29 Feb 2024

Journalists call for foreign media access to Gaza in open letter

5:34 pm on 29 February 2024

By Yasmin Rufo and David Gritten, BBC

A Palestinian journalist uses the mobile phone to broadcast live in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip on December 27, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Power cuts have become a fact of life in war-torn Gaza. But thanks to embedded SIM cards, Palestinians can still access the internet and stay in touch with loved ones abroad. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

A Palestinian journalist broadcasts live from Rafah in southern Gaza. Photo: AFP/Said Khatib

More than 50 journalists have sent an open letter calling on Israel and Egypt to provide "free and unfettered access to Gaza for all foreign media".

The letter was signed by correspondents and presenters for broadcasters with UK bases, including the BBC's Jeremy Bowen, Lyse Doucet and Mishal Husain.

It said the need for comprehensive on-the-ground reporting was "imperative".

Israel's military said its troops had taken journalists on escorted trips in Gaza to allow them to report safely.

Palestinian journalists and media workers have reported from inside Gaza since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas in October, but dozens have been killed, injured or gone missing.

In the letter, the 55 journalists wrote that "foreign reporters are still being denied access to the territory, outside of the rare and escorted trips with the Israeli military".

The escorted trips were highly controlled and often only showed tunnels that the military said were used by Hamas or weapons stores.

Only one foreign journalist has been granted entry into Gaza through Egypt on an escorted visit. CNN's Clarissa Ward - who was among the signatories of the letter - was able to spend only a few hours on the ground in the southern border city of Rafah with an Emirati medical team in December.

The letter called on Israel's government to "openly state its permission for international journalists to operate in Gaza".

It also asked Egyptian authorities to allow foreign press access to the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza.

The letter continued: "It's vital that local journalists' safety is respected and that their efforts are bolstered by the journalism of members of the international media. The need for comprehensive on-the-ground reporting of the conflict is imperative.

"The risks of conflict reporting are well understood by our organisations who have decades of experience of reporting in warzones around the world and in previous wars in Gaza."

Al Jazeera's bureau chief in Gaza, Wael Al-Dahdouh (C) prays during the funeral of his son Hamza Wael Dahdouh, a journalist with the Al Jazeera television network, who was killed in a reported Israeli air strike in Rafah in the Gaza Strip on January 7, 2024. Dahdouh, who was himself wounded in the arm, lost his wife and two other children in Israeli bombardment in the initial weeks of the war. (Photo by Mohammed ABED / AFP)

Al Jazeera's bureau chief in Gaza, Wael Al-Dahdouh, prays during the funeral of his son Hamza Wael Dahdouh, also an Al Jazeera journalist, who was killed in a reported Israeli air strike on 7 January. Photo: AFP/Mohammed Abed

The broadcasters represented in the letter were the UK's BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky News, and the US outlets ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC.

A number of journalists who signed the letter have reported from Israel during the conflict.

In November, the BBC's international editor Jeremy Bowen travelled with Israeli forces into Gaza. While the BBC had editorial control of the report, the section with the Israeli forces was viewed by them.

When asked for comment on the letter, an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spokesperson said: "The IDF is currently conducting a war against the terror organisation Hamas.

"In order to allow journalists to report safely, the IDF accompanies them when in the battlefield."

Last month, the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Jerusalem accused Israel of imposing an unprecedented ban on independent foreign press access to Gaza, after the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected a petition from the organisation and ruled that restrictions on entry were justified on security grounds.

The FPA said defence authorities had told the court that journalists in Gaza could be put at risk in wartime and endanger soldiers by reporting on troop positions. They also argued that it was too dangerous for Israeli personnel to be present at the Israeli border to facilitate press entry to Gaza.

The court's ruling also cited defence authorities as stating that the Rafah crossing was "under the control and sovereignty" of Egypt, and that "to the best of [their] knowledge" the Egyptian government was allowing foreign journalists to enter Gaza. However, in late October a senior Egyptian official said it was the Israeli military stopping journalists from entering.

Almost 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza during the war between Israel and Hamas, the territory's Hamas-run health ministry says.

Israel's military launched an air and ground campaign after Hamas' attacks on Israel on 7 October, in which around 1200 people were killed and 253 others were taken hostage.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 94 Palestinian and two Israeli journalists and media workers have been killed since the start of the war.

This story was originally published by the BBC.

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