New York, December 21, 2023 – Since October 7, at least 68 journalists have lost their lives in the Israel-Gaza war. In more than three decades of documenting journalist fatalities, the Committee to Protect Journalists has never seen violence of such intensity. This devastating toll and related anti-press aggression and restrictions severely impact the ability of journalists to engage in newsgathering and obtain witness accounts, meaning that the public’s ability to know and understand what is happening in this conflict is severely compromised, with likely ramifications across the world.
This December, as the world marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the basic right to receive and impart information (Article 19), it is vital that everyone can exercise that right. Similarly, international humanitarian law states that journalists are civilians who must be respected and protected by all warring parties. The deliberate targeting of journalists or media infrastructure constitutes a war crime.
Failing to protect journalists in the Israel-Gaza war would be a resounding failure to protect press freedom and our collective right to be informed. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the international community, particularly on the 50 countries that make up the Media Freedom Coalition, who have committed to promoting media freedom at home and abroad, to support the following calls to action:
Protect the lives of journalists
- Media credentials and press insignia must be respected by all warring parties, who should abstain from obstructing, harassing, shooting, or detaining journalists, who are civilians doing their jobs. As Israel’s intense bombing and ground operations in Gaza continue, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) must follow transparent, rigorous rules of engagement to avoid targeting or causing journalist killings, injuries, and arbitrary arrest. This includes the practice of “administrative detention” or incarceration ordered by an Israeli military commander without charge or time limit, alleging that a person plans to commit an offense.
- Israel should facilitate access to humanitarian aid and the safe delivery of personal protective equipment to journalists in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. Journalists, like all civilians in Gaza are struggling to obtain the essentials – such as food, water and sanitary supplies – necessary to live, let alone to report. Israel deems standard protective items, such as helmets and flak jackets, which offer a modicum of safety in a raging conflict, to be military equipment and prevents its transportation to journalists in the Palestinian territories.
Provide access and the ability to report
- Egypt and Israel should grant international news organizations access to Gaza so that they may directly cover the hostilities on the ground and related news stories, including the humanitarian toll. More than 2,800 international journalists have arrived in Israel to cover the conflict and received accreditation, according to the Israeli government.
- Israel should refrain from imposing further communications blackouts and maintain internet and mobile service. This will allow journalists to continue to report and obtain information from local sources.
- All parties should refrain from any legal or regulatory curtailment of media operations. Israel should not pursue restrictions such as the emergency regulations that allow for the shutdown of news organizations and the imprisonment of journalists and others who “hurt national morale,” which would amount to a censorship regime.
Investigate attacks and end impunity
- Israel must break its longstanding pattern of impunity in cases of journalists killed by the IDF and investigate all attacks on journalists during the ongoing war. 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 October 13, should be prioritized. Where appropriate, other countries should offer technical or other relevant assistance.
At this dark hour, CPJ stands with journalists, whose daily work keeps us informed with facts that shed light on the human condition and help to hold power to account. We ask that leaders across the world uphold their international commitments, preserve human rights, and defend the rule of law by supporting journalists and press freedom.