Jodie Ginsberg: “Gazan journalists must be protected. They are our eyes on the ground”

As Palestinian reporters are killed in record numbers, the CPJ President discusses what colleagues and governments can do to help them
Jodie Ginsberg, President of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Jodie Ginsberg, President of the Committee to Protect Journalists. 

15th January 2024

The Israel-Hamas war has taken a huge toll on Palestinian journalists. At the time of this writing, 75 Palestinian reporters and media workers had been killed along with 4 Israeli and 3 Lebanese colleagues. With foreign journalists unable to enter the Strip, Gazan reporters also face direct threats from the Israeli military, forced displacement, grave concerns for their safety and lack of connectivity.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has been tracking the war's death toll while also shining a light on restrictions to press freedom and attempting to hold those responsible to account.

Towards the end of December 2023, the CPJ conducted a major analysis that concluded that more journalists had been killed in the first 10 weeks of this war than in any other single country in an entire year. Earlier this month, CPJ and several other press freedom and human rights groups called on US President Joe Biden, as Israel’s principal international supporter, to “do more to effectively pursue accountability for journalists killed (...) and to protect and support local and international journalists covering it.”

Jodie Ginsberg has been the President of CPJ since 2022. As well as heading up and sitting on the boards of various press freedom organisations, Ginsberg was previously a news reporter working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Ireland and South Africa, and also serving as Reuters Bureau Chief for the UK and Ireland. In this interview, she speaks about the work of her organisation on Gaza and discusses what colleagues and governments can do to help them from afar.

Q. Do you feel Israel is targeting journalists? And if so, why?

A. We’re in the middle of the war, so establishing conclusively whether journalists are deliberately targeted is extremely challenging. What we do know in the case of the 13 October attack in southern Lebanon was, according to at least four separate reportsthat Israel was responsible for the attack, which killed a Reuters journalist and wounded six other reporters and that the crew was clearly visible as journalists. 

We're also worried about a pattern in which journalists in Gaza report receiving threats and then their families are killed. In early December an Israeli airstrike hit the family home of Anas Al-Sharif, a reporter and videographer for Al-Jazeera Arabic, killing the journalist’s 90-year-old father, according to Al-Jazeera, and Middle East Eye.

A CPJ report (Deadly Pattern), which we published in May before the current war started, showed that over the past 22 years, 20 journalists have been killed by Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and that no one has been held accountable for any of those deaths.

Q. What would be your message to Israeli authorities about protecting the right of journalists to do their work?

A. Journalists are civilians and must be protected as such. Targeting civilians is a war crime. Journalists must be allowed to do their work. No international news crews are allowed into Gaza except under strict supervision by the Israeli armed forces, so Gazan journalists are our eyes and ears on the ground. They play an essential role in documenting the ongoing horrors of the war.

Q. What do you make of the destruction of communications infrastructure? Is this an attempt to stymie journalists' attempts to show the outside world what is happening?

A. Attacks on civilian infrastructure, which includes media and communications facilities, constitutes a possible war crime. Certainly, the repeated communications shutdowns stifle information from getting out. 

Q. What do you think Western media organisations could do to better support journalists on the ground in Gaza?

A. It's extremely hard to know what can be done at this stage. The war is now a humanitarian catastrophe in which it's impossible to escape Gaza and impossible for significant aid or support of any kind to get in. At the moment, continuing to show solidarity and ensuring media outlets are fully reporting the horrific realities experienced by their Gazan journalists is key. And continuing to stress that journalists are not targets and that no civilian should be targeted.

Q. One of the journalists we interviewed said that many journalists in Gaza are effectively citizen journalists who are learning on the job and may not have adequate training. What would CPJ recommend to journalists covering the conflict to better preserve their safety?

A. All wars turn local journalists into war correspondents to some extent. But this war, which is unprecedented for the rate in which journalists are being killed, is like no other we have seen. We have shared basic safety guidance and continue to push governments to allow PPE to be supplied, but nowhere in Gaza is currently safe and no amount of PPE can protect you from this level of bombardment.

Q. When Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in 2022, Israel only acknowledged that one of its bullets might have killed her after several independent investigations were published. Is there a pattern on how Israel responds to the journalists’ killings? 

A. Our Deadly Pattern report on the killings of journalists by the Israeli military since 2001 documented at least 20 journalist killings by the IDF. The vast majority of those killed (18) were Palestinian. The other two were European correspondents. No one has ever been charged or held accountable for these deaths.

Our report found that probes into journalist killings at the hands of the IDF follow a routine sequence where Israeli officials discount evidence and witness claims, often appearing to clear soldiers for the killings while inquiries are still in progress. There is no policy document describing the process in detail and the results of any probe are confidential.

When probes do take place, the Israeli military often takes months or years to investigate killings and families of the mostly Palestinian journalists have little recourse inside Israel to pursue justice. 

Q. What was Hamas’ track record in terms of press freedom in Gaza before the current war began?

A. Before the war, Hamas pressured journalists inside Gaza about their reporting and enforced censorship for journalists affiliated with rival Palestinian parties. 

CPJ research shows that the Hamas administration in Gaza had arrested local journalists working for Fatah-affiliated outlets, as well as cartoonists, and banned outlets critical of Hamas, including Al-Hayat al-Jadida and the Saudi-funded broadcasters Al-Arabiya and al-Hadath

Similarly, local Gazan journalists, including the head of the Fatah-affiliated Palestinian Journalists Syndicate have been assaulted by Hamas security forces and broadcasters' offices in Gaza have been ransacked.   

Before the current war, international journalists CPJ interviewed while researching our report Deadly Pattern told us that Hamas operatives kept track of their movements and tracked their published work. Hamas contacted journalists after the fact with objections to their work.

Q. Is there anything Israeli journalists and media organisations can do to support their Gazan colleagues?

A. Israeli journalists and media organisations can demand access to Gaza and support the Foreign Press Association appeals for access. They should cover fully Israel’s military operations and demand investigations into the killing of Gaza-based journalists. 

Q. You’ve met with US officials to raise awareness about the killing of Palestinian journalists. Without revealing any off-the-record comments, how seriously is the US taking these killings? And do you think they’ll do anything to stop them?

A. The United States has been vocal in its support of journalists and a free press. We believe it takes the killings seriously. But we haven’t yet seen any concrete action to meet those words or end this violence. 

Q. Once the war is over, what will CPJ do to ensure these killings are properly investigated?

A. CPJ will work to ensure these investigations should be swift, transparent, and thorough, following internationally accepted standards in line with the Minnesota Protocol. Cases where there are credible claims of IDF culpability, such as the attack that killed Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah and injured six others in southern Lebanon on 13 October, should be prioritised. Where appropriate, other countries should offer technical or other relevant assistance.  

Q. Israel has not signed the treaty of the International Criminal Court. Is there any way for the families of the journalists killed to get justice?

A. Israeli allies like the United States should leverage the US partnership with Israel to press the Israeli government to cooperate with the US Department of Justice investigation into the killing of Abu Akleh. They should also ask Israel to review and reform IDF rules of engagement to prevent further killings of journalists, and cooperate with any International Criminal Court investigations as well as UN-appointed investigators.

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