The Gaza War: protecting journalists and the media within the framework of international humanitarian law

Name: Hana Ashraf El-Hessy


More than a hundred days have passed since the war in the Palestinian Gaza Strip, in which Israel launched a military campaign that included air, missile and artillery bombardment and a lot of operations that resulted in the deaths of more than 20,000 Palestinians and the injury of about 60,000 others, according to figures from the Ministry of Health in the Strip.

What draws attention about this war, which came in response to the unprecedented Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, is that it is one of the most destructive military conflicts in the twenty-first century, according to analyzes published by several Western media outlets, after it led to the destruction of the infrastructure, civilian homes, mosques and churches, and the collapse of the health sector , and also it led to the killing of a large number of journalists and the media men in Gaza.

The war in Gaza continues to take a heavy toll on journalists since Hamas launched its unprecedented attack against Israel on the 7th of October. The number of those killed reached at least 64 journalists and media workers, according to the committee of the journalist’s protection. Despite the dangers threatening their lives and the lives of their families as a result of the Israeli raids and with the lack of the minimum necessities of life such as water, electricity and food, the journalists who remained in Gaza are trying to report news and describe what is happening around them in harsh conditions fraught with dangers and difficulties. Gaza has become the most dangerous place for the journalism profession.

So civilian journalists covering armed conflicts should be respected and protected under international humanitarian law from any type of deliberate attack. The international humanitarian law grants civilian journalists the same protection as civilians but on the condition that they don’t participate directly in hostilities, and from this point, the research question of this paper is determined as follows

“How does international humanitarian law protect journalists in case of war and armed conflicts?”

Provisions of International Humanitarian Law:

What does international humanitarian law say about the protection of journalists covering armed conflicts?

International humanitarian law stipulates that civilian journalists carrying out their missions in armed conflicts must be respected and protected from every form of intentional attack. International humanitarian law provides civilian journalists with the same protection as civilians as long as they do not participate directly in hostilities.

Article 79 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 states:

1) Journalists who carry out dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict are considered civilians

2) They must be protected in this capacity in accordance with the provisions of the Conventions and this right “the Protocol”, provided that they do not commit any act that harms their status as civilians.

The International Commission’s Study on Customary Rules of International Humanitarian Law (2005) also indicates in its Rule 34 of Chapter 10 that:

“Civilian journalists working on professional missions in areas of armed conflict must be respected and protected as long as they are not directly involved in hostilities”

International humanitarian law in all armed conflicts expressly prohibits the following acts against persons who are not taking an active part in the hostilities or are incapable of participating in them: any violence against life and persons, in particular murder in all its forms, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture, the taking of hostages, outrages on dignity, personality, especially humiliating and degrading treatment, issuing punishments and carrying out executions without previous judgment issued by a legally constituted court guaranteeing all the judicial guarantees recognized as necessary by civilized peoples.

The media:

What does international humanitarian law (IHL) say about the protection of the media covering armed conflicts?

Media professionals are classified as civilians under IHL and are entitled to protection as such in all situations of armed conflict, the media professionals lose this protection in some conditions such as:

Media must not directly participate in hostilities, and the following activities are likely to be a direct participation in hostilities and may cause a media professional to lose their protection:

– Acts of war, including taking up arms or using violence that is not self-defense.

– Engaging in a broadcast or publication that specifically incites and facilitates violence against civilians or a party to a conflict (as opposed to general propaganda in support of one side)

– Passing on tactical information

– Engaging in espionage/spying.

The following activities are unlikely to act as a direct participation in hostilities:

– Using force in self-defense and carrying small weapons for defensive use

– Reporting on and publishing news and information from or about a conflict

– Refusing to assist a party to a conflict

– Providing medical assistance, including first aid.

The status of the journalists and media men in Gaza:

During the month of October 2023, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media freedoms (MADA) monitored an unprecedented record number of extremely serious crimes and violations committed by the Israeli occupation forces against the press, Palestinian journalists, and media freedom in Palestine, most of which were concentrated in the Gaza Strip.

The occupation forces escalated their attacks and targeted journalists and media freedoms in Palestine, culminating in the killing of 87 journalists since the beginning of the aggression launched on the Gaza Strip on the 7th of October. In addition, many journalists suffered from fragments of missiles and bombs resulting from the ongoing bombing operations against civilians.

Thus, the number of journalists killed as a result of the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip in less than two months exceeded the number of deaths during World War II (1939-1945), in which tens of millions were killed.

The month of October 2023 will be remembered by the Palestinian press and journalists as the most brutal and bloody month, as the media lost 31 of its cadres, most of whom were targeted while performing their professional duty during field coverage of the barbaric Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip, which constitutes the most severe blow to the press and freedom of the media in Palestine.

The killing of these journalists at the hands of the Israeli occupation forces was accompanied by the bombing and destruction of the homes of 44 other journalists, the bombing, destruction and targeting of 21 media institutions’ headquarters, the halting of broadcasting and the prevention of the work of 3 media institutions and websites, the attacking and wounding of 22 journalists (including 7 who were injured in the Gaza Strip) and a wide series of attacks that targeted dozens of other journalists and media men in  Gaza Strip during the days of the war that started on October 7, 2023.

The international and regional attitude:

Over the last months, with the targeting of common areas of the population of the Gaza Strip, the occupying military force in the occupied Palestinian territory recorded new horrific crimes against mortals, adding to the record of its crimes and grave violations of the rules of international law and therefore international human rights, the most recent of which was the killing of three members of the family of journalist Wael Al dahdouh in the southern Gaza Strip, as determined by the occupation military force, in addition to the killing of more than seven journalists.

The National Human Rights Committee confirms that the killing of the journalists was a deliberate and systematic targeting, it aims to silence voices, intimidate witnesses of the truth and discourage them from carrying out their work that exposes the power of the occupation, and exposes the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the residents of the areas in Gaza, in addition to the world’s lack of access to the truth about the development in the Strip.

Therefore, the National Human Rights Commission issued its urgent appeal to the United Nations and its institutions, and human rights organizations, especially those working in the field of defending media professionals and their freedom, to condemn the crimes of immoral people, and called on them to coordinate work in order to hold the perpetrators accountable and hold them accountable to justice, to ensure that they do not escape punishment.

South Africa filed a lawsuit against Israel in front of the international court of justice over Israel’s alleged violations of its obligations under the genocide convention in Gaza strip. According to the lawsuit, since October 7, 2023 Israel has failed to prevent genocide and to prosecute direct and public incitement to genocide, South Africa asked the court to indicate interim measures in order to protect Palestinians journalists in Gaza from any further serious and irreparable harm.

At the end:

The National Human Rights Committee extends its condolences to the media authority in Palestine and the world, and calls on them for the lack of transfer of information to the residents of the regions, and to continue revealing the truth to the world, throughout the conflict, Palestinian journalists and human rights defenders have paid a heavy price just for carrying out their work in revealing the truth and defending human rights and freedoms, and no one has been held accountable for the crime till now.

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