For over a month and a half, Gaza has endured relentless bombardment and devastation following Israel’s retaliatory attacks initiated after the events of October 7.
Despite global protests and pleas from international humanitarian organisations to halt the onslaught, and the UN lamenting that “no place is safe” in the strip, Israel shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. The death toll is staggering with more than 14,000 lives lost in Gaza, predominantly children and women.
At least 50 journalists have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its retaliatory attacks on the strip, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports.
Israeli bombardment of south Lebanon also killed two journalists from Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen television, the broadcaster reported on November 21. The third civilian killed with the journalists was a “contributor”.
Amidst the chaos, Gazan journalists have taken it upon themselves to reveal the harsh realities on the ground using limited resources and access.
Armed only with mobile phones and sporadic internet connectivity, they resiliently combat misinformation and propaganda.
They are showing the world Gaza’s starvation, injuries, and fatalities, in order to urge the international community to call for a ceasefire.
Dawn.com compiled a list of five such journalists who embody fearless conflict reporting during what some are terming as the ‘first digital genocide’.
Born and raised in the Deir Al-Balah Refugee Camp in Gaza, Motaz Hilal Azaiza did not intend to become famous. In 2021, he completed his studies in English Language and Literature at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University — a place that now lies in ruins due to Israel’s aggression.
Like numerous other graduates in Gaza, Azaiza faced unemployment as a photographer after graduation. Therefore, he created his Instagram account to show his land and its people in a positive light, contrasting the most mainstream coverage of the region.
He did, however, document Israel’s aggressions in both 2014 and 2021. “It’s so cruel to even imagine it,” he said. “It was a paradise, now it is hell. I desperately dream of the days before, when I documented my people and my land. That’s all I can think about at the moment.
“I miss taking photographs of children playing on the swings, the elderly smiling, families gathering, the sights of nature and the sea, my beautiful Gaza. I miss all of that, and it pains me to remember it.”
After Israel waged war on Hamas in Gaza and began its relentless attacks, he started documenting the atrocities committed by the constant strikes and the resilience of children and people in the strip. From around 25,000 followers, his follower count is now up to almost 15 million on Instagram.
He captured aerial footage revealing the widespread devastation of neighbourhoods, juxtaposed with moments like cradling a lifeless baby in his arms.
Amidst the conflict, he documented himself among Palestinian children, all displaying peace signs, accompanied by the caption: “We teach you life, people.”
Azaiza was also named Man of the Year by GQ Middle East for 2023.
Despite the global traction on his social media, it is anything but easy for Azaiza. His family home in the Deir Al-Balah refugee camp was attacked killing at least 15 members of his family.
The imminent threat to his life remains, as he dodges potentially fatal strikes while reporting. “It’s been a lot of hard times before, as we have been under Israeli occupation since 1948. This time is the hardest, death is the cheapest and the most easy thing to get,” he stated.
Yet, Azaiza remains steadfast. “[I’m] never gonna leave my lovely strip behind and if I’m gone, there are brothers behind to continue showing the world the raw reality,” he said on X, formerly Twitter.
22-year-old Plestia Alaqad is another young journalist who continues to show the world what’s happening in Gaza on social media.
A glance at her Instagram account reveals a stark contrast in her recent posts. Within the last three days, her content has undergone a complete change from the usual snapshots depicting her typical, Instagram-worthy lifestyle.
Similar to Azaiza, her life has changed forever after October 7.
“Someone asked me today to describe how my life was before the aggression and trust me I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t know what to say. I feel so speechless and I find it hard to remember my life before the aggression, the 28 days that passed feel like forever this aggression just reminds me of previous aggressions,” she said as she shared a screenshot of her feed prior to the current Israeli bombardment.
“Life was never normal in Gaza, but I miss what I thought was a ‘normal’ life.”
Now she shares devastating footage such as that of Gazans’ widescale displacement, which many have called the “second Nakba”.
