Several Palestinian journalists who have amassed millions of followers on social media for their on-the-ground coverage of Gaza are struggling to maintain hope while having to balance survival and their reporting amid Israel’s continued bombardment.
Sunday marks 58 days since Hamas launched a deadly attack on Israel, leading to an escalation of violence in Gaza from Israel. The massacre, which human rights groups say amounts to ethnic cleansing, has resulted in at least 15,500 Palestinians killed since Oct. 7 — the majority of whom are women and children — according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Amid the slew of online disinformation and government propaganda that has unfolded since Oct. 7, journalists who call Gaza their home have become the world’s way of seeing the harsh realities Palestinians face in the enclave. Every day, followers from all over the world carefully watch the Instagram accounts of 21-year-old Plestia Alaqad, 24-year-old Motaz Azaiza, 25-year-old Bisan Owda, 28-year-old Hind Khoudary and 35-year-old Ali Jadallah; not just to receive updates on Gaza, but to make sure these journalists are safe and alive.
“I traveled yesterday, and this was literally one of the hardest decisions that I took,” Alaqad said in a Nov. 22 video after evacuating Gaza, a decision she made due to fears that her role as a journalist was threatening her family’s safety. Even though the purpose of press gear is to protect journalists, Alaqad said that she had stopped wearing her vest and helmet due to feeling like they put a target on her back.
The violence in the region has become the deadliest conflict for journalists since the Committee to Protect Journalists started gathering data three decades ago. As of Friday, 61 journalists and media workers have died since Oct. 7 — 54 Palestinian, four Israeli and one Lebanese.
According to Khoudary, Palestinian journalist Montaser Al-Sawaf was killed over the weekend by an Israeli airstrike while standing in front of his house with his brother and cousins. Al-Sawaf had bled for 30 minutes, and because there were no ambulances in the area, “no one was able to save him.”
“We, his colleagues, were obligated to write breaking news on his killing. We reported his killing with our tears. We have been reporting on the killing of our beloved ones since day one,” Khoudary wrote on Saturday.
“Montaser chose to stay in Gaza. He was one of the few colleagues that stayed and risked his life to report on what was happening in the north. Before we evacuated we spent three weeks in the office living together, we cried, we laughed,” she continued. “We were scared — we strengthened each other.”
For journalists who are still alive in Gaza, it has been 58 days of documenting the violence against their people, the targeting of their colleagues, the destruction of their homes and the deaths of their own loved ones — all while trying themselves to survive bombing, starvation and sickness. Some have had to separate from their families out of safety, unsure if or when they will see them again.
“My wife and children made it out of the Gaza Strip. After 58 days of displacement, homelessness, grief and bombardment they will leave the City,” Jadallah wrote in a post Sunday on his Instagram stories. A video posted by Azaiza shows Jadallah saying goodbye to his wife and two children as they get ready to cross the border into Egypt.
“I did not leave with them I am still in Gaza. I am happy they are safe now, wishing them a safe travel,” he continued. Jadallah has already lost several members of his family, including older brother and fellow journalist Belal Jadallah.
Gaza’s journalists have become somewhat a symbol of hope and bravery to their followers, who often reply to their posts thanking them for their courage to continue reporting on the devastation and for forcing the rest of the world to bear witness to what apartheid and mass destruction have done to Palestinians.
But while it takes courage to report on Gaza — Azaiza was chosen as GQ Middle East’s “Man of the Year” — journalists in the enclave have expressed exhaustion that comes with covering so much death while counting the days they have left.
“The phase of risking my life to show the world what’s happening is now over. A new phase has begun — the phase to survive,” Azaiza wrote on Instagram on Saturday, according to an Arabic-to-English translation. “I showed the world enough and God knows it was all for Him and for my country.”
Azaiza continued to say that Palestinians are completely surrounded by Israeli forces, and that Israeli tanks encompass central Gaza from both the north and south.
“Our situation is tragic beyond understanding,” he said. “Remember, we are not just content to be shared. We are a group of people being killed. We are a cause fighting to survive. How alone are we!”
Despite efforts by Gaza’s journalists to show the reality of Israel’s attacks, there appears to be no permanent cease-fire in sight. A temporary truce between Israel and Hamas allowed for governing entities to exchange hostages and for Palestinians in Gaza to dig loved ones out of the rubble, but the truce ended on Friday. Despite widespread calls by the public and human rights groups for a permanent cease-fire, many Western nations, including the U.S., still openly support Israel’s actions.
“I no longer have any hope of survival like I had at the beginning of this genocide, and I am certain that I will die in the next few weeks or maybe days,” Owda wrote Saturday on Instagram, adding that she has been sick for days with an infection and is experiencing nightmares that make it difficult for her to discern what is reality.
The 25-year-old called out governments from around the world who are supporting and helping finance Israel’s continued bombardment. The post includes a photo she took of herself looking exhausted, with the rubble of Gaza behind her.
“My message to the world: You are not innocent of what is happening to us, you as governments or peoples that support Israel’s annihilation of my people,” she said. “We will not forgive you, we will not forgive you, humanity will not forgive you, we will not forget, even if we die, the history will never forget.”