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“No Safe Place in Gaza”: Al Jazeera Reporter on Israeli Strike That Killed Gaza Bureau Chief’s Family

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Image Credit: Ashraf Amra/Anadolu via Getty Images

We speak with Al Jazeera correspondent Youmna ElSayed in Gaza, where an Israeli airstrike killed the family of the news outlet’s Gaza bureau chief Wael Dahdouh on Wednesday. The Qatar-based news network is one of the few international outlets with reporters in Gaza. The Israeli strike on the Nuseirat refugee camp killed at least 25 in total, and Dahdouh had fled to the refugee camp with his family after Israel ordered residents of northern Gaza to vacate their homes. He learned of the deaths of his wife, son, daughter and grandson while reporting live on the air. “When we say there’s no safe place in Gaza, we’re not lying,” says ElSayed, who criticizes Israel for its history of targeting media. The killings on Wednesday came after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly urged Qatari leaders to pressure Al Jazeera to tone down its coverage of the war. Palestinian authorities say the death toll from Israel’s 20-day bombardment of the Gaza Strip has topped 7,000, including over 2,900 children.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today’s show in Gaza, where Palestinian authorities say the death toll from Israel’s 20-day bombardment has topped 7,000, including over 2,900 children. On Wednesday, an Israeli strike killed the wife, son, daughter and grandson of one of the most prominent journalists in Gaza, Wael Dahdouh, Al Jazeera’s Arabic Gaza bureau chief, who’s been described as the “voice of Gaza.” The Israeli strike on the Nuseirat refugee camp killed at least 25 people in total. Dahdouh’s family had fled to the refugee camp in central Gaza after Israel ordered residents of northern Gaza to vacate their homes. Al Jazeera condemned the Israeli attack, describing it as a, quote, “indiscriminate assault.”

Dahdouh learned that his family members had been killed while live on air. The network aired dramatic footage of Wael at the hospital’s morgue, where the bodies of his dead wife, son and daughter had been taken. He was still wearing his press flak jacket. Moments later, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, Marwan Bishara, spoke on air to condemn Israel’s killing of civilians.

MARWAN BISHARA: This is much more than an incident. This is a crime, a deliberate crime. The Israelis are targeting civilians. The Israeli president said there are no innocents in Gaza. Well, here it is, Mr. Herzog, the president of Israel. Tell me if these children are not innocent, when you say there are no innocents in Gaza, everyone supports Hamas. I want you to tell me, you who describe this in your responsibility. This genocide has been called by Israeli president and Israeli prime minister, enabled by the leaders of Western democracies.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst Marwan Bishara speaking after Israeli airstrike killed the family of his colleague, Wael Dahdouh. Wael also spoke to Al Jazeera Arabic from inside the hospital.

WAEL DAHDOUH: [translated] There is no safe place in Gaza at all, and no one is safe. No one is safe from the aggression and the treachery of the occupation. That’s why we have left. We have delegated our faith to Allah Almighty, and we will continue this path that we have chosen at the end. This is a profession of troubles, whatever you want to call it. And Allah the Almighty, I hope that Allah the Almighty would bestow patience upon us.

REPORTER: [translated] During the coverage that you did over the past few days depicting Gaza being targeted, you stayed here steadfast. Do you think that your coverage has angered the army of the occupation so that they could target your family?

WAEL DAHDOUH: [translated] Unfortunately, everything is possible these days. All red lines have been crossed by the occupation army. And this is very probable. However, here we want to say for the record that when we carry out our duties to the fullest, with high professionalism, in the middle of bodies and the injured and in the middle of destruction, we have a professionality that there would need eons for them to meet that professionalism. So we work. Everything that takes place on the ground, our camera would capture, without any fabrication and without even exaggerating. We are not exaggerating. What’s happening is truly big, and the coverage has to be big, as well.

REPORTER: [translated] Finally, if you would, although that’s reality now, would you pursue legal action to prosecute the occupation for murdering your family?

WAEL DAHDOUH: [translated] Let’s see what happens after the surgeries that some of my family members are undergoing and after we bury our dead, and then we will talk about this matter.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Wael Dahdouh, Al Jazeera Arabic’s Gaza bureau chief, speaking through a translator just after an Israeli airstrike killed his wife, son, daughter and grandson. The killing came on the same day that Axios reported U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken had recently urged the prime minister of Qatar to tone down Al Jazeera’s coverage of Israeli’s bombardment of Gaza.