Not only does she document the crisis visually but also shares her diary entries with her 4 million followers, entailing the human consequences of Israeli aggression.
She also documented her evacuation from her apartment building on the night of October 9, the very day she had posted footage of herself encountering nearby explosions.
Bisan Wizard, a filmmaker-turned-journalist, has been actively sharing content on Instagram for several years. She’s worked with the UN on women’s rights issues and with the European Union on climate change.
Her account gained traction when she began posting live footage from Gaza. Presently, she boasts 2.6 million followers on Instagram.
At first, Wizard shared videos highlighting the impact of the conflict on her family. However, she later ventured into the streets, using her phone to capture the real-life events unfolding firsthand.
Wizard also continues to counter misinformation and debunk propaganda with her videos.
She shared a video from November 19 when it rained in Gaza, exacerbating the dire conditions of the displaced civilians from Northern Gaza, most of whom are living in tents.
In the face of dehydration, starvation, and now cold, she like other Gazan journalists and people in general, continues to remain determined. “Can you imagine that despite everything that has been happening for 41 days, they are still smiling!” she said.
“We are still alive to show you the truth,” said Ahmed Hijazi, another journalist who shares footage from the war-torn strip on his Instagram account.
Prior to the attacks, he used his social media platform to spotlight community initiatives and portray life in Gaza, highlighting its beauty despite the hardships.
Presently, his posts depict chaos within hospitals, revealing frightened, anguished children who have somehow survived Israel’s attacks.
His videos capture the tireless efforts of doctors confronting exhaustion while facing the grim reality of death and injuries among their own kin.
“There is nothing left in Gaza, the war has destroyed any beauty and devastated so much,” he said.
His own house was targeted in the strikes and he shared a video amidst the rubble. “Even if we face all the bad things in this country, we will still love it. I’m Ahmed Hijazi, a Palestinian from Gaza. Tonight, the Israeli occupation targeted my home,” he said.
Ever since the conflict commenced, Saleh Al-Jafarawi, who is originally a blogger and singer, began documenting the atrocities in Gaza on Instagram, which had 3.6 million followers before reportedly being taken down.
His account had been taken down earlier as well before being restored.
He became the target of propaganda and misinformation when Israel’s official account shared — and later deleted — fake news claiming Al-Jafarawi to be an actor working for Hamas.
A former member of the Israeli PM’s communication team, Hananya Naftali also shared the video on X saying, “I don’t watch Netflix because Pallywood propaganda is the actual comedy.”
Anti-Palestinian Israeli groups use the term ‘Pallywood’ — a portmanteau of Palestine and Hollywood — to accuse the residents of Gaza of fabricating scenes to portray themselves as victims.
In the video, the person in the hospital bed is not Al-Jafarawi as the pro-Israeli groups claim. The video is from August 2023, showing a young Palestinian man Mohammed Zendiq who was hospitalised after he lost his leg before the conflict even began.
The misleading video went viral and since then Al-Jafarawi has faced threats to his life. He shared one such threatening message on his social media accounts in which an image can be seen with text in Hebrew saying “eliminated” next to Al-Jafarawi’s picture. “The occupation places photographer Saleh [Al-Jafarawi] on the red list,” the message in Arabic says.
“I was surprised at this news from multiple Arabic and Hebrew channels in addition to all the death threats. It seems that I’ve hurt Israel’s feelings by spreading the truth about their crimes.
“My name is Saleh Aljafarawi, an independent journalist, and normally journalists are lucky to have international protection. I hold the international community fully responsible for any threat to my safety,” he stressed in the caption.
Much like other Gazan reporters on the ground right now, his house is now destroyed by the strikes.
In the face of digital harassment and bomb strikes in real life, he continues to document the ground realities in Gaza.
Similar to these five brave individuals, there are many who continue to highlight the dire conditions in the strip. Some of the honourable mentions include Hind Khoudary, Wael Al Dahdouh, Youmna El-Qunsol, Abor Jela and Yousef Mema.