KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — The on-air outburst of grief by TV correspondent Salman al-Bashir seemed to channel the mood of all Gaza.
From the crowded halls of Nasser Hospital in the southern Gaza Strip late Thursday, al-Bashir was reporting on the waves of wounded and dead Palestinians arriving from Israel’s heavy bombardment on the southern strip.
One of the victims, loaded into the hospital morgue with 10 of his family members, was his own colleague, veteran Palestine TV correspondent Mohammed Abu Hatab, 49. A mere hour earlier, Abu Hatab had delivered a live report on the Israel-Hamas war’s casualties from that very location for Palestine TV, a network owned by the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, Hamas’ political rival.
Searching for words to describe what Abu Hatab’s loss meant to him and to the network, al-Bashir cracked with emotion. He broke down, his voice holding sorrow and weariness in gruff, pleading phrases.
“We cant take it anymore, we are exhausted,” al-Bashir said. “We are going to be killed. One by one.”
The Ramallah-based anchorwoman on the split screen began to weep.
Al-Bashir was flushed, pacing backward as he said the world was ignoring the war’s staggering toll on Gaza civilians.
“No one is looking at us or the extent of this disaster or the crimes that we are experiencing in Gaza,” he said. Still holding his microphone, he slid off his flak jacket marked with the word PRESS and unstrapped his helmet.
“These protection jackets and helmets don’t protect us,” he said, flinging the equipment to the ground. “Nothing protects journalists. … We lose our lives for no reason.”
His words, streamed live by Palestine TV, ricocheted around social media.
Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel, the Israeli military’s retaliation has killed over 9,000 Palestinians and wounded thousands more, says the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza. Among them have been 31 journalists and media workers, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based watchdog. The Health Ministry reported that over 112 doctors and medics are also among the dead. Hamas militants killed more than 1,400 people in Israel on Oct. 7, most of them civilians.
At 8:30 p.m. Thursday, after signing off from a live report on Gaza’s soaring death toll, Abu Hatab headed to his nearby home in Khan Younis where he lived with his wife, six children, brother and brother’s family, his colleagues said.
On his way, he spoke to the Palestine TV bureau chief, Rafat Tidra.
“He was so professional, as always,” Tidra said. “In that conversation, he was focused on what he was going to report the next day, how we were going to work.”
At around 9:30, an Israeli airstrike hit his house, wiping out the Abu Hatab family. No one survived. His neighbor’s houses only sustained limited damage from the blast.
When asked, Israeli military spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said he was “not aware of reports” of Abu Hatab’s death. Israel says it goes after militants, not civilians, and blames Hamas for operating in densely populated residential areas. Israel’s ground offensive in northern Gaza, which began a week ago, is aimed at toppling Gaza’s Hamas rulers. At the same time, airstrikes across the territory have continued unabated.
Abu Hatab’s colleagues at Palestine TV, where he spent 26 years reporting, were in shock Friday. They remembered him as a quiet and gentle man who brought homemade hummus to worn-down journalists camped outside Nasser Hospital during the war, even as Israel’s tight siege made food and water harder to find.
When the war first erupted, he sprang into action and never stopped working, his colleagues said.
“He was live on air the whole time covering Khan Younis, his city, his people, simple people,” said Nasser Abu Bakr, the head of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Journalists Syndicate and Abu Hatab’s long-time friend.
Abu Bakr was unsettled after their final phone conversation the night before his death. He said Abu Hatab sounded weary and depressed.
“He told me, ‘Everything is terrible. ‘I don’t know when I will be killed,’” Abu Bakr recalled.
Before hanging up, he said, Abu Hatab had one last request: “Please, please, pray that God protects us.”
DeBre reported from Jerusalem.