The Israel-Hamas War is Taking an Unprecedented and Deadly Toll on Journalists

On Oct. 13, a team of journalists was gathered on the border between Israel and southern Lebanon to provide live signal to the Reuters news agency. They were reporting on a crossfire between Israeli troops and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah when an Israeli shell landed nearby, killing a videographer and wounding six others. “So many journalists are paying with their lives to bring truth to everybody,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres lamented while expressing condolences to the family members of victims.

The tragedy is now one of many examples of the unprecedented toll that the Israel-Hamas War has taken on journalists since it first began on Oct. 7. As of Nov. 2, international organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) estimate that at least 35 journalists and media workers, most of whom are local to Gaza, have died so far.

According to the CPJ, the first few weeks of this war have been the deadliest period for journalists covering conflict since 1992, when the group first began tracking. "The deadliest period refers to the most deaths to take place in a certain number of days," a spokesperson for CPJ explained in an email. "In this case the 26 days since the war started on October 7, 2023."

“We cannot ignore the level of deaths of journalists in Gaza,” Christophe Deloire, RSF’s secretary-general, tells TIME. “These figures are worse than those killed during the Russia-Ukraine war and show that what’s happening is incredibly shocking.”

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Journalists covering the conflict from Gaza City are working under especially dangerous conditions amid the launch of Israeli airstrikes and a ground invasion, as well as power outages and communication disruptions. “It has become impossible for journalists to work in Gaza under the current media blackout,” Deloire adds.

Additionally, they face risks like attacks, arrests, censorship, and the killing of their family members. In one instance, Wael Al-Dahdouh, a news reporter for the Qatar-owned television network Al Jazeera, was broadcasting live images of the besieged territory on Oct. 28 when he received news that his wife, teenage son, and daughter had been killed in an Israeli airstrike. Moments later, live footage showed Dahdouh entering Al-Aqsa Hospital to find his son’s body in the hospital’s morgue.

Al Jazeera journalist Wael Al-Dahdouh attends the funeral of his wife, son and daughter on October 26, 2023. Their home was hit in the Nuseirat camp in the centre of Gaza, where they had sought refuge after being displaced by the initial bombardment in their neighborhood, following Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's call for all civilians to move south.<span class="copyright">Ashraf Amra—Anadolu/Getty Images</span>

On Wednesday, RSF called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the deaths of eight Palestinian journalists it says were killed in Israel’s bombardment of civilian areas in the Gaza Strip, along with an Israeli journalist killed during Hamas’ surprise attack in southern Israel. The complaint also refers to “the deliberate, total or partial, destruction of the premises of more than 50 media outlets in Gaza” since the war began. “The gravity and the frequency of the killing of journalists is so intense that we are calling on the ICC to investigate these deaths,” Deloire says.

RSF’s latest complaint is the third filed by the organization since 2018 which alleges that war crimes have been committed against Palestinian journalists in Gaza. Under international humanitarian law and the ICC’s Rome Statute, even if journalists are victims of legitimate military targets, the attack would constitute a war crime because it nevertheless caused “manifestly excessive and disproportionate harm to civilians,” according to the complaint.

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What’s more, RSF’s preliminary conclusions from an ongoing investigation into the Oct. 13 incident have found that the journalists were not collateral victims of the shootings but rather targets, based on video evidence and witness testimonies. “One of their vehicles, marked ‘press’, was targeted, and it was also clear that the group stationed next to it was journalists,” it stated. In response to the incident, an IDF spokesman called the death “tragic” and something they are “very sorry for,” but did not admit the involvement of an Israeli strike.

Israel—which isn’t one of the 123 member states subject to the ICC’s treaty—says that the court has no jurisdiction in the conflict. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF)also  told Reuters and Agence France-Presse that it cannot guarantee the safety of their journalists operating in the Gaza Strip. “The IDF is targeting all Hamas military activity throughout Gaza," it stated in a letter, adding that "under these circumstances…we strongly urge you to take all necessary measures for their safety."

CPJ continues to appeal to warring parties to not target journalists, emphasizing that they are civilians “doing important work during times of crisis,” according to a statement from Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.

Deloire from RSF adds that while journalists have always played a vital role in wars and conflicts, their work is especially important during the Israel-Hamas war, when mis- and disinformation is “incredibly high” and can be shared and amplified more easily.

“We need people who can speak to both sides and just report what they see as honestly as possible,” he says. “A war without journalists is just a war of propaganda.”

Write to Astha Rajvanshi at