Forbidden Stories
Gaza Project

The destruction of press infrastructure in Gaza: A strategy to blind the public

Since October 7, the Israeli military seems to have deliberately targeted cameras filming live from the Gaza Strip. Buildings housing press organizations – crucial refuges for journalists in the Gaza Strip – have been destroyed, with the apparent objective of stifling information and preventing the reality of the ongoing war from being broadcast to the world.

(Visual : Mélody Da Fonseca)

Key findings
  • Forbidden Stories and its partners have demonstrated that the tower housing the AFP’s offices in Gaza was the target of two direct strikes on November 2, 2023 – despite assurances from the Israeli military that it had classified AFP premises as “not to be targeted.”
  • The same day, the premises of the Palestinian Media Group, a production company that broadcast live images from the Gaza Strip, were also targeted by the Israeli military. A journalist was injured in the attack.
  • The Press House, a sanctuary for Gazan journalists, was destroyed last February by the Israeli military. Its director was killed by shrapnel while trying to flee to the south of the Gaza Strip with his family.

By Léa Peruchon

June 25, 2024

Arthur Carpentier (Le Monde), Gaëlle Faure, Sarah Benhaïda, Benoît Toussaint, Jean-Marc Mojon, Marc Jourdier (AFP), Hoda Osman, Farah Jallad (ARIJ), Maria Retter, Maria Christoph, Dajana Kollig, Frederik Obermaier (Paper trail media), Christo Buschek (Der SPIEGEL/Paper trail media), Walid Batrawi (Forbidden Stories) and Manisha Ganguly (The Guardian) have contributed to this article.

It was 2 a.m. on October 10, 2023, when Adel Zaanoun, a journalist with Agence France-Presse (AFP), made a worried call to his superiors. The AFP team had just received an order from the Israeli military to evacuate its offices in the Hajji Tower at the heart of Gaza City, a sign that the building might be bombed.

Only a few hours earlier, AFP Chairman and CEO Fabrice Fries had shared the address of the building with the Israeli military spokesman in a letter, in order to avoid any possible targeting.

“Should we evacuate or remain in the building?” Zaanoun asked Marc Jourdier, AFP’s Jerusalem bureau chief, on the other end of the line. “Don’t waste a minute – evacuate,” Jourdier responded. “I’ll call the army and get back to you as soon as possible.”

In the end, the building was spared that day, but an Israeli strike a few hundred meters away killed three Palestinian journalists who had come to cover the expected attack. The Israeli military called Marc Jourdier back later that night to say that the premises were now classified as “not to be targeted.”

This is not the first time journalists have been ordered to evacuate their offices in Gaza due to the threat of Israeli bombing, Carlos Martinez de la Serna, program director at the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in an interview. “The Israeli military has a history of attacks on media structures,” he explained. In May 2021, a tower housing the Qatari media organization Al Jazeera and the American news agency The Associated Press (AP) was destroyed by three missiles, on the basis, the Israeli military claimed, of an imminent threat posed by Hamas’s presence in the building. When questioned publicly, Israel provided no evidence to support this claim.

Since October 7, 2023, the phenomenon has taken on unprecedented proportions. In response to the Hamas terrorist attack on Israeli soil, the Israeli military has relentlessly bombarded the Gaza Strip, a 365-square-kilometer territory barely larger than Malta. News coverage in the Gaza Strip has become extremely limited.

“When you look at the conflicts around the world … you would usually have the international media on the ground,” said Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. “None of them have been allowed access. Or they’re embedded within the IDF.”

Protect your stories

Are you a journalist under threat because of your reporting? Secure your information with Forbidden Stories.

Only Gazan journalists can report on what is happening in the Gaza Strip. They struggle daily to survive and find places to take refuge. In many cases, their places of work no longer exist. According to the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS), around 70 press organizations, including local radio stations, news agencies, transmission towers, and journalist training institutes, have been partially or completely destroyed since the start of the war.

Forbidden Stories has carried out this investigation in collaboration with AFP, Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, Le Monde, Paper Trail Media and other international media outlets as part of the Gaza Project. Supported by the analyses of experts in ballistics and audio, it illustrates one of the many strategies used by the Israeli military to stifle information in Gaza: the destruction of press infrastructure.

A broadcast goes dark

On October 13, 2023, the Israeli military ordered one million people to evacuate the north of the Gaza Strip. Three days after having fled their offices in the middle of the night following the army’s phone call, AFP’s employees abandoned the Hajji Tower, located in the upscale neighborhood of Rimal in the northwest of Gaza. The team of eight reporters, photographers, video journalists, and other staff members are Gazans who have worked for years with AFP, one of the few international agencies to have offices in the Gaza Strip.

