On Sunday, Israel launched an air strike on the Tal al-Hawa neighbourhood in Gaza City, killing Palestinian journalist Roshdi Sarraj.
According to local news agency WAFA, the bombing of Tal al-Hawa was among many raids carried out by the Israeli army on various areas of the Gaza Strip, killing at least 32 Palestinians.
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Roshdi’s apartment was damaged in the first week of the war and, along with his wife Shorouq and one-year-old daughter Dania, he moved to the family home in Tal al-Hawa.
“The Israelis were bombing our area with no let-up,” said Yahya al-Sarraj, Roshdi’s father and municipal mayor of Gaza City. “Roshdi tried to shield his wife and daughter when the Israeli air raid struck.”
The family home was severely damaged, but the 10 family members there survived, except Roshdi, who was hit by shrapnel.
He was transported to the hospital where he was declared dead.
Ali Jadallah, a Palestinian photojournalist working for Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency, posted on Instagram the purported body bag of Sarraj, with his name on it, announcing his death.
A determined journalist
Al-Sarraj praised his son’s courage and bravery.
Roshdi considered it his life’s work to convey the reality of what is happening in Gaza, which he loved fiercely despite the Israeli occupation’s suffocating policies on the territory.
“He was supposed to go to Qatar for a work trip after he performed umrah in Mecca,” al-Sarraj said. “But when the Israeli aggression began he immediately cancelled and came back to Gaza.”
Roshdi refused to leave Gaza City and go to the south, his father added, adamant in “staying put, saying he will not be displaced, and writing on his social media accounts that the only way he would leave Gaza would be to go to heaven”.
“He cared about the truth,” al-Sarraj continued. “Since the war began, he was involved in digging people out from under the rubble with his bare hands, including two physically handicapped girls.”
Roshdi started his career as a journalist around 2012, his friend and fellow journalist Hosam Salem told Al Jazeera. Originally a photo-reporter, he co-founded Ain Media, a private media company in Palestine, that year with Yaser Murtaja.
Roshdi formerly worked as a photographer for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), was a fixer in Gaza for several international news agencies, including Radio France, and produced a short film with Amnesty International.
Roshdi’s death troubled both the local and international community, prompting a stream of grieving tributes on social media that praised him as a friend and as a professional.
Ain Media released a statement, calling him a “brilliant photojournalist and film-maker”.
“Gaza is life,” Ain Media said in a post on X. “Roshdi and Yaser are life: they gave voice to the people of Gaza, to their smiles, to the stories locked in fear, to hopes cherished secretly from the oppression of the Israeli occupation.”
Ain Media – Gaza, Palestine
23 October 2023 pic.twitter.com/EYvpFze94i
— Ain Media عين ميديا (@AinMedia) October 23, 2023
Well-known international photojournalist Wissam Nassar, mourned his friend on Instagram: “My close friend, Rushdi Sarraj, was killed in Israeli bombardment on his home. He was a talented photojournalist and director creatively telling the stories of Gazans under war and siege. May you rest in peace.”
Salem also paid tribute to his friend and colleague in a heartwarming carousel of images on Instagram, writing: “My best One was just killed in an Israeli airstrike in #Gaza. May God have mercy on you and accept you. You and Yaser are lucky.”
Radio France Internationale (RFI), the state-owned international radio news network of France, published a statement paying tribute to Roshdi’s “important role” with the network, with several of the channel’s correspondents also commending his friendship and legacy.
“Those who knew Roshdi Sarraj and worked with him salute an outstanding journalist,” the statement read.
Le photojournaliste Roshdi Sarraj était mon fixeur à Gaza. Il est mort il y a quelques heures après un bombardement israélien. A 31 ans, il était un père et un époux heureux, un professionnel irréprochable devenu un ami. C'est un innocent qui a perdu la vie. https://t.co/XUM98dlnIA
— Frédéric Métézeau 📻📗 (@FredMetzo) October 22, 2023
Translation: Photojournalist Roshdi Sarraj was my fixer in Gaza. He died a few hours ago following an Israeli bombing. At 31, he was a happy father and husband, an impeccable professional who became a friend. An innocent man who lost his life.
Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnes Callamard also paid tribute to Roshdi and his work for Amnesty in a post on X, saying he “was murdered today in an Israeli air strike.”
Journalism is not a crime
Since Hamas launched its Al Aqsa Flood operation on Israel more than two weeks ago, more than 20 journalists have been killed.
Israel has been relentlessly pounding the Gaza Strip, striking the world’s “largest open-air prison” with accelerated intensity daily since the beginning of the war.
Palestinians in the West Bank, which forms the bulk of Palestinian territories, have not been spared either with an increase in uncontrolled settler violence and escalating military raids.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement saying that the “conflict has taken a severe toll on journalists,” especially those in Gaza facing “particularly high risks” amidst incessant and indiscriminate shelling by Israeli troops and the occupying government’s total blockade on the already besieged Gaza Strip.
Several Palestinian journalists have openly shared on social media that they are incapable of reporting because of network and electricity cuts, constant sudden evacuations and complete burnout.
CPJ reported that as of October 22, 23 journalists have been killed including 19 Palestinians, three Israelis, and one Lebanese. Around eight have been injured and three are reported missing or detained.
On October 7, the first day of the war, Ibrahim Mohammad Lafi, a photographer for Roshdi’s Ain Media, was shot and killed by the occupation at the Gaza Strip crossing into Israel known as Beit Hanoon to Palestinians and as Erez to Israelis. He was one among three Palestinian journalists targeted there that day.
Two Palestinian photographers were also reported missing on October 7: Nidal Al-Wahidi, who worked for Al-Najah channel, and Haitham Abdelwahid, who also worked for Roshdi’s Ain Media.
Al-Wahidi’s family informed the media that the journalist had been detained by the Israeli army.
“He was responsible for several employees [at Ain Media]. Our colleague Ibrahim was martyred, Nidal and Haitham went missing. Roshdi could not tolerate the news, so he cancelled his trip and flew back to Gaza,” said Salem.
According to Salem, Roshdi’s mental state deteriorated at the news, especially after experiencing Murtaja’s murder, but he was back in the field two days later.
“I feel like I betrayed Roshdi,” Salem told Al Jazeera, sounding despondent over the telephone.
“Roshdi is now a martyr; he was buried and I did not get the chance to say my goodbyes or be present at his funeral,” he sighed heavily. “None of this matters. What matters is the fact that he died … and I am still alive.”
“Journalists are still persevering … We are all like that, all the journalists in Gaza are working under immense pressure.”
Salem said Roshdi’s legacy will live on, even though he never had the chance to continue the journey he dreamed of.
“He was loved by everyone, and very ambitious. Now he’s with his friend Yaser Murtaja,” said Roshdi’s father, in a final farewell.