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How Israel Bombed Al Jazeera Journalists & Blocked Rescue of Cameraman Samer Abudaqa Until He Died

Written by on 18/01/2024


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

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, I wanted to ask you about this latest piece you did for The Intercept that’s headlined “Israel Bombed an Al Jazeera Cameraman — and Blocked Evacuation Efforts as He Bled to Death.” Give us the tick-tock, the chronology on what happened on that horrific day, when he and Wael al-Dahdouh, who is the Gaza bureau chief for Al Jazeera, went to the school that was bombed. Tell us exactly what happened.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right, Amy. And when we talk about the killing of Palestinian journalists in Gaza, this was an incident on December 15th where much of the world watched as hours ticked by as Samer Abudaqa was wounded and prevented from getting medical care by Israel and eventually died. And so, that timeline of what happened, I think, is extremely important.

But, basically, Wael al-Dahdouh, who is Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Gaza, went with Samer Abudaqa, who’s a 20-year veteran journalist, a cameraman — they went to this school in Khan Younis which had been bombed earlier in the day, and they were accompanied by a team of Civil Defense workers. That team had received — had requested and received approval by the Israeli military through the Red Cross to be in the area. They got there around noon. They spent about two-and-a-half hours in the area. This is according to Wael al-Dahdouh. And as they were wrapping up their coverage, there were these — he said there were hardly anyone in the area. There were drones buzzing overhead. They were just about to leave and go back to the ambulance that had brought them there, when a strike hit them, at about 2:30 p.m.

Wael al-Dahdouh was thrown to the ground. He said when he got up and kind of regained awareness, he realized he was bleeding quite profusely from his arm and that he would bleed to death if he didn’t get medical attention. He looked over and saw the three Civil Defense workers who were accompanying them had been killed instantly. And then, at a small distance away, he saw his colleague, Samer Abudaqa, on the ground. He had been wounded in the lower part of his body. Wael said that he seemed like he was screaming — Wael at that point had lost much of his hearing from the blast — and that Samer couldn’t get up. Wael realized the only chance that both of them had was for him to get to medical attention and get help to bring Samer out, because he couldn’t get up. So Wael somehow stumbled across about 800 meters to the ambulance that was waiting. He begged them to go in and get Samer, but they insisted on evacuating him first to a hospital in Khan Younis and that another ambulance would go retrieve him. There are videos of Wael al-Dahdouh receiving treatment, wincing in pain, calling on people to go get Samer, telling them to coordinate with the Red Cross.

What we understand from Wael and others is that an ambulance did go immediately to try and retrieve Samer from the area, but that they were fired on, or in their area, in their proximity, by Israeli forces. At the same time, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Ramallah, Walid al-Omari, was making calls to the Red Cross — this is around 3:00, 3:30 p.m. — and asking the Red Cross to liaise with the Israeli military to allow for emergency crews to reach Samer Abudaqa in Khan Younis. So the Israeli military knew, at least by 3:00 or 3:30, that there was a wounded journalist who lay helpless that needed evacuation.

And at the same time, news was spreading of Samer Abudaqa’s plight, and there’s a group called the Foreign Press Association, which is a Jerusalem-based nonprofit representing reporters, mostly foreign reporters from over 30 countries, and there’s a WhatsApp group, which has about 140 of these journalists on it. One of the journalists, a freelance reporter and producer based in Jerusalem named Orly Halpern, posted just after 3 p.m. about the Samer’s plight and told the journalists, or called on them, to call Israeli military spokespeople and to demand that Samer be evacuated. And so, the FPA was getting involved. Senior members of the FPA, the Foreign Press Association, were getting involved, calling Israeli military officials, Israeli military spokespeople, senior ones, repeatedly asking for passage for Samer.

And from what we understand, at The Intercept we obtained screenshots of this WhatsApp group from multiple journalists in the group, and also from speaking with people involved in these efforts, that for hours Israel did not give approval to these ambulances. Finally, after about five hours after Samer was initially wounded, a bulldozer was finally approved to go through to reach Samer. But by then, he had already died. He had bled out. He was found with — he had seemed to have removed his flak jacket and had tried to crawl and had died. And it was incredibly tragic. He had lain there. Al Jazeera had posted a live counter of the hours and minutes since he was wounded on its broadcast, and people were just watching. And he eventually died.

And the next day, Al Jazeera announced it was preparing a legal file to submit to the International Criminal Court over what it called the assassination of Samer Abudaqa. And so did Reporters Without Borders, also included his killing in a filing with the ICC, war crimes against journalists killed in Gaza. So, you know, the world should be outraged about this killing, about all the killings that are happening to Palestinians, Palestinian journalists in Gaza.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, Sharif, in this particular case, there is no doubt that the highest echelons of the Israeli Defense Forces were aware that this journalist was wounded and in need of medical attention.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Yes, we have multiple journalists who told — we have screenshots of a WhatsApp group where they’re discussing having spoken to Israeli military spokespeople in those hours and saying, “No approval yet. Ambulances not cleared. Bulldozers not cleared yet.” So, this took hours. And, you know, the Israeli military must have known very early on what the situation is. They’re the ones who had repeatedly bombed the area. They knew there was rubble in the streets. There’s constant — near-constant drone surveillance of Gaza. The Red Cross, we know, was liaising with the Israeli military to try and get approval. And yet they left, or they just didn’t allow — by some accounts, firstly, ambulances were fired on that tried to reach Samer Abudaqa. They returned back — this is the Palestinian Red Crescent and Civil Defense — and they were waiting then for approval. They also asked for Red Cross teams to accompany them to the area as a form of protection. And all of this is happening while Samer Abudaqa is lying helpless. The Israeli military is not giving permission. And he eventually died.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, again, that was Wael al-Dahdouh’s cameraperson and dear colleague, who bleeds to death over five hours. And then, in the last weeks, his son, Hamza al-Dahdouh, also an Al Jazeera journalist, is killed in this Israeli airstrike, along with the AFP stringer Mustafa Thuraya, in an airstrike, a drone strike on a car. Sharif, final comments?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Yeah, I think, look, in this country, the journalistic community should be outraged, should be vocal in their outrage, at Israel’s killing of their colleagues in Gaza. And we haven’t seen that.

And let me just end by saying, you know, in 2022, the Pulitzer Board awarded a special citation to journalists of Ukraine for their coverage of the Russian invasion and of the war. And the citation reads, quote, “Despite bombardment, abductions, occupation, and even deaths in their ranks, they have persisted in their effort to provide an accurate picture of a terrible reality,” end-quote. This is the case many times over for the journalists of Gaza, for the Palestinian journalists of Gaza. I doubt they will be receiving any such accolades. And that’s where the problem lies.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif Abdel Kouddous, independent journalist, wrote this piece for The Intercept, “Israel Bombed an Al Jazeera Cameraman — and Blocked Evacuation Efforts as He Bled to Death.” We’ll link to it at The Intercept at democracynow.org. And Sherif Mansour, Committee to Protect Journalists’ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, speaking to us from D.C.

Next up, we look at what Israelis see on television. Stay with us.



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