A Journalist’s Cry from Gaza: “Please Have Mercy on Us”

Every time an ambulance arrives at Shuhada Al-Aqsa Hospital, the only medical facility in the central part of the Gaza Strip, freelance reporter Wafaa Abu Hajajj holds her breath for a few moments.

Could one of her beloved ones be inside this time?

When she finds that it’s not unloading a family member or someone close to her heart, she sighs with relief. A short-lived relief.

“The sight of dead children is horrifying. Even the stones weep over them,” she says.

Since the carnage in Gaza began, Abu Hajajj has been reporting from this hospital about deaths and injuries or the mass destruction and killings the ambulance drivers tell her about.

The 40-year-old, along with five colleagues, occupies a small makeshift tent located on hospital premises. They also share three donated mattresses and blankets.

“Thank God our other female colleagues go home every day to sleep; otherwise, it would be impossible to take a rest,” she tells OCCRP. “Every night, before we go to sleep, we pray for our family and loved ones to see the sun rise in the morning.”

Credit: Mohamed Al Hajjar Wafaa Abu Hjajj

She uses her friend’s laptop to send her reports when the internet comes up. Her laptop and iPhone were smashed when the family home was hit in north Gaza, forcing them to flee.

“We need some help in replacing the cameras, laptops, and smartphones that were destroyed,” she appeals.

Hundreds of women and children, whose homes were destroyed, are now living at the hospital, sharing three toilets. “You have to queue for 20-30 minutes, if not more, to use one,” Abu Hajajj says. She showers whenever she visits her sister’s house in the Maghazi camp, where her family has taken refuge.

Abu Hajajj has lost eight kilos since the war erupted, eating one meal a day if she is lucky. Food prices have doubled, if not tripled, because of the shortages. Unable to maintain normal hygiene, many women are trying to obtain pills that delay periods.

The estimated 1,450 journalists reporting from Gaza are mainly Palestinians, as the only way foreign reporters can get in is with Israeli troops. Many of them have been displaced along with their families after their homes were destroyed.

Like all the other 2.3 million residents navigating life in the confined and besieged Mediterranean strip, the reporters are struggling to find fresh water, food, a place to sleep, a toilet, electricity points to charge their laptops and phones, and even the most basic form of transport.

Credit: Mohammad Abu Shahma A reporter sleeping in a makeshift tent he is sharing with 14 colleagues.

They are covering the intensifying war even though most of them lack safety vests, power banks, or SIM cards. NGOs say Israel is banning the entry of all safety gear into Gaza.

By December 11, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had confirmed the deaths of 63 journalists and media workers since the militant Palestinian group Hamas launched its unprecedented attack on Israel on Oct. 7, prompting full retaliation.

The organization says that October has been the deadliest ever for media workers since it began keeping records in 1992.

Among the fatalities were 56 Palestinians, four Israelis, and three Lebanese who were killed on their country’s southern border with Israel. But the figure could be higher.

Journalists are often told by their editors not to become part of the story they are covering. But the Palestinian reporters in Gaza have no choice, and if death is their fate, there’s only one desire: for it to be swift, instantaneous.

“I expect to die every second,” says Mohammad Abu Shahma, who freelances for Qatar’s Al-Jazeera TV. He is speaking from a small makeshift tent he had set up near the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

In the first eight weeks of the war, he moved his wife, five children, and aging mother four times after his house was bombed to the ground by airstrikes. It is impossible, he says, to find any safe place in the densely-populated enclave. His wife and daughter have just recovered from injuries they sustained.

“It is my kids who worry me the most. What will happen to them?” he wonders. “Will they die? Will they become refugees? What will their fate be?”

Credit: Mohammad Abu Shahma Freelance reporter Mohammad Abu Shahma is reporting from a mass funeral, where his own niece is being laid to rest.

Abu Shahma, a peacetime investigative reporter, says he has had no time to mourn the death of his sister and her family, his niece, and paternal cousins who have been killed in the conflict. Now he is fighting to survive but often wonders if the risk of reporting this war is worth it.

“There is no food to buy. If we don’t die from a rocket we will die from hunger,” he says. “People have started slaughtering donkeys and soon they will be eating cats.”

Over 18,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 45,000 injured since the war erupted.

With nearly 85% of the Gaza Strip’s population displaced and unable to access any aid, the U.N. says society there is “on the verge of full-blown collapse,” and its ability to protect people is “reducing fast.”

“I expect public order to completely break down soon, and a worse situation could unfold, including increased epidemic diseases and increased pressure for mass displacement to Egypt,” U.N. Secretary-general Antonio Guterres said over the weekend.

His appeals have so far not changed anything.

“Please find a way to send me some canned food,” a journalist colleague asked this reporter on the phone. “We’ve had nothing to eat in three days,” he said of his seven-member family, sobbing aloud.

“We’re giving up on life… Ya Allah (O God), please have mercy on us.”

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