“Inside Gaza, there isn’t foreign media,” Shuruq As’ad, a PJS spokesperson, told the consortium. “[International press agencies] work with locals.”

Inside the AFP offices located in the Hajji tower, Gaza City, 2015 (Credit: AFP)

Before leaving, AFP left a camera filming from a tripod on the 10th floor of the building. Now hooked up to solar panels, the camera was initially connected to a generator, which was occasionally refueled by an AFP employee. The aim was to broadcast images from Gaza 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Although occasionally interrupted by technical problems, the broadcast was one of the last sources of live images of the Gaza Strip. As such, it was monitored constantly by global media. 

On November 2 at 12:09 p.m. local time, as the camera was capturing the hum of aircraft and the plumes of smoke emanating from buildings in the north of Gaza, the video shook suddenly and smoke blocked the lens. A strike only a few meters away had just been recorded live — footage that would be seen around the world.

Twitter post by Agence France-Presse, the day after the strike, 3 November 2023 (Credit: AFP)

“The location of this office is known to all and [the Israeli government] has been reminded of it multiple times over the past few days, precisely to prevent such an attack and to allow us to continue providing images on the ground,” Fries, the AFP CEO, was quick to say on X (formerly Twitter). 

The coordinates of the building had been passed on to the Israeli military on several occasions, as have those of multiple other media offices, hospitals, and humanitarian sites in the Gaza Strip. AFP had been assured by the Israeli military at the start of the conflict that the building was classified as “not to be targeted.” Questioned by AFP at the time, the Israeli military denied any strike on the Hajji Tower. “It appears there was an IDF strike near the building to eliminate an immediate threat,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

The building was significantly damaged. Exclusive images shot by AFP, a partner in the Gaza Project, illustrate the scale of the destruction. Throughout the agency’s dust-covered premises, shards of glass litter the floor. In a room where computer servers balance precariously on a shelf, a gaping hole in a wall reveals a glimpse of the southeastern Gaza Strip.

The Hajji Tower the day after the strike, showing (1) a gaping hole on the 11th floor and (2) the camera facing north, on the 10th floor, positioned underneath the hole (right hand side)

AFP server room located on the 11th floor of the Hajji Tower partially destroyed by a strike carried out on November 2, 2023 (Credit: AFP)

When contacted as part of this investigation, the Israeli military spokesman reiterated that “The offices of the AFP agency were not the target of the attack, and damage to them could have been caused by the shock wave or shrapnel.

While the Israeli military denies having bombed the tower, several strikes hit the building, some only a few meters from the camera. This is what an analysis of the live images recovered by the consortium reveals.

Support us so that we can continue investigating

We need your help to expose what the enemies of the press try to keep quiet.

Are live feeds targeted?

Forbidden Stories and its partners discovered that on November 2, 2023, there were at least two direct hits on the building housing the AFP offices between 11:55 a.m. and 12:09 p.m. local time

The live footage of both strikes shows the lightning-quick flash of a shot on the horizon and an explosion nearly four seconds later.

Zoom in on the flash visible on the skyline, 4 seconds before impact (Credit Le Monde / AFP)

Thanks to the open-source investigative work of our partners Le Monde and Paper Trail Media, supported by Earshot, an organization specializing in the production of audio investigations in defense of human rights, we were able to pinpoint the origin of the shots: A deserted area approximately three kilometers away, with a clean line of fire to the tower. Further analysis of the speed and features of ammunition concludes that it was most likely a tank that fired them.

Adrian Wilkinson, a forensic explosives engineer who regularly works for the United Nations, says “it is almost certain that the AFP office was shot at by an Israeli tank.” He rules out the possibility of accidental hits. At least five other experts, including independent weapons and conflicts researcher War Noir and former US Army explosive ordnance disposal technician Trevor Ball, agree.

Estimated position of the tank 3 km away from the camera on November 2, 2023, geolocated by our partner Le Monde and corroborated by Earshot’s analysis (Credit: Earshot)

Analysis of two satellite images from October 31 and November 3 shared by Planet Labs confirms the presence of tank tracks in the area at that time. Another satellite image dated the same day exists. It belongs to Maxar Technologies, a company also specializing in satellite imagery, but it did not wish to share precise information enabling us to locate the Israeli tanks. Maxar declined to comment at the time of the publication.

But the analysis of the live footage led to another discovery. A few minutes before the two strikes on the AFP offices, another explosion took place at a neighboring building: the Al-Ghifari Tower, which also houses cameras. 

