Hossam Shabat From Northern Gaza: Resistance in the Time of Genocide

2024-03-26    |   

Hossam Shabat From Northern Gaza: Resistance in the Time of Genocide

“I say to the world that the northern Gaza Strip is suffering from disease and hunger, and I now fear walking all the time as I cover the events lest I collapse from hunger in the street. I say to the world, I am continuing. I am covering the events with an empty stomach, steadfast and persevering. I am Hossam Shabat, from the resilient northern Gaza Strip.”

With these words, Hossam Shabat, one of the last journalists holding out in northern Gaza, summarizes his experience. Today, he is facing the deadly starvation that Israel is using as its latest weapon to destroy Gaza’s community.

Hossam, 22, found himself at the center of the genocide and decided to defy it. On the International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian Journalists, it was our duty to give the floor to the very people and cause this day is dedicated to. The Legal Agenda interviewed Hossam so that he could share his experience and talk about the suffering of his colleagues distributed across the northern areas, whom he estimates number 19.

Hossam conveys the voice of the north – which Israel is trying to portray as deserted while its people face famine due to the blockade, killing, and destruction – by providing continuous coverage through both Al Jazeera and his social media pages. We see him documenting the stories of children who starved to death. We see him reporting on a woman who lost all her sons in the bombing of their family home, only for her daughter-in-law to deliver a grandson a week later; she cries over her children in front of her tent and then tends to her grandson, who is named Muhammad after his father. In Hossam’s stories, we see the people of northern Gaza in the throes of suffering; he documents the state of their children amidst the cold and hunger, talks about the displaced persons’ flooded tents, shows one of his meals consisting of a few barley patties, and mourns colleagues before rushing to document the bombing of houses and the recovery of victims’ bodies live on Al Jazeera.

Hossam continues, even though he has been directly threatened by the Israeli army, which bombed his home, bulldozed the restaurant that was his family’s source of income, destroyed his dream of establishing a media and marketing company, and killed 30 members of his family. He continues even though he is being starved, has been rendered homeless, and is alone away from his family who fled to Rafah.

Hossam faced and defied the Israeli threats and intimidating phone calls ordering him to delete his posts and shut his camera lens. The occupation pursued him to the hospital in which he sheltered after surviving the attack on the market in Beit Hanoun, where he had been covering events. The young journalist’s mother opposed his decision to continue reporting and implored him to accompany her to the south, but he insisted on not leaving northern Gaza and sent his family to the south without him.

The mother, along with the rest of her family, walked a dangerous path of displacement from the north to the south, witnessing the horror of the destruction,brutality, and criminality of the occupation. When her fears came true and the family fell under attack and bombardment, she sent a message to Hossam saying, “Don’t leave your camera, my son, even if your head is severed from your body. Continue documenting all the occupation’s crimes”.

Journalists in Gaza continue to be targeted as part of the larger genocidal war, with 132 – or 10% – having already been killed according to the Government Media Office in Gaza. Many others have been rendered homeless and now live in the hospitals, tents, and accommodation centers. Some have been arrested, tortured, and gone missing. Dozens have been wounded in Israeli attacks, with some losing limbs. Their houses have been bombed, all their institutions have been destroyed, and their families have been targeted. Israel has deliberately targeted journalists’ children as a means of pressuring and intimidating them into silence. Its killing machine has left 500 children without their journalist parents. Thus, Israel is committing genocide with one hand while turning out the lights with the other.


The Legal Agenda (LA): How does Hossam Shabat introduce himself? What can the young journalist tell us about his pre-war aspirations and his goals for the future?


Hossam Shabat: I am journalist Hossam Basil Shabat, a resident of Gaza City. I was displaced in north Gaza more than 140 days ago and am still living displaced in the accommodation centers. Before the war, my goal was to build a media and marketing company and achieve financial stability. I was also passionate about the hospitality sector and depended on an alternate source of livelihood, namely a restaurant that the occupation has now bulldozed.


I have faced many dangers since the beginning of this brutal aggression on our people. My journey of displacement began from the city of Beit Hanoun, which I left for Zayed City, which I then left for al-Maaskar. I am still in al-Maaskar, but danger remains imminent everywhere as we move about to cover the events. Danger is all around us.


LA: Why didn’t you leave northern Gaza and flee to Rafah?


Shabat: Since the first hours, I haven’t left the northern Gaza Strip despite the danger always looming. The dangers started in Beit Hanoun, when the city’s market was bombed moments after I left the target area. The market was completely destroyed. We escaped from this death to Beit Hanoun Hospital. There, an Israeli intelligence officer called me to tell me to leave Beit Hanoun immediately. I refused to go, but the occupation army did not leave me alone. They were following my Facebook page. They called me again and told me to delete all my posts.


I was the only journalist in Beit Hanoun, but the occupation army put me under great threat and told me that my house would be bombed. I wasn’t interested and told them that I wouldn’t leave the city. Then they told me that the hospital must be evacuated and the doctors made to leave. I only moved from Beit Hanoun when the bombs fell on us. The city’s hospital was bombed – it is now totally destroyed – and then my house was bombed.


