Grief has poured out across the region following the shocking slaughter of Wael Dahdouh’s wife and children in southern Gaza.
Mohammad Hussein has been glued to the television in recent weeks, watching Gaza’s destruction by Israeli air raids. And when an Israeli air raid killed the family of Al Jazeera Gaza Bureau Chief Wael Dahdouh on Wednesday, Hussein watched the story unfold.
“It’s a crime,” the 45-year-old taxi driver said, his left hand fiddling with prayer beads as he sat on a busy throughway in Beirut. “[And a violation] of human rights.”
On Wednesday, the news broke that Dahdouh’s family was killed in an attack in southern Gaza. His family had fled northern Gaza to the south on Israel’s advice but were killed anyway.
Dahdouh lost his wife, a daughter, a grandson and a 15-year-old son who wanted to follow in his footsteps into journalism. They are among the more than 7,000 people killed – 3,000 of whom are children – in Gaza since the start of the hostilities. The images of Dahdouh entering the morgue and identifying his family members were widely carried on Al Jazeera Arabic.
“It was shocking news,” said Maan Al-Haj Ali, a journalist working for Palestine’s WAFA News Agency. “As if [he] was a member of the family, as if someone very close was broken in front of you.”
To those in Gaza, Dahdouh’s presence on their screens has been a constant in recent years. Many in the media praised his work and expressed their sorrow that a man so used to covering the tragedies of others now had to face his own.
“As a journalist and writer, Wael is a beacon of brave reporting and authentic journalism,” Mohammed R Mhawish, a Palestinian journalist and writer based in Gaza, told Al Jazeera. “I was listening to the live broadcast when he received the news of the killing of his family members. It shocked me to see him break down on screen.”
The attack came only a couple of weeks after US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reportedly told Qatar’s emir to tone down Al Jazeera Arabic’s coverage of the war on Gaza. When he saw his slain family, Dahdouh was recorded saying, “They seek revenge through our children.”
“The attack isn’t on Wael and his family only, but on the entire people of Gaza,” Ahmed al-Yazil, a student of media and mass communications in Gaza, said. “Israel attempts to shut Wael’s and every Palestinian’s voice trying to report on the reality of life under occupation and war. But it won’t succeed, even if we lost loved ones along the way.”
The news spread like wildfire on social networks. Users shared images of a distraught Dahdouh or a clip of the anchor who delivered the news nearly breaking down in tears.
“My Instagram is filled with people sharing it since yesterday,” Aya Mhanna, 38, a Lebanese clinical psychologist now living in Istanbul, told Al Jazeera. Mhanna said she recognised Dahdouh from his reporting and lamented that the journalist had become the news. “It breaks my heart.”
Even those who had not known his name before Wednesday said the story was on everyone’s lips. Abdulrahman Bashar Itani sat outside his shop in Beirut next to two other men. “I watch all the channels,” the sprightly 90-year-old said. “I didn’t see the news but everyone is talking about it.”
Itani also brought up Issam Abdallah, the Lebanese Reuters journalist killed in south Lebanon on October 13. “Haram,” he said. “Why are they targeting journalists?”
At least 24 journalists have been killed in the latest round of hostilities, including 20 Palestinians, three Israelis and Lebanon’s Abdallah.
In the West Bank, Palestinians have grown accustomed to Dahdouh’s presence and reporting on the decades-long occupation of Palestine and the genocide of its people. Respect and compassion have flowed as he reels from Israel’s killing of his family in the south of Gaza.
“It is shameful for the people who … see our children, women and elderly being killed while they are sitting [by],” Ali, the WAFA journalist, said.
As the eyes of the world have turned to Gaza, Syria is also still suffering air raids, albeit from Russia. Nonetheless, many in Syria were also gripped by the news and took a minute to lend their solidarity.
“The pain and sorrow felt by Wael were felt by all of us despite our distance from him,” Osman al-Khader, a lawyer and activist in the Syrian revolution, said. “Wael refused to do anything but give us a lesson in patience and courage.”
The Syrian journalist, Hanin al-Sayed, from Idlib, said the Israeli attack on Dahdouh’s family brought the killing last year of another stalwart Palestinian journalist to his mind.
“He often reminds me of Shireen Abu Akleh, may she rest in peace,” al-Sayed said. He added that she was “the voice of truth that was killed by the Israeli army’s gunfire, which continues to kill children and women in plain view of the world”.
Dahdouh’s pain was evident for the world to see on Wednesday. Many around the region have condemned the continuing assault and attacks on civilians and the mounting death toll that has no immediate end in sight.
“No one is offering anything to help,” Ali said. It is “as if the children of Palestine and the people of Palestine are worthless”.
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