Saturday, May 15, 2021

Practicing journalism while Israeli missiles rain down: Msdar News editor-in-chief recounts bombing of media office in Gaza

 May 15, 2021. Greece.


On Saturday, the Israeli military bombed the Jalaa tower in Gaza, a high-rise that houses the offices of  The Associated Press, Al Jazeera and a number of other offices and apartments. 

Reporters and staff were given an hour to evacuate the building, after the Israeli military notified the building’s owner of the imminent strike. 

The strike brought into sharp focus the stakes of practicing journalism in Gaza. 

A few days ago, Mada Masr sat down with Salem al-Rayyis, the editor-in-chief of Msdar News in Gaza. When we began the interview, we intended to ask for his analysis of the current Israeli aggression and Palestinian mobilization. Instead, the conversation moved to what the past week has looked like for journalism in Gaza: no safe places to temporarily sit down, write or edit a news piece, let alone take a breath. 

This was most evident when the building Rayyis and five other journalists were working out of was bombed by the Israeli military. The six journalists were lying down on the floor to take a nap when they were awoken by a missile that struck a part of their building. As they were trying to ascertain whether the missile was targeting their tower or one nearby, a flurry of missiles rained down around the tower. 

A cloud of smoke and debris covered everything, and for half an hour the journalists were in a state of panic, unable to see or understand what was happening. They called their colleagues and urged them to call the Red Cross for help. “We just wanted someone to know where we were so that if the tower collapsed on top of our heads, someone would come to find our bodies,” Rayyis says. 

The bombing stopped and the six journalists fled the office. As soon as they went out on the street, they realized that the missiles were now coming down on the street. The street had been destroyed beyond recognition, Rayyis says, as if a violent earthquake had ravaged the neighborhood. A Red Cross van pulled up to the scene and took them to Shifaa Medical Complex, the largest medical establishment in Gaza. When they arrived, his colleagues started having panic attacks so extreme that they needed to take tranquilizers. Later, his colleagues were sent back home and he left to do more coverage. 

Rayyis and his colleagues could no longer work in their office as Israeli forces had bombed the internet and telephone lines in the area. So they went to the office of a sister news website. They soon rushed to cover the bombing of the Shorouk tower, which houses many media and news offices, some of which are affiliated with Hamas. The jets followed the usual tactic, which is to partially bomb the tower as a warning that the building will be wiped out entirely in a few minutes. This indeed happened, with the tower collapsing onto neighboring houses and shops. This time, however, no lives were lost. 

Rayyis believes that, in its recent escalation, the occupying power decided to destroy Gaza’s infrastructure and urban features to psychologically and materially terrorize its citizens and punish them for firing rockets into Israel. 

Over the last few days, Israel has targeted many of the towers that were built over the last 25 years following the Gaza-Jericho Agreement in 1994, which brought the Palestinian Liberation Organization back to Gaza. Gradually, those towers had become part of the main urban features of Gaza. The Israeli jets also bombed the city’s main commercial center to the ground and destroyed the Islamic University of Gaza (which is close to the UNRWA building) as well as a significant number of main streets (with their underground infrastructure). 

After an airstrike is the hardest for journalists, says Rayyis, who describes the moments when families and onlookers do not know whether those inside the building have survived. After each strike, Rayyis says, individuals become frenzied and are not placated until they know that their family has survived.