On the 16th floor of this tower, one of the tallest in the Gaza Strip, are the offices of the Palestinian Media Group (PMG). Notably, this media production company supplies outlets with an unobstructed view of Gaza through the footage recorded by its cameras. Just before 10 a.m. on November 2, 2023, several cameras positioned at the office’s north, south, east, and west windows were sending live images to several international news services, including Reuters and Al Arabiya, when an explosion sounded.

That morning, Ismail Abu Hatab was preparing his coffee and finishing a download of yesterday’s footage. A freelance journalist, he had slept in the offices of the PMG and was ready for a new day of work. “I grabbed the camera, and then I didn’t see anything. I couldn’t hear anything. All I remember is a yellow line of light,” Hatab said in an interview with the consortium.

Another journalist filmed the scene: thick smoke flooded the offices, through which a camera tripod, still standing in the distance, is vaguely visible. Hatab was wounded in the leg and quickly transported to the Al-Shifa Hospital, which was still operational at the time. He did not return to the PMG offices.

Video shot by journalist Abed Shanaa after the strike on the premises of the Palestinian Media Group, November 2, 2023 (Credit: Abed Shanaa)

Asked about the possible motives behind the strike on the 16th floor of the tower, the very heart of the PMG, CEO Hassan Madhoun explained in an interview with the consortium that Israeli tanks had arrived in the north of Gaza on October 31, 2023. According to Madhoun, the Israeli military wanted to begin its operations and prevent the dissemination of any images showing the crimes and destruction it committed. 

“So, they targeted us,” said Madhoun. “We broadcast the image as it is. We don’t comment on it, we report it as it is. But the image seems to bother the Israeli military.

When contacted about this potential strike, the Israeli military spokesperson replied that they were not aware of a strike in the location and date provided. 

Though not formal proof of a deliberate strategy on the part of the Israeli military, this series of strikes, occurring at the exact location of PMG’s cameras and just meters away from the AFP camera in the Hajji Tower, provides a number of clues. An administrator for the Hajji Tower asked AFP to stop its live stream for a while, for fear of further strikes. With no one able to return to the offices to restart the broadcast, it shut down for good on November 12 at 10:31 a.m., ending any live transmission of images from Gaza.

Photo montage showing the possible positions of the tanks that fired on Hajji (dotted line) and Al-Ghifari (solid line)(Credit: Ain Media / Le Monde)

“We really need Israel to come back and explain what their policy is around live feeds in different locations,” Phil Chetwynd, AFP’s chief of information, said in an interview with the consortium. “And if in any way they are seen as legitimate targets, because there’s enough circumstantial evidence to make us suspect that is how they are working.

“Where there is strong potential for a war crime being committed, obviously, the live stream becomes critical evidence,” Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, added.

The Israeli government’s tactics do not just impede strictly journalistic activities in the Gaza Strip. On May 21, the authorities seized equipment belonging to an Israel-based team from AP on the pretext that the journalists had violated a new media law by providing live images to Al Jazeera. Shortly before the equipment was seized, the journalists had simply been filming and broadcasting a general view of northern Gaza from Sderot, a city in Israel less than a kilometer from the Strip

“By intentionally destroying media outlets, the IDF are not only inflicting unacceptable material damage on news operations,” Reporters Without Borders said on its website, back in 2021 when the tower housing Al Jazeera and the AP was destroyed. “They are also, more broadly, obstructing media coverage of a conflict that directly affects the civilian population.” 

The destruction of the offices of AFP and PMG represent a significant loss for journalists who were hoping to return one day. The AFP offices were “a place where really [staff] were able to go without fear,” Chetwynd said. Describing the team’s feelings, he added, “if they are able to hit our place, our office. Our place of safety, we have no other place of safety in the whole of the Gaza Strip.” The psychological effect on their team is enormous. Yahya Hassouna, a journalist with AFP since 2009, described the Hajji Tower in an interview with the consortium as “the place where all my dreams were – my future, my life, my office.” Considered by many of them a second home, this base of operations provided journalists in Gaza with crucial logistical support. 

A refuge for journalists

The Press House, located a stone’s throw away from a telecommunications tower in Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood, was once a sanctuary for journalists. An obligatory stopover, it was a place to meet up with colleagues, as well as find food, a network, and protective vests. For Shuruq As’ad of the PJS, “it was really one of the safest places for journalists” in Gaza before the latest Israeli offensive began. 

After Hamas consolidated power in 2007, following election victory which led to fratricidal clashes with Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, journalists in Gaza were seen solely in terms of their political allegiance. It was difficult to obtain accreditations or even cover a press conference for anyone who didn’t belong to one faction or the other. That’s how the Press House was born in 2013

Ibrahim Barzak, former correspondent for the AP in Gaza and member of the organization’s board, recounted the genesis of the project. “There was no place or structure for independent journalists, people who are not affiliated at all,” he said.

Bilal Jadallah is the man who had the idea for this refuge from political pressures. “Jadallah made a huge breakthrough” in creating this place, said his friend and Editor-in-Chief of Sawa News, an independent media outlet housed at the institution, Hikmat Yousef. “That’s why journalists love him. They call him the sheikh of journalists. He’s the spiritual father of journalists because he never failed anyone in his entire journalistic career.

From the start, Jadallah wanted to make the Press House an independent place where anyone could meet. He was allegedly killed by shrapnel on November 19, 2023, as he was trying to rejoin his family in the south of the Gaza Strip by car.

Jadallah and the Press House were known beyond Gaza. Pictures of German, French, and Danish diplomats published on the Press House’s social media accounts testify to the institution’s international recognition. According to its website, the Press House’s donors and partners include Canada, UNESCO, and the EU, as well as Norway – which formally recognized the Palestinian state on May 28 – and Switzerland.

“We finance activities linked to capacity building for young journalists who have just graduated from higher education establishments in Gaza … And fund the procurement of protective equipment for journalists,” said Ruben André Johansen, who oversees the grant awarded by Norway.

“The Norwegians and the Swiss gave our coordinates to the army” to avoid any targeting, said Rami Abu Jamous, acting director of the Press House. But it was to no avail.

Let’s keep in touch!

“It was like a hive”

On October 9, 2023, panic was palpable among Gazan journalists. That day, dozens of them took refuge at the Press House to equip themselves with protective gear and gather at the shelter. “Jadallah decided to turn the Press House into a workstation for journalists,” said Barzak. “They could come and use the generator and have free internet access, of course.” 

In total, around 80 flak jackets stamped with the Press House logo and the word “press” were distributed. “It was like a hive,” said Yousef.

Busy meeting room in the Press House, October 9, 2024 (Credit: Press House – Palestine / Facebook)

A few hours later, a strike destroyed the neighboring building housing Paltel, one of Gaza’s main internet providers. The Press House was also hit, and the internet connection was permanently cut off. Journalists there lost contact with the outside world.

Four days later, on October 13, 2023, the Press House journalists – like those at AFP a few streets over – evacuated on the orders of the Israeli military. They migrated in a forced march towards the south of the Gaza Strip, following the same movement as the displaced populations coming from the north.

Since then, this “hive” of journalists has become a temple of silence. Along with Jadallah, two other employees of the Press House, Ahmed Fatima and Mohammed Al Jaja, were killed. Out of 80 journalists who received flak jackets from the Press House, 11 have lost their lives; according to Hatem Rawagh, a Press House photographer who is also in charge of emergency operations, Fatima and Al Jaja are among those 11.

We were able to track down the last person to have slept in the Press House offices. Mohammed Salem, former financial manager for the institution, promised Jadallah that he would take care of the place if he was killed. He took refuge there with his family for several months and described the anguish of that period in multiple interviews with the consortium. On January 29, 2024, he discovered that Israeli troops were a mere 100 meters from the Press House. 

“A tank stood in the street at 5 a.m., with the gun barrel pointed toward the Press House, right at us,” he said. “The three days I was trapped [there] I saw death.” In the morning of the fourth day, on February 1, Salem took advantage of a brief moment of calm and managed to leave the offices in extremis with his family, unsure of what would become of the Press House.

After 11 days of occupation, the Israeli military withdrew from the area. Salem returned to the Press House by bicycle on February 10. Computers, desks, and radio equipment had all been destroyed. According to him, the building had been intentionally ravaged by the use of explosives. “None of the buildings around the Press House were damaged,” he said. “If there had been an air strike, everything would have been obliterated.” We were unable to independently confirm this analysis.

The Press House in ruins on February 10, 2024, after the departure of the israeli army (Credit: Mohammed Salem / provided by ARIJ)

By targeting all press facilities and equipment, the Israeli military not only cuts off any source of images and information in Gaza, but also compromises the logistics journalists need to carry out their mission.

“The Press House was my pen, my tongue, my eyes, my ears … I am now an amputee,” said Ahmed Qannan, one of the organization’s founders, who is today unemployed. 

Before the war broke out, an exhibition on the beauty of Gaza City – its roads, parks, gardens, and coastline as seen through the eyes of Gazan photographers – was inaugurated in the Press House garden. Nine months later, these photos are buried under rubble.

See also