I refused to leave the northern Gaza Strip even though I faced dozens of dangerous situations. I refused because I know how important and serious journalistic work is. I refused to leave the north of the strip because I believe in the importance of the mission I bear, namely to convey the truth and document the occupation’s crimes. I was defiant in the face of this army fighting us for being journalists, bombing us everywhere while my colleagues and I working in northern Gaza report, film, and talk about the crimes it commits. I have and still am putting myself at risk and offering up my life in exchange for footage and to convey the truth. I did not leave the northern Gaza Strip, and I will not leave, despite all the pressure I have been under. As I said, the mission is important, and only image and audio can expose the truth.


LA: What is your personal experience, as a journalist, facing the starvation in northern Gaza?


Shabat: I haven’t eaten anything for two days. Over two days, I’ve drunk only lemon juice. Sometimes, hours pass without obtaining a loaf of bread or anything to assuage this hunger. I wake up in the morning, and my main concern is to find, document, and report the occupation’s crimes. This affects my ability to secure food. In northern Gaza today, you can either document the occupation’s crimes or obtain food, but not both at once. Filming and reporting takes a lot of time out of my day. Journeying to find food, to find flour, is a toil in and of itself, and if you do find ingredients to cook something, then finding firewood is another toil. All that could take all day, and I cannot sacrifice the time I spend reporting to search for food.


LA: How has Israel’s genocidal war, including the targeting of journalists, impacted the will of the media in Gaza? Have some ceased delivering [Gaza’s] voice because of these threats?


Shabat: We have not surrendered or stopped. Rather, the threats we receive from this army ordering us to stop covering, reporting, and publishing the truth, as well as the pain, the bombs continuously falling on us, and the danger looming around us, only strengthens our resolve and determination to continue down this path. Every threat we as journalists receive and every time we are directly targeted infuses us with great confidence that this path – the path of the media – is the most powerful thing we can offer to the Palestinian cause. For the sake of documenting the occupation’s crimes and conveying the voice of the people through the media, we put ourselves, our homes, our property, and our family at risk.


LA: Are journalists’ families pressuring them to stop out of fear of losing them?


Shabat: Certainly, there has been family pressure on us as journalists because of fear that we will be killed. My mother insisted that I stay with her the whole time, and because of my young age (barely 22), she was very firm about me fleeing with her to the south of the strip. But she agreed to go without me after I insisted on not leaving northern Gaza.


Nevertheless, after my family came under Israeli bombardment during the journey to the south, my mother sent me a message telling me not to leave this field, even if my head was chopped off, and to document all the occupation’s crimes. She was expecting a day when the family would be targeted because of Hossam, who defies this army and continues his journalistic work.


LA: What do you say about the killing of journalists in Gaza and journalists’ loss of their colleagues and families?


Shabat: The voice will not be silenced via the killing of these heroes, whom the occupation’s army has killed while they were trying, resisting, and contending with it. This army understands no rights and flouts the international laws that guarantee journalists’ right to work. The occupation army suffocates and persecutes anyone who works in this field, not only killing journalists and their families but also pursuing all media companies and channels. Examples include Wael Dahdouh, a great icon who sacrificed to make this voice heard and prevent it from being silenced in the Gaza Strip, and our colleague Anas al-Sharif, whose father was targeted in his home after the occupation army threatened him and his family. There are many journalists whose families have been killed and whose homes have been bombed, including me. The occupation bombed my home and bulldozed the restaurant where I was working as a manager. They destroyed everything and persecuted all my fellow journalists.


LA: Are you following the legal efforts to prosecute Israel internationally for crimes of genocide and for war crimes that target journalists? Do you think these legal pathways have potential?


Shabat: Israel has not respected the law, and we are witnessing the world unable to force the transient Israeli state to abide by it. For decades, Israel has been targeting journalists, including Shireen Abu Akleh and dozens of my fellow journalists in Gaza and Lebanon. Even the resolutions that have been issued against Israel, it does not comply with.


LA: What about the media institutions that remain silent and those that are complicit with the genocidal war on Gaza?


Shabat: Those who have not respected the profession and not presented anything for Palestine, those who have not dedicated even a small amount of time from their day or coverage to support our cause (the cause of Palestine), to write about it, or to condemn this enemy of whose criminality we need no more evidence – those journalists have no excuse for standing idly by, not using their pens, not writing about this criminality, and not raising their voice against this enemy and supporting and standing up for the people of Palestine.


LA: After 145 days of coverage, is there a message that Hossam would like to send to the world?


Shabat: I say that I am today in the northern Gaza Strip, and I don’t know whether this message will be my last. I am Hossam Shabat, from the northern Gaza Strip, and I report to you our suffering every day. But after these days, after much toiling through which I delivered my voice to the world in the hope that a change would occur, now everything has become difficult. I could not have imagined all this suffering, with me being a part of it. I say to the world that the northern Gaza Strip is suffering from disease and hunger, and I now fear walking all the time as I cover the events lest I collapse from hunger in the street. I say to the world, I am continuing. I am covering the events with an empty stomach, steadfast and perseverant. I am Hossam Shabat, from the resilient northern Gaza Strip.


This article is an edited translation from Arabic.

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