Dozens of Reporters Have Been Killed Covering the Israel-Hamas War. A Press Freedom Group Is Calling for a War Crimes Investigation.

“We are victims, directly on live television; we are losing souls, one by one, with complete impunity,” a Palestinian journalist said on-air after learning about the death of his colleague.

Al-Jazeera correspondent Wael Al-Dahdouh mourns over the body of his family members, who were killed in an Israeli air strike.Mohammed Talatene/dpa via ZUMA Press

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The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders is requesting that the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigate the killings and woundings of journalists covering the Israel-Hamas war.

The group, also known as Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), filed the complaint with the ICC on Tuesday, focusing on the deaths of 9 journalists killed since the start of the war: eight Palestinian journalists killed in Israeli bombardments of civilian areas in Gaza, and an Israel journalist killed while covering the October 7 attack by Hamas on his kibbutz. RSF says the killings of the Palestinian journalists fit “the international humanitarian law definition of an indiscriminate attack and therefore constitute war crimes” and that the killing of the Israeli journalist “constituted the willful killing of a person protected by the Geneva Conventions.” RSF also asked the ICC to look into the destruction of more than 50 media outlets in Gaza. 

“The scale, seriousness, and recurring nature of international crimes targeting journalists, particularly in Gaza, calls for a priority investigation by the ICC prosecutor,” RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire said in a statement.

The request comes as the scale of death to journalists has become clear. Another press freedom group, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said today that at least 36 journalists and media workers have been among those killed since Oct. 7, and that the war led to the deadliest period for journalists since the group began tracking their deaths in 1992.

According to the CPJ, 31 of those journalists killed were Palestinian, four were Israeli and one was Lebanese. Another eight journalists have been reported injured, eight more arrested and another three are missing, the CPJ said in its news release, adding that the group is looking into other unconfirmed reports of journalists killed, missing, detained, injured, or threatened. The RSF is also calling on the ICC to investigate all deaths of journalists killed since Oct. 7.

In a visit Sunday to the Rafah Border Crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, the ICC Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan didn’t comment on the killings of journalists specifically but noted that Israel—which is not a member state of the ICC—”has clear obligations in relation to its war with Hamas: not just moral obligations, but legal obligations that it has to comply with the laws of armed conflict.”

More than 70 journalists’ associations and unions worldwide have called on the Israeli government to take steps to protect the lives of journalists covering the war, according to the International Federation of Journalists. But the Israeli military has refused to make any promises, saying it can’t guarantee journalists’ safety in Gaza. 

So, journalists keep dying. Mohammed Abu Hatab, a reporter and correspondent for the local channel Palestinian TV, was killed yesterday—along with 11 other members of his family—in an Israeli airstrike on his home, the CPJ reported, citing the Palestinian Authority’s official news agency, which notes that he filed his last report an hour before he was killed.

After Abu Hatab’s colleague, Salman Al-Bashir, learned of his death, he took off his vest labeled “PRESS” while on air.

“These are just slogans that we are wearing—they don’t protect any journalists at all,” he said, according to a translation of the footage by Democracy Now. “We are victims, directly on live television; we are losing souls, one by one, with complete impunity.” 

The most recent RSF complaint marks the third the group has filed with the ICC since 2018; the first was filed in 2018, regarding the killing or injuring of Palestinian journalists during protests in Gaza, and the second was filed in 2021, focused on Israeli airstrikes on more than 20 media outlets in Gaza. In 2021, the ICC opened an investigation into alleged Israeli crimes in Palestine dating back to 2014.

Another tragedy occurred when Al Jazeera Arabic’s Gaza bureau chief Wael Dahdouh lost his wife, son, daughter, and grandson after they were killed in an Israeli air raid, his outlet reported—a video showed him entering a morgue to see their bloodied bodies.

The heartbreaking footage of the Palestinian journalists discovering the deaths of their own families and colleagues on-air shows that those local journalists’ jobs don’t offer them, or their loved ones, as many special protections as are presumed. They, too, are victims of the war—either among the more than 9,000 Palestinians and 1,400 Israelis dead, or the countless others left behind to mourn those killed.

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