For days, Tareq Hajjaj has been asking anyone able or willing to listen to help keep his stories alive so that he and his family are kept alive.
Hajjaj, 30, is the Gaza Strip correspondent for Mondoweiss, a news and opinion website that covers the Palestinian territories, Israel and U.S. policy in both places. He is married, has a 10-month-old son and a large extended family. He helps care for his 79-year-old mother, whose diabetes has led to blindness. Hajjaj has has been working as a news writer and translator since 2015.
Since the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7, more than 13,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and West Bank, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry − and at least 48 of them have been journalists and media workers like Hajjaj, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. (The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, an industry group, says at least 53 Palestinian journalists have been killed.) Many more have been injured. Some have seen their entire families killed.
Once a robustly covered area of the Palestinian territories, international news organizations began slowly whittling down their operations in Gaza in 2007 after Hamas’ takeover, pulling reporters and closing bureaus. In addition to the deadly pressure they face from Israel’s forces, according to Freedom House, a Washington think tank, Palestinian journalists in Gaza face repression from Hamas. Israel has allowed some media to briefly embed with its military in Gaza in recent days, but it tightly controls what these journalists see and can report.
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Amid disrupted phone and Internet connections, Hajjaj has been reporting in apocalyptic conditions while also trying to take care of his family. He has written about what it’s like to see buildings collapse, about young mothers and friends who were killed while sheltering in their homes from Israeli airstrikes, and about the feeling of helplessness when there is nowhere left to run to. He has recorded videos on his phone that mix reporting and accounts of his interrupted home life.
“Last night my mom woke up in a complete panic,” begins one such video, published on Instagram on Nov. 1, as Hajjaj relates how a house next to his was getting bombed. Amid the resulting chaos, his mother asks: “Did we die?” He replies: “Not yet, mom, not yet.”
Hajjaj is currently in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza. He and his family evacuated there from Gaza City on Oct. 12, joining the ranks of the 1.5 million people internally displaced in Gaza. Over the course of several days, EuroJournal communicated with Hajjaj through brief audio notes and messages sent via WhatsApp, one of the only ways to keep in touch with people in Gaza. What follows are some of these messages, condensed and edited for clarity, that Hajjaj was able to send in-between reporting and trying to stay alive.
Hi Kim. Thank you for reaching out. I do have some trouble with my Internet connection. I rarely get online. Sometimes I need a couple of hours to upload one (voice note) recording. Anyway, I can help you with whatever I can. You can send me your questions − one by one, please − and I will answer as soon as I have a good (connection).
(KH: Hajjaj doesn’t pick up any of my messages for the next 24 hours. His WhatsApp notifications mark them as not received. He eventually writes to say he needed to swap phones and get a different SIM card.)
I am in the European Hospital (in eastern Khan Yunis). It’s a dangerous place to come and go back home safely (Hajjaj, his wife Timaa and their son, Qais, are staying at his father-in-law’s house in Khan Younis). But I take that risk because of all my (extended) family (3 brothers, their wives, 13 children) evacuated to this hospital after my eldest brother was bombed while staying at his home (in Gaza City). He got critical injuries . … All his family members got serious wounds. But they are still alive.
The situation on the ground is tough and hard. We are seeing things and scenes we are not familiar with. People are struggling all day. From the morning to the evening just to get bread for their families. At the bakeries, thousands of people are lining up. They spend all day to get their food. And sometimes many of them go back home without any.
I used to go out to report in the field wearing my press uniform (protective vest and helmet). But after the targeting of journalists in Gaza I have stopped doing that and now I go out without any signs that indicate or reflect I’m a journalist. I’m hiding from the Israeli drones and air force because I believe whenever they have the chance they will bomb me as well.
(KH: Israel denies it deliberately targets journalists, and civilians more broadly. But when they see their friends and colleagues being killed on a daily basis, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank say they don’t believe them. Before the recent bout of Israel-Hamas fighting, in May, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a report that found that Israeli military fire led to the deaths of 18 Palestinian journalists over the last 22 years. The report, titled “Deadly Pattern,” concluded that “probes into journalist killings at the hands of the IDF follow a routine sequence. Israeli officials discount evidence and witness claims, often appearing to clear soldiers for the killings while inquiries are still in progress. The IDF’s procedure for examining military killings of civilians such as journalists is a black box.”)
