29 January: With virtually all foreign journalists barred from entering Gaza by the Israeli authorities during the three-week long conflict that began on 27 December, the story of the unprecedented scale of the Israeli military offensive there was told mostly through the pictures and film footage taken by local Palestinian journalists.
“Pictures don’t lie; they show the reality. The world seems to find it difficult to believe what Palestinians say or write about what happens to them but perhaps they may believe it if they see it,” a local cameraman told me.
Four Palestinian journalists were killed and several others were injured during the three-week conflict. Basel Ibrahim Faraj, a cameraman for Algerian TV, was fatally wounded when he was near a building in Gaza City which Israeli forces attacked on 27 December, the first day of air bombardment, and died a week later.
Photographer Ihab al-Wahidi was killed in the late afternoon of 8 January at the apartment of his parents-in-law in the Tal al-Hawa district of Gaza City. At the burnt-out apartment, located on the seventh floor of the building known as the Burj al-Atibba’, or Doctors’ Tower, we found evidence of a double strike by a missile fired from an Israeli drone and a shell fired from a tank.
Israeli tanks were reported to have been positioned some 700-800 metres away at the time of the attack. Relatives of the photographer and other witnesses who were present at the time of the attack told us that Ihab was standing on the balcony listening to the news on his mobile phone via an earpiece while his wife and mother-in-law were sitting next to him, when a missile from an unmanned drone struck the balcony, followed by a tank shell. Ihab and his mother-in-law were killed and Ihab’s wife, Ihsan, was seriously injured.
We also visited the home of Ala’ Mortaja, a 26-year-old journalist with a local radio station, Radio ‘Alwan, who was killed in his home on the afternoon of 9 January. There, we found evidence that his apartment had sustained a direct hit from an Israeli tank shell. The shell first struck the room in which Ala’ and his mother were present, fatally wounding Ala’ and seriously injuring his mother, who lost a leg and sustained other shrapnel wounds, and then crashed through the apartment’s hallway and into the next door apartment.
Immediately before the attack on Ala’ Mortaja’s home, another shell had struck a neighbour’s home, causing extensive damage but, luckily, no injuries. There too we found material evidence that the strike had been from an Israeli tank. At the time, Israeli tanks were located more than 2km away.
At the home of journalist Samir Khalifa, we found a 155mm artillery shell which had smashed into his fourth floor apartment, striking the room next to where he and his wife and children slept. This artillery strike on his home took place at about 6am on 10 January, when Samir and his wife and children normally would have been sleeping in the apartment.
Fortunately, the previous night, they had decided to sleep downstairs with other relatives. Samir Khalifa’s apartment is situated in a very built-up and densely populated area of the Zeitoun district of Gaza City, where artillery should never be used because of the great danger it poses to civilians.
We also visited al-Shorouq tower, a tall building in downtown Gaza City which houses no fewer than 10 media outlets ñ all of them located between the 10th and 15th floors. Here we found the remains of an Israeli 120mm tank shell which struck the office of Abu Dhabi TV on the morning of 15 January, injuring two cameramen, Muhammad al-Sousi and Ayman al-Rousi.
The shell smashed through the southern wall of the building, into the bathroom, travelled through the reception area of the office and through a third wall onto the landing outside the office’s main entrance door. Muhammad and Ayman told us that they were both in their respective offices at the time of the attack; Muhammad was fixing a camera and Ayman was just about to leave his office.
Shortly before the strike, several of their colleagues had been standing in the reception area of the office, but, fortunately, they had all departed by the time that the tank shell tore through the office.
Muhammad told us:
“It was lucky that I was wearing my flak jacket, because I was going in and out of the office to the field. At least 12 pieces of shrapnel are embedded in my flak jacket; had I not been wearing it my injuries would have been much worse. The situation in those days was very difficult and my work as cameraman covering the events was dangerous because one could be hit at any time anywhere. Yet, I had felt safe in our office and was surprised by the attack. I still have nightmares about it.”