them simultaneously covers and experiences the war. Many of them were displaced from their homes and towns; many lost colleagues, friends and family members to airstrikes. Like everyone else in Gaza, they face shortages of food, clean water, shelter and electricity.
“To be honest, I never imagined that I would one day be able to report on all this violence,” Hind Khoudary, a 28-year-old freelance journalist for Turkey’s Anadolu news agency and others, told TIME last month. media, on WhatsApp, one of the few media. reliable forms of communication amid regular power cuts and internet outages. Like Azaiza and others, Khoudary regularly shares photos and videos of his experiences in the midst of war: empty supermarket shelves, overwhelmed hospitals and neighborhoods reduced to ruins. During the war, Khoudary saw his home destroyed, his friends killed and his family separated. She says she is exhausted and dehydrated. “Reporting and experiencing the exact same thing is very upsetting. »
If there’s one thing that keeps her going, Khoudary says, it’s “the fact that people are listening, seeing and interacting and that’s the best thing that keeps me going.”
The question is how long they can continue like this. “I no longer have any hope of survival,” Bisan Owda, a 25-year-old Gazan filmmaker, recently told her more than 3 million followers. Since October 7, Owda has devoted his time to recounting the war through a series of video diaries. Often in English and always filmed in selfie style, his dispatches offer an unvarnished look at the reality of life under the bombings. In one video, she walks viewers through her nightly routine, which involves gathering her essentials in a bag and keeping her shoes by the door in case her neighborhood is bombed. In another, she captures the resilience of those who, despite being displaced in shelters, still manage to prepare falafel, a Palestinian staple, over an open fire.
Some of the most prominent Palestinian journalists to emerge from the war have been forced to withdraw from their work. Plestia Alaqad, a 22-year-old independent journalist who regularly shares accounts of the war from ordinary Palestinians, made the decision to flee Gaza last month, fearing that her reporting would put her family’s lives in danger. The day before, she had declared that she would give up wearing her press jacket and helmet, stressing that although they were intended to protect her, they no longer made her feel safe. “I hope this nightmare ends soon,” she wrote. “I hope we don’t lose any more journalists. »
His fears are not unfounded. At least 63 journalists were killed while covering the war, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in what was the deadliest month for journalists since the NGO began tracking victims journalists in 1992. The vast majority were Palestinian journalists, including four Israeli journalists. and three Lebanese journalists were also killed. (Investigations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reuters and Agence France-Presse into the October 13 killing of Issam Abdallah, a Lebanese Reuters journalist, determined that his death was likely the result of a deliberate attack by the Israeli Defense Forces on civilians, which constitutes a war crime.) “What more are Palestinian journalists supposed to report than what they have already reported? Alaqed wrote to his Instagram followers on Tuesday. “How many more Palestinians are expected to die for this to end?”
Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, told TIME that while this is not the first time Palestinian journalists have been killed following Israeli military action – a “murderous pattern” that was highlighted particularly starkly by the assassination of Al Last year, Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh said those working in Gaza now face exponential risk.
“What we are seeing in this war is that this murderous pattern is becoming more and more deadly,” Mansour said, noting that some Palestinian journalists have reported receiving threats from the Israeli military to stop their work. . (An Israeli military spokesperson told TIME that the military is urging all civilians to evacuate active combat zones, which is “falsely characterized” as a threat. “The IDF has never and will never target journalists,” the spokesperson added. “why many of them feel they no longer have the time to continue reporting,” says Mansour.
It is unlikely that any protections will be put in place. Israel and Egypt have blocked most international journalists from entering Gaza, and the Israeli military warned international news agencies in October that it could not guarantee the safety of their journalists operating in Gaza. Those who have been able to enter the Gaza Strip since October 7 have mainly done so by integrating into the Israeli army – a process with certain conditions, including the requirement that the army be allowed to examine all documents and images before their publication.
As for Palestinian journalists in Gaza, they have been largely left to their own devices. For them, “infrastructure, protection and security do not exist,” explains Mansour. Without greater efforts to allow international media access to Gaza and to protect journalists already there, journalists in Gaza will continue to carry the burden of reporting on what is happening there until the point where they do not. will be able to do more.
“They are on the front lines and, in many ways, they are the ones who are needed the most,” says Mansour. “But they are also the most vulnerable. »