We go now to Gaza City, where we’re joined by one of Wael Dahdouh’s colleagues, Youmna ElSayed, a correspondent for Al Jazeera in the Gaza Strip.

Youmna, welcome to Democracy Now! Please accept our condolences on the deaths of the family members of your colleague. Could you explain what you know about what happened and where exactly his family was killed?

YOUMNA ELSAYED: First of all, Wael, like many of us, like thousands of Palestinians who got the order to evacuate from the north and from Gaza City to the south, heeded that order and moved his family to the south, to Nuseirat refugee camp. And when I say “refugee camp,” it means I’m talking about a very densely populated area with homes very much adjacent to one another, a place that just hosts thousands of homes and civilians, unarmed civilians. This is where Wael kept his family, in another home or a family home there. They were hosted, the entire family — his wife, his kids, his nephews, nieces — everyone.

He stayed in Gaza City to report from Gaza City, where most of our crews had headed to the south to report from Khan Younis in the south. But as you’ve seen, as the whole world has seen, the bombardments were relentless every single day in the south. When I say “the south,” I mean Khan Younis and Rafah, for people who don’t know. I mean Nuseirat. I mean al-Bureij. All these days since the evacuation order, not one day, not one hour these places were not targeted. Homes were targeted. Hospitals were targeted. In these same areas that people were asked to evacuate, hundreds of families who had evacuated from the north and from Gaza City were killed in those bombings.

When we say there is no safe place in Gaza, we’re not lying. We’re not being biased. We’re not exaggerating. The north, Gaza City, and the south, they’re all just the same in terms of bombardment, in terms of targeting, and in all the life conditions. It doesn’t mean that they’re asking people to go to the south because there is a better life condition in the south, there is water in the south, or, for example, there is electricity, or there is drinking water that you can buy, or you can find bread easily. I just want to ask one question: Why did they ask us to go to the south?

AMY GOODMAN: Youmna, earlier this week, the Israeli government approved, quote, “emergency regulations” that would close broadcasters thought to be acting against the, quote, “security of the state.” Is Al Jazeera the only network broadcasting live from Gaza? I mean, CNN has a reporter there. He files tape reports as he, too, with his children, is fleeing the bombardment. But in terms of the live, stand-up reporting, is Al Jazeera alone?

YOUMNA ELSAYED: Yes, it’s Al Jazeera alone. And I want to ask: How does Israel or the United States describe Al Jazeera to be biased? Because they say this. They say that Al Jazeera is biased. They say that Al Jazeera should lower its tone on its coverage on Gaza. Why are we getting these orders? Is Al Jazeera showing something that is not happening? Is Al Jazeera filming a targeting or a bombing or those thousands that are being brought to the hospitals or hundreds that are being kept under the rubble or civil defense crews that dig with their hands and with no resources? Is this not a reality? Is Al Jazeera saying that there is no water and there is no electricity in Gaza, and there is? Is it saying that there are no networks in the mobile phones, and there are? Why are we — why are we getting these orders?

We’re getting these orders because we are broadcasting what we really see. We are neutral. We’re not showing one part against the other. Didn’t you hear Al Jazeera say that there were rockets launched from Gaza? Every time there are rockets launched from Gaza, don’t our correspondents in Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera English say that there are dozens of rockets launched from Gaza? They hit places in Israeli towns. Sirens were heard. Injuries in Israeli towns were conducted. Don’t we report that? We’re not biased if we only report what is happening on the Israeli side, but we’re biased when we report what is happening on the Palestinian side. Is this what we have learned in journalism schools around the world? Is this how we’re supposed to be neutral and objective? Is this the image that we should give our audience, who trust us?

AMY GOODMAN: Youmna, in 2021, Israel leveled a 12-story building in Gaza housing the offices of Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other media outlets. Israel justified the bombing by claiming Hamas had been using the building, but offered no proof. Israel gave media workers inside advance warning of the attack, telling them they had just one hour to evacuate, refused to delay the airstrike when journalists begged for more time to recover personal items, cameras and other equipment. The head of Al Jazeera called the attack a blatant violation of human rights and war crime. Associated Press said it had no evidence of Hamas operating in the building. Last year, Israeli forces killed, shot dead a Palestinian American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, as she was covering the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. Can you talk about what the calls are for the U.S. government, which provides so much of the funding of the Israeli military, to make demands now? They’ve been pushed into calling possibly for a pause; they’re not calling for a ceasefire. But this issue of journalists and civilians dying in such large numbers? At this point, I think the number is 24 journalists — three Israelis, 20 Palestinians and one Lebanese, a cameraman from Reuters.

YOUMNA ELSAYED: In 2021, I had an interview on your show. It was on the phone. Maybe that’s why you don’t remember me. And I told you clearly that this was a targeting against journalism and against media. All media offices in the Gaza Strip in the 2021 were completely destroyed. All buildings hosting any media office, including Al Jazeera’s and the AP’s, were leveled to the ground. I myself, I survived a car accident, or, let’s say — I don’t even want to say a car accident. It’s not, because it was a targeting of another jihad, Islamic Jihad, wanted or something in a car. And he wasn’t, by the way. They just assumed that he was. And I survived that targeting, miraculously. I almost died in that attack.

The United States claims to be a democratic state. It claims to respect all rights. It claims to be a civilized nation. What is the correct description of these words for the United States? What did the United States do when Shireen Abu Akleh was killed? And she is a Palestinian American. Did they stand up for her? What did they do when our bureau and AP’s bureau were bombed, when the AP is an American agency? And there was no proof of any Israeli claims until this day. We’re in 2023. The United States, it’s clear to the whole world, to you Americans, before any other nation, supports the benefits of Israel, despite all realities, despite all proofs and despite any claim of democracy, of democracy or rights. The United States only supports what Israel says. Even if the entire world sees that this is not the truth, it will continue standing next to it. And I can’t respect a nation saying, or a government — I’m not going to talk about the American people, because I know that not all governments represent their people. But how can I respect a government that sees all these violations and claims to be a supporter of human rights and democracy, and stands still, not doing anything?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Youmna, I’d like to go to a clip of you live on the air on October 7th at the moment when Israel bombed a tower behind you in Gaza City.

AL JAZEERA NEWSCASTER: All right, Youmna, please take cover. If you are in a position to do so safely, you can explain to us what were happening. If you are not in a position to do so safely —

YOUMNA ELSAYED: Yes.

AL JAZEERA NEWSCASTER: — then please get to safety.

YOUMNA ELSAYED: No, it’s OK. This is a missile attack on Palestine Tower right in the middle of Gaza City.

AL JAZEERA NEWSCASTER: Youmna, take a moment to breathe. Take a moment, you and your team. Take a moment to breathe. OK?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Youmna, that was on October 7th, the day, of course, that Hamas carried out its attack. So, if you could describe the scene? What was the scene then in Gaza?

YOUMNA ELSAYED: Can you believe that that missile that you saw in front of you was just a warning missile? This is how the people of Gaza get warned before they are completely bombarded. That strong and powerful bombardment that you saw in front of you was just a warning missile. I was standing normally. I didn’t even feel that it was danger where we are. We’re on the rooftop of our bureau. It’s perfectly a safe place. We take safety precautions first, because we don’t want to risk our lives. We don’t want to put our lives in danger. But can we — no matter how much precautions we take, can we push that danger and risk away? Was Wael able to protect his family? Am I able to protect my family? Is anyone in Gaza able to protect their families? We’re not. We’re under constant fire. We’re under constant bombardment.

AMY GOODMAN: Youmna, we thank you so much for being with us. And yes, we do remember you, from 2021 on the phone or when we can see you. Your reporting has been unforgettable. Youmna ElSayed is a correspondent for Al Jazeera, speaking to us from Gaza. Please be safe and again. And again, the condolences of our newsroom to your whole Al Jazeera family. Your last comment?

YOUMNA ELSAYED: Yes, I just want to say one thing. I want to say this, and I want the world to remember my words. In my culture, in my language, we say, ”Kama tadinu tudan, walaw ba’ada heen.” In your culture, in your language, they say, “What goes around comes around.” And when it comes around, like this whole world is watching the genocides happening in the Gaza Strip, we shall be watching, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Youmna ElSayed, thank you so much for joining us.

Coming up, we go to Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, where we’ll be joined by the longtime Palestinian diplomat and scholar Hanan Ashrawi. Stay with us.

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