A recent conference of Arab investigative journalists was set to discuss several topics, but it was the Israeli aggression in Gaza that attracted participants’ attention more than any other issue.
Topics on the agenda addressed the challenges facing journalists while covering wars and conflicts, in addition to sessions on investigative reporting, its relationship with artificial intelligence, monitoring gender in the media, and other issues.
Since Gaza has been under a fierce Israeli assault since the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7, the devastating toll of war was the main topic in sessions where humanitarian concerns and professional concerns of journalists were intermingled. These included a session on “Investigating War Crimes”, presented by Manisha Ganguly, an investigative correspondent for the Guardian newspaper, in the United Kingdom.
“This year’s edition comes under exceptional circumstances, with Israel killing dozens of journalists in Gaza and in southern Lebanon, and the importance of raising your voice to demand accountability for the killers and an end to impunity.”Rawan Damen, director general of ARIJ—Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism
Ganguly explained the skills and tools investigative journalists can use to unveil war crimes during armed conflicts. She also delved into the challenges, methods and legal frameworks facing such investigations.
In Gaza, 77 journalists and media professionals have been killed since October 7, according to reports.
In the face of such horrific statistics, speakers on a panel called “Rethinking Safety of Journalists” discussed the increasing risks that journalists face in Palestine and other conflict zones in the Arab region, and all over the world.
The session explored strategies and digital tools to enhance journalists’ safety, and efforts to protect journalists at work. Speakers at this session were Jodie Ginsberg, president of the Committee to Protect Journalists; Aela Callan, co-founder of Head Set Immersive; and Amel Al-Ariqi, assistance team manager at the Rory Peck Trust.
‘Gaza: Human Shields’ Documentary
Just as journalists use cameras to attempt to document Israeli war crimes in Gaza, they also use film to counter Israel’s claims that Hamas uses Palestinian civilians in the Strip as “human shields”. The ARIJ forum included a screening of one such effort, a documentary film by Palestinian director Ashraf Mashharawi titled “Gaza: Human Shields”.
The film presents testimonies from Palestinians who say they were forced at gunpoint by Israeli soldiers to walk into potentially dangerous buildings. This film was produced following a published United Nations investigation into war crimes committed during a previous Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2014.
“This film refutes the claims that Israel presented to the world to justify its killing of thousands of Palestinian civilians under the pretext that Hamas was using them as human shields,” Mashharawi told Al-Fanar Media. “This investigation has proven, with information, evidence, and witnesses, that the Israeli army is the one that used defenseless civilians, including children, women, and the elderly, as human shields for its crimes.”
About people’s reactions to this film, he added: “After the screening, I got questions from dozens of journalists about the shocking facts the film presented, which helped the audience accurately understand the reality of what is currently happening in Gaza.”
Western Media Coverage
In another panel discussion, called “Is the Western Coverage Alienating the Global South over Gaza 2023?”, speakers examined the media dynamics surrounding what is happening in Gaza. Panellists compared Western media presentations to the views of the Global South, raising questions about bias, representation, and cross-border trust and cooperation.
Speakers at the session were Zahera Harb, an ARIJ board member; Yasmine Dabbous, an artist, researcher, and former journalist; Michael Irving Jensen, regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Media Support (IMS) Foundation; and Wafa Abdel Rahman, founder and director of Filastiniyat and editor-in-chief of NAWA, a Palestinian feminist online news platform.
‘A Cry and a Challenge’
ARIJ—Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, founded in 2005, holds annual forums to bring together journalists from across the region to discuss their experiences and to hear from experts on issues confronting the news media. The war in Gaza’s direct impact on this year’s conference could not be missed.
“This year’s edition comes under exceptional circumstances, with Israel killing dozens of journalists in Gaza and in southern Lebanon, and the importance of raising your voice to demand accountability for the killers and an end to impunity,” Rawan Damen, ARIJ’s director general, told Al-Fanar Media. She stressed the importance of investigative journalism into war crimes, noting that “holding such a forum in this circumstance is a cry and a challenge at the same time.”
“This film refutes the claims that Israel presented to the world to justify its killing of thousands of Palestinian civilians under the pretext that Hamas was of using them as human shields.”Palestinian director Ashraf Mashharawi, whose “Gaza: Human Shields” was shown at the forum
Ibrahim Helal, an investigative journalist and data analyst, commented on the mood at the conference. “Unlike previous years, the opening was not celebratory at all,” he said. “The editorial tone came from the heart of Gaza, especially the moving and tearful speech given by the filmmaker and journalist Ashraf Mashharawi. He explained what journalists are exposed to in Gaza, and the difficult and bloody conditions where they work under the occupation’s bombing.”
A large number of journalists attending wore the Palestinian keffiyeh throughout the conference, signifying their solidarity with the Palestinian cause.
On the sidelines of the forum, an exhibition on the safety of journalists showed pictures of dozens of journalists who have been killed during the past two since Israel launched its war on Gaza, in an attempt to commemorate their memory.
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