On October 13th, Issam Abdallah, a video journalist with Reuters, was filming in southern Lebanon from on a hill overlooking the border with Israel. Tensions between Hezbollah fighters and the Israeli military had been rising, and several crews of journalists were stationed nearby. Abdallah was shooting footage of an Israeli outpost when the group was hit by incoming Israeli shelling. Six other journalists were injured, including the Agence France-Presse photographer Christina Assi, and Abdallah died from the blast.
Last week, Human Rights Watch reported that the Israeli strike on Abdallah and the others appeared to be deliberate, based on images from the scene, as well as interviews with witnesses. Reuters also released an investigation of the attack finding that an Israeli tank fired twice on the group of journalists and demanding answers about what occurred. (H.R.W., and a third report, from Amnesty International, called for the killing to be investigated as a war crime.) Israel denies targeting journalists, but said it was investigating the incident. In total, more than sixty journalists have been killed in the conflict since October 7th.
To understand why this war has been so dangerous for members of the press, I spoke by phone with Jodie Ginsberg, the president of the Committee to Protect Journalists, an American nonprofit that advocates for press freedom. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed why the conditions in Gaza have been deadly for media workers, how Israel has addressed the killing of journalists by its military before October 7th, and whether the Biden Administration is taking concerns about the deaths of journalists in war zones seriously.
What can we say about what has happened to journalists in this conflict?
The Israel-Gaza war has been the deadliest conflict for journalists that C.P.J. has ever recorded, in terms of documenting attacks on the press. That’s because it’s the highest number of journalists killed in a conflict in such a short period of time.
How long have you been documenting these things?
More than thirty years.
It’s now been slightly more than two months. What can we say definitively about how many journalists have been killed?
As of December 8th, at least sixty-three journalists and media workers have been confirmed killed. Fifty-six are Palestinians, four are Israeli, and three are Lebanese.
Four Israeli journalists were killed in the October 7th attacks by Hamas. The vast majority have been killed in Gaza by Israeli strikes, and three Lebanese journalists were killed reporting in Lebanon, on the Lebanese-Israeli border.
Do you have some sense of why this war has been so deadly for journalists? Obviously, it seems like the way Israel’s been going about the war has led to massive civilian casualties.
In part, it’s the nature of this conflict, which has been so deadly for civilians in general—and journalists, of course, are civilians. Gaza is a very small strip of land, in which it’s been extremely difficult for civilians to find places of safety. On top of that, journalists are trying to report on that war, which makes it particularly unsafe. It’s not like what you might think of as a traditional war where there are clear lines drawn, and you might be on one side or the other. The conflict is everywhere, and journalists have been trying to cover that conflict everywhere, but that means it’s almost impossible to know where you can do that safely.
We’ve had journalists reporting at hospitals, and hospitals have been targeted—and journalists reporting on convoys of people trying to get to places of safety, and those corridors have been targeted. We’re also looking to establish whether in any of these cases or in which of these cases journalists might have been deliberately targeted.