“What we have realized in this situation is that evidently the pen is not mightier than the sword,” said South African broadcast journalist, Aldrin Sampear at a night vigil held in Johannesburg.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) confirmed that at least 83 journalists and media workers have been killed, 16 injured and 25 arrested in Gaza in the last three months. However, the government media office in Gaza estimates that the total number exceeds 100.
The CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator, Sherif Mansour said: “The Israeli army has killed more journalists in 10 weeks than any other army or entity has in any single year.” He added that with each journalist’s death, understanding and documenting the conflict becomes increasingly challenging.
Standing in solidarity
South African journalists and media practitioners organized vigils across some of the country’s prominent cities, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and Makhanda. Proceedings started off with a coordinated national moment of silence on the evening of January 28, 2024.
In Johannesburg, the gathering at Mary Fitzgerald Square, saw journalists in all black attire, gather in front of a stage dressed in the placards and printouts which had the images and names of some of those killed in Gaza.
Voice recordings of journalists Samer Zaneen, Youmna El Sayed, Maram Humaid, and Nizar Sadawi were played out loud to a sombre but attentive crowd. They each shared some of the hardships they have encountered during the suspected genocide and thanked the group gathered for their ongoing solidarity.
Using the false reportage of ‘40 beheaded babies’ in Israel as an analogy, Sampear said by simply repeating these and other falsehoods, journalists have become an “unreliable source”. Sampear moderated a brief panel discussion with journalist and political editor, Qaanitah Hunter, photojournalist, Gulshan Khan and student journalist, Palesa Matlala.
“There is an expectation that you should leave a portion of yourself at the door before you even start [reporting] on issues. Thus we [journalists], especially during the ICJ proceedings were accused of not telling the Israeli story,” said Sampear.
Hunter cited the experiences of South African journalists and writers, Percy Qoboza, Ferial Haffajee and Glenda Daniels who had to report under the apartheid regime. “They reported about the apartheid they lived in, and we cannot tell Palestinian journalists to leave their victimhood at the door before they pick up the mic, because they too, are hungry and displaced,” said Hunter.
Khan rejected the idea of objectivity altogether calling it a “myth”, while Matlala noted that while biases are difficult to avoid the core principles of journalism are always present in her journalism.
Attendee, Quntha Ndimande later told Wits Vuvuzela that her presence at the vigil goes beyond supporting journalists; she attended because of her concern for truth and freedom. “This [vigil] serves as a reminder of how lucky we are to have the platform and opportunity to express ourselves and I believe that these values [truth and freedom] are something all South Africans should actively fight for,” said Ndimande.
FEATURED IMAGE: An image of placards and printouts of the names of reporters killed in Gaza. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov
What is your background?
I grew up in a camp in the Old City in Jerusalem. We were evacuated for no reason, one year before the 1967 war. I worked for B’Tselem [The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories] from the start of the first intifada [uprising], but I resigned because I was more interested in monitoring the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) violations of their own peoples’ rights.
What kind of work did you do there?
We released reports, six times a year that looked at the violations and atrocities committed by the PA, under the Yasser Arafat regime.
Did you feel this was more important to focus on than what the Israeli Defence Force was doing?
Yes, because it is more painful to commit these atrocities against their own people. For me, it became about defending Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. For them, the PA became another kind of occupation, and because of their corruption, these people have been left hopeless.
What is the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
There is no solution right now. The major problem right now is the lack of leadership on both sides. They will both have to wait for the coming generation. The right-wing Israeli government and the old faction of leaders on the Palestinian side.
Is Israel an apartheid state?
No, it isn’t. South African apartheid has never existed in Israel. Palestinians can study and receive medical care, which are the two most important rights.
What do you think about IAW?
It adds more hate to existing hate. South Africa has a propagandist notion towards the conflict. The money that is thrown at IAW should be used for South Africans who need it in the fight against poverty. BDS (Boycott, Divestement and Sanctions) is a prelude to genocide and the destruction of the Palestinian people. They have no idea what’s going on, they’re just adding more fuel to the flame.
Habib was attacked for sharing a photo that he said was from Gaza, when it was actually from Syria, earlier this year. Photo: Twitter
Unverified photos and information often don’t get very far on social media platforms as networks of people around the world are quick to react to and correct any improper use.
This is exactly what Wits vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib realised this past Sunday as one of his tweets, containing an incorrectly attributed photograph, attracted close to 60 responses in less than an hour.
Habib used a picture from the Syrian conflict that was taken in February this year and incorrectly atrributed it to the current conflict in Gaza.
The photo that shows the legs of a corpse sticking out from underneath rubble had been mistakenly used on social media several times in the last few weeks.
“The consequences of Obama’s defense of Israel’s war in Gaza. How could we have allowed him to talk at Madiba’s funeral,” Habib tweeted.
Following the reponses to Habib’s tweet, he apologised and later tweeted, “the photo was copied from an earlier tweet.”
But he remained resolute in his point, tweeting that he “could find another photo to demonstrate this but what would be the point.”
“Let’s deal with the substance -children are dying,” Habib tweeted.
The incident happened at a time when the circulation of false information, and in particular, photos, is occurring more frequently via social media platforms.
But coupled with the ease of sharing information, is the ability to share unverified information which can be damaging.
In the case of Malaysia Airlines flights 17 and 370, a story about a Dutch cyclist who was booked to go on both flights (but at the last minute changed his mind) was widely circulated a week ago.
However, it was soon discovered that there was no proof that 29-year-old Maarten de Jonge ever bought a ticket.
In these instances, fiction becomes fact very quickly as information is taken out of context or passed off as the truth. The impact and consequences of sharing fale information can be dangerous, especially because information can reach more people, in a shorter amount of time.