Everything on the ground is really hard. Way beyond imaginable. … Getting water is like an impossible mission.
I have a family I need to look after. And I have a duty and job I need to do. I am really distracted between both of them. I (feel like I) can’t leave my home every day to go out and report. And I also can’t stay at home.
(KH: For the first time, Hajjaj sends a lengthy text message.)
Today, I could manage to see my nieces and nephews after a month of our displacement. They all take shelter in the European Hospital. When they first see me, all of them and I hurry to hug each other. I hugged them all, one by one, and kissed all of them. I missed them so much. I missed the days we all were living in our building (in Gaza City) − that was destroyed by Israel − and every morning they come to my apartment in the ground floor asking me for sweets and candy. I always bring them everything they wish.
Today, their faces look different. They are not the same kids anymore after a month of daily bombardment and killing around them, they look to me that they grew a hundred years older. They are not asking for candy, their stories that they tell are not about toys or sweets, they talk about death, people under rubbles, continuous bombing, horror, their peers who got killed, and they ask about the ceasefire.
Yes, they grow old. Older than their ages, their childhood was smashed by the Israeli horror.
Im really sorry kids, Im sorry that I can’t help you this time. They even were not that happy by the large bag of sweets that I brought for them. They asked me with their innocent faces, why don’t you bring Qais − my son − with you? They always play with him all day. I lied to them saying that I will bring him next time. But the fact is that I can’t take him anywhere now until the war ends.
Inside our home (Hajjaj’s father-in-law’s house in Khan Younis), the situation is not that good. We are sleeping on the ground next to each other. We mostly spend the night listening to the radio, the only tool we have to hear the news. … We all gather round to it, desperate to hear anything about a cease-fire.
Kim … I’m sorry I can’t give you long answers and details. I am always distracted and it’s not possible for me to think clearly.
This is our last day of good meals. We are running out of cooking gas. We’ve run out of flour for bread. Starting from tomorrow we’re going to join the (bakery) lines for (he expects) six or seven hours to get bread. We’re eating mostly from tin cans. No one asks what it is. We just eat. We’re thankful we still have something. Thousands of families don’t have anything.
I really miss the bad conditions and life we had (in Gaza, a reference to Israel’s blockade, in place since Hamas took control of the enclave in 2007) before Oct. 7. I miss everything. I miss my mornings. I miss my child’s smiles. I miss my home (in Gaza City) that I will never return to because it was completely destroyed. I miss the views over olive trees. … I simply miss normal days, normal life.
After Oct. 7 we all in Gaza have been (accused of being) Hamas supporters. In fact, I am not. And I will never be.
(KH: Another text message, written in reply to a question about a journalist for a television channel named Palestine TV who broke down live on air as he heard the news that his colleague, Mohammed Abu Hatab, had been killed in an Israeli airstrike. “We can’t take it anymore, we’re exhausted. … We’re gonna get killed, it’s just a matter of when. There’s no protection, no impunity. … Nothing protects us. Nothing protects journalists. We lose lives, one by one,” the Palestine TV journalist said live on air.)
I was terrified. I heard the news and asked: Why? Did they start to target journalists inside their homes with their families? I tried to look at the background of Mohammed. He was a normal journalist.
(KH: Hajjaj has enough connectivity to write on X, formerly Twitter.)
Another friend and colleague Mohammed Al-Jajja was killed with his complete family in Gaza. Israel bombed their home leaving no survivors.
(KH: He then follows this up with a Facebook post, where he also posts a photo of his friend including his press ID and protective vest.)
Mohammed and I shared high school on the same bench. He was great English speaker and writer. He always helps all of his classmates. He works as a journalist in Gaza. Last night Israel killed him alongside his complete family, his wife, his lovely kids, and over 10 people in one airstrike. We are sorry Mohammed, we are all guilty.
Learn more about Tareq’s story with this video: