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On January 17, 2024, Defending Rights & Dissent held a vigil for the slain journalists in Gaza. The vigil was co-sponsored by Freedom of the Press Foundation and attended by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO). Although it was a cold night, with the Capitol grounds covered in snow, we gathered to mourn those brave journalists who lost their lives and demand accountability for our government’s role in these murders.
Here are excerpts from the speeches:
Chip Gibbons: “Tonight, we are breaking that silence”
Our Policy Director set the tone for the night in his opening remarks. He stressed the courage of Gaza’s journalists and the importance of truthful information in times of war. Gibbons noted that Israel had mostly blocked foreign journalists from entry into Gaza. Those journalists covering the war from within Israel were subject to Israeli military censorship.
This makes Gaza’s journalists some of “the only voices on the ground able to communicate to the world what is actually taking place. Without these brave reporters we would not have the images that have shocked the conscience of the people of the world, we would not hear the stories of a besieged people living under a massive bombardment.”
Gibbons also noted that the Biden administration cynically expressed concern that a temporary pause in the killing back in November would allow outside journalists more access. Greater access meant they would see the devastation in Gaza first hand, something that could potentially undermine public support for the war. As Gibbons told the crowd, “The Biden Administration, like the Israeli government, knows that truthful, accurate reporting on what is really happening in Gaza poses a problem for their ability to continue to sell the war.”
Gibbons spoke about how more journalists had died in the Gaza war than in any other conflict in recorded history. In 103 days, over a 100 journalists had been killed, a figure representing 8% of the total journalists in Gaza. While warzone reporting is inherently dangerous, Gibbons stressed that the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters without Borders have all found evidence of the Israeli military intentionally targeting journalists.
Finally Gibbons quoted Gaza Bureau chief Wael Al-Dahdouh comments on how Palestinian journalists feel let down by the wider world. Al-Dahdouh said, “We feel that we are being killed twice: once by the bombs and once by the silence.”
Gibbons told the crowd, “tonight we are breaking that silence.”
Rep. Tlaib: “We cannot continue to just talk about the numbers. Palestinians are human beings. Behind each of these numbers was a name, was a life with a loving family and a future.”
Rep. Tlaib addressed the crowd next. She thanked the crowd for their courage and for being here to “understand our shared humanity and to honor the lives of journalists killed in Gaza since the genocidal campaign began.”
Tlaib noted that in three months, Israel has killed over 112 journalists and media workers in Gaza and detained 56 journalists across the Occupied Territories. “The Israeli government’s brutal attacks have made Gaza the deadliest place in the world for journalists and their families,” Tlaib told the crowd. She noted that “Human rights experts have determined that the Israel government’s attacks on journalists were deliberate and part of a wider pattern to silence journalists covering Israel’s war crimes.”
Quoting Palestinian poet Yousef Maher Dawas who said “we are not numbers,” Tlaib urged the crowd to remember the humanity of the Palestinian people and to remember that they are not merely statistics. Dawas was killed alongside members of his family by Israeli missile strikes on their home on October 14, 2023.
Tlaib said, “despite Netanyahu’s ongoing genocidal campaign, Palestinian journalists have continued reporting from Gaza under extremely dangerous circumstances to continue showing the world the truth about these atrocities.” She called on the international community to investigate these killings as war crimes. She ended by asking the crowd to observe a moment of silence.
Cory Bush: “After all, it’s much easier to ignore and cover up injustice if it goes untold.”
Representative Cory Bush (D-MO) joined the vigil to decry the war crimes being committed in Gaza.
“Needless, senseless, and merciless violence against Palestinians in the deadliest conflict in history for journalists. We are here today to mourn the over 100 journalists killed by the Israeli government.”
Telling the story of Wael Al-Dahdouh, Al Jazeera’s Gaza bureau chief, who has lost ten of his family members since the war began, Bush reminded the crowd, “this horrific story of an entire family being senselessly being killed is the painful reality, not just for journalists, but for so many of the Palestinians in the region.”
Bush recognized the importance of the truth, and how the attacks on journalists are preventing the truth from getting out.
“The role of the journalists, particularly in the face of conflict, is to capture the stories, the raw emotions, and the overlooked realities that often go unseen, unheard, untold. In other words, with their phones, with their pens, notepads, and cameras and recorders, they set out to uncover the truth…. Palestinian voices are being intentionally silenced by the Israeli government. And by our own government.”
“The Israeli government silencing of, and violence against journalists began long before October the 7… the silencing of their voices and stories has been a tactic to maintain control and maintain support from the west….After all, it’s much easier to ignore and cover up injustice if it goes untold.”
“Why do we yet again see a red line in our solidarity and humanity when the journalists are Palestinian?” Bush asked. “If democracy truly dies in darkness, what does that say about the collective silence about these mass atrocities?”
“So let me be as clear as I possibly can,” Bush said, challenging the US media. “If you actually believe in freedom of the press, your solidarity cannot be conditional.”
Caitlin Vogus, Deputy Director of Advocacy at the Freedom of the Press Foundation: “Protecting journalists also protects the world’s right to know about what is happening in Gaza.”
“We’re here of course tonight to mourn the journalists who have been killed in Gaza,” Vogus declared. “But we’re also here to demand that our government act to protect journalists who are bravely and heroically covering the war in Gaza.”
Specifically, Vogus called on the Biden Administration to use their influence with Israel to demand that Israel:
- allow journalists in Gaza to safely document the war
- renounce the indiscriminate and deliberate killing of journalists;
- promptly and thoroughly investigate attacks on journalists and hold perpetrators accountable; and
- allow international journalists to enter Gaza independent of the Israeli military.
Townson Cocke, Freelance Journalist: “When I watch things like last night’s Senate vote, and begin, frankly, to lose faith in humanity, I remember these people’s journalism and think to myself: If only local papers across the country were plastered with the human stories of Palestinians in Gaza.”
“I think how different things would be if Americans had great journalism about Palestine and realized ‘Wow, these people could easily be my brothers and sisters. That could be my daughter over there in Gaza,’” Cocke said. “Good reporting allows us to realize that Palestinians deserve a peaceful and dignified life, just like the rest of us.”
Townson is a freelance writer who focuses on connecting reporters in the U.S. to sources on the ground in Gaza and Palestinian community organizations in the U.S. to ensure Palestinian voices are heard.
He discussed the concerted effort to silence Palestinian journalists, like Shireen Abu Akleh, who was a prominent Palestinian journalist murdered by Israeli forces in 2022. He says what we’re witnessing now with over 100 Palestinian journalists murdered in Gaza is no different: “Gaza’s storytellers – people who give the world a sense of the rich humanity of this relentlessly demonized population – are being taken away from us.”
He emphasized the vital role journalists in the U.S. can, and must, play in order to humanize the Palestinian people and ensure their stories are communicated to a U.S. audience.