Relatives of Al-Jazeera cameraman Samer Abu Daqqa, who was killed on December 15, 2023, by an Israeli airstrike, mourn his death during his funeral in the town of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, on December 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)
Relatives of Al-Jazeera cameraman Samer Abu Daqqa, who was killed on December 15, 2023, by an Israeli airstrike, mourn his death during his funeral in the town of Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip, on December 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)

Israel-Gaza war takes record toll on journalists

Update: As of December 31, 2023, at least 77 journalists and media workers were killed; 70 of them Palestinian.

More journalists have been killed in the first 10 weeks of the Israel-Gaza war than have ever been killed in a single country over an entire year, according to CPJ data. By December 20, 2023, at least 68 journalists and media workers had been killed since the October 7 start of the conflict. Of those 68, 61 were Palestinian, four Israeli, and three Lebanese.

CPJ is particularly concerned about an apparent pattern of targeting of journalists and their families by the Israeli military. In at least one case, a journalist was killed while clearly wearing press insignia in a location where no fighting was taking place. In at least two other cases, journalists reported receiving threats from Israeli officials and IDF officers before their family members were killed.  

CPJ is investigating in more detail the circumstances of all 68 deaths. This research is hampered by the widespread destruction in Gaza, and, in a number of cases, the fact that the journalists were killed along with family members who typically are sources for such information.  

“The Israel-Gaza war is the most dangerous situation for journalists we have ever seen, and these figures show that clearly,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “The Israeli army has killed more journalists in 10 weeks than any other army or entity has in any single year. And with every journalist killed, the war becomes harder to document and to understand.”

More than half the deaths – 37 – occurred during the first month of the war, making it the deadliest single month documented by CPJ since it began collecting data in 1992.

In Iraq, the only country to approach this toll in a single year, 56 journalists were killed in 2006. CPJ determined that 48 were killed in connection with their work but was unable to confirm the circumstances in eight other deaths. With the exception of the Philippines, where 33 of the 35 journalists and media workers killed in 2009 were murdered in a single massacre, the countries with the highest number of journalists killed for their work in any given year – Syria (32 killed because of their work in 2012; five still under investigation); Afghanistan (15 of 16 killed in 2018 died because of their work); Ukraine (13 of 15 deaths in 2022 confirmed to have been work-related); and Somalia (12 of 14 work-related in 2012) – were in a state of war or insurrection during the years in review.

The Israel-Gaza war deaths have taken place against a backdrop of growing censorship of media in the region, including at least 20 arrests as well as physical and online harassment of journalists. Media facilities have also been damaged or destroyed. 

In May, CPJ published “Deadly Pattern,” a report that found members of the Israel Defense Forces had killed at least 20 journalists over the past 22 years and that no one had ever been charged or held accountable for their deaths.

“Journalists are civilians and must be treated as such under international humanitarian law,” said Mansour. “It’s imperative we see independent, transparent investigations into the latest pattern of killings. In addition, the Israeli army must end its muzzling of international media by allowing them to report from Gaza, stop its harassment of journalists in the West Bank, and allow the free flow of information and humanitarian aid into Gaza,” Mansour added.

Repeated communications blackouts and a lack of fuel, food, and housing due to the bombardment and limited humanitarian assistance has severely stifled reporting in Gaza, where international journalists have had almost no independent access for most of the war. Palestinian journalists report a desperate need for assistance to be able to continue reporting, including in the West Bank where some funders have cut funding for long-standing partners.

CPJ on Thursday published a series of calls to Israel and the international community.

The main recommendations are:

  1. Protect the lives of journalists

– Facilitate immediate access to humanitarian aid and basic supplies to Gaza and the safe delivery of personal protective equipment – such as helmets and flak jackets – to journalists in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. 

– Ensure media credentials and press insignia are respected, and that all parties follow international humanitarian law and do not target or harm journalists. 

  1. Provide access and the ability to report: 

– Grant international news organizations access to Gaza and halt the practice of communications blackouts. 

– Repeal new regulations that allow for the shutdown of news organizations and end the “administrative detention” of journalists, which allows for imprisonment without charge.

  1. Investigate attacks and end impunity: 

– End the longstanding pattern of impunity in cases of journalists killed by the IDF. The international community should act to ensure swift, transparent, and independent investigations are conducted into all journalist deaths since the October 7 start of the Israel-Gaza war.

Notes on CPJ methodology and its documentation of deaths in the Israel-Gaza war

  • CPJ defines journalists as people who cover news or comment on public affairs through any medium — including in print, online, via broadcast media, or photographs and video. We take up cases involving staff journalists and freelancers. We do not include journalists if there is evidence that they were acting on behalf of militant groups or serving in a military capacity at the time of their deaths. CPJ also documents the deaths of media support workers in recognition of the vital role they play in news gathering. These include translators, drivers, guards, fixers, and administrative workers. 
  • CPJ researchers investigate every journalist’s death to determine whether they were killed in relation to their work. We interview families, friends, colleagues, and authorities to learn as much as possible about the circumstances of each case. Details we investigate include whether the journalist was on assignment at the time of the killing, whether they had received threats, and whether they had published work that might have attracted the anger of government authorities, militant groups, or criminal gangs.
  • CPJ’s focus is on press freedom violations, so we distinguish between those we are reasonably certain were killed because of their journalism [motive confirmed] and those who may have been killed for journalism or for another reason [motive unconfirmed]. In situations of war such as Israel-Gaza and Ukraine, CPJ documents all journalists whose deaths and journalistic credentials we are able to verify as “confirmed” while we investigate the circumstances of their killing.