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'Everyone's a War Reporter': the Journalists Covering the Israel-Hamas Conflict

Family members mourn during the funeral of Israeli soldier Shilo Rauchberger at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, Oct. 12, 2023.
Family members mourn during the funeral of Israeli soldier Shilo Rauchberger at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, Oct. 12, 2023.

The first night following Hamas' incursion into southern Israel, news editor Amy Spiro was live blogging for The Times of Israel. It has been all hands on deck at the newspaper since then.

"At this point in time, every reporter we have is a war reporter. There's nothing else. There's no other story. There's no other news," she said. "Everyone's a war reporter."

Spiro said she feels a responsibility to report on what's happening. "Everyone's working, essentially, around the clock. It feels like it would be wrong to do anything else," she told VOA from Jerusalem.

But, less than one week since Israel declared war on the militant group Hamas for invading and killing more than 1,300 Israelis, the journalist added that the emotional toll is already weighing heavily on her.

Reporters in Israel and Gaza who are covering the conflict are grappling with an array of challenges ranging from safety threats and the emotional fallout to erratic electricity access and spotty internet connection.

"All are consistent with journalists on the ground being the most vulnerable, even though they are the most needed right now to tell the story of what's happening," said Sherif Mansour, who covers the Middle East at the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ.

The CPJ reported in May that over the past 22 years, members of the Israel Defense Forces have killed at least 20 journalists — 18 of whom were Palestinian. No one has been charged or held responsible in the deaths.

The CPJ is in the process of verifying reports of Israeli journalists killed since the invasion, Mansour said.

In response to the killings and kidnappings perpetrated by Hamas, Israel has declared war and placed the already blockaded Gaza Strip and its population of over 2 million people under siege. A nonstop barrage of bombs has led to the killings of more than 1,500 people in Gaza, according to officials in the enclave.

Among the dead in Gaza are at least seven journalists who were killed in the first five days of fighting, according to CPJ. Others have been injured or are missing. It's unclear whether they were targeted for their work.

Physical safety is the primary concern for journalists in Gaza right now, said Yousef Hammash, a Norwegian Refugee Council advocacy officer in Gaza. Hammash previously worked as a freelance journalist for outlets including the BBC and Channel 4.

"There's no safety for anyone on the ground," Hammash told VOA from Gaza. In addition to the safety risks, Hammash added that journalists are forced to constantly move around in order to find electricity and an internet connection to do their jobs.

The Palestinian press freedom group MADA has condemned the threats facing journalists in Gaza.

Since Israel placed Gaza under siege, and with no foreign journalists able to enter the territory, Hammash has turned to social media to report on what's happening on the ground.

"I need to tell the story of my own people," he said. "It's a matter of duty toward my people."

A similar sense of duty is driving reporters in Israel to cover the fallout that has gripped the region and the world's attention since the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas attacked Saturday.

Even in Jerusalem, which Spiro said is relatively secure, it feels like "there's really nowhere that's 100% safe."

"Emotionally, it's really challenging. It's a complete roller coaster," Spiro added.

"It is so hard to go about business as usual, when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and scream," said Linda Dayan, a Tel Aviv-based reporter for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "Everyone, I think, is just trying to get through the day. And we won't understand the toll that it's taking on us until a bit later."

The sense of duty felt among many reporters also means prioritizing providing accurate information to the public in the face of disinformation that has proliferated online.

"Everyone's working, essentially, around the clock. It feels like it would be wrong to do anything else."
Amy Spiro, news editor, The Times of Israel

Dayan said she asked her editors to let her do a ride along with ZAKA, an Israeli first-response group that often collects bodies from the sites of terror attacks.

"My editors were just telling me, 'Linda, no, this is going to be a long war, and we need you whole. We need you emotionally whole,'" she said. "There's the question of, do I go for the most hard-hitting story, or do I save myself?"

Israel is a small country with a population of less than 10 million people. That means "everything is felt so immediately," Spiro said.

"Nobody isn't affected by it," Dayan said. That means covering the war is particularly challenging because it's so personal, she added.

"Everything here is firsthand," Dayan said. "And whether it's biased, or whether it's the reality of the situation, we don't, unfortunately, get the privilege of being able to separate that."

For many of these reporters, covering the conflict is the best thing they can do — and it's certainly better than doing nothing, they said. Spiro, for one, is regularly at the helm of The Times of Israel's live blog on the crisis.

"On one hand, you're absorbing every single thing that happens, which is a lot," she said. "And on the other hand, you're too busy to even think about reality."