RSF’s correspondent in Gaza finally able to leave enclave with RSF’s support

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is hugely relieved to report that Ola Al Zaanoun, its correspondent in the Gaza Strip, was finally able to leave the Palestinian enclave bombarded by Israel since 7 October. RSF pays tribute to the courage of this Gazan reporter who covered the war for four months, and calls for the protection of all of the journalists still in Gaza.

Obtaining authorisation for Ola Al Zaanoun to be able to leave the Gaza Strip took weeks of behind-the-scenes lobbying of the most influential diplomats by RSF and the French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP).

“I thank the combined efforts of all those who helped to bring this about, including the organisation I work for, Reporters Without Borders,” Zaanoun said on landing in the Qatari capital, Doha, on 15 February.

Zaanoun departed from Rafah, the city in the south of the Gaza Strip to which she went after being forced to leave her Gaza City home at the start of the war. Together with four of her children and several members of the families of AFP’s reporters in Gaza, she was flown to Qatar aboard an Egyptian military plane after leaving the Gaza Strip.

 As RSF’s Gaza correspondent since 2018, Zaanaoun has covered several wars from the Gaza Strip, but she told RSF: “I never thought that in the course of my career, I would have to cover the deaths of dozens of my colleagues.”

At least 100 journalists have so far been killed by Israeli bombardments in Gaza, including at least 21 in the course of their work. Every day since 7 October, Zaanoun had reported the latest developments in this terrible tragedy to RSF as they happened.

“During the past four months, in which around 100 journalists have been killed in Gaza, our correspondent, Ola Al Zaanoun, continued her work on the ground with immense courage. Many of these victims were her friends and colleagues. Despite the incessant Israeli strikes, a lack of basic resources, Internet shutdowns and waves of disinformation, Ola tirelessly continued her journalistic work, driven by a deep commitment to her mission to tell the world what is happening in the Palestinian enclave. We are very relieved that she is now safe. RSF reiterates that it is unacceptable that the protection of journalists is not being safeguarded as required by international law, and we again issue a determined appeal to the UN Security Council to urgently enforce its Resolution 2222 (2015) on the protection of journalists.”

Christophe Deloire
RSF secretary-general

One morning in November, Ola was on the phone from Rafah with Jonathan Daguer, the head of RSF's Middle East desk, with whom she was in daily contact, when an enormous explosion was heard. “Where are the children?” she immediately cried, before hanging up. Five minutes later, she called Daguer back to report that an Israeli strike had hit the house next door but her children were safe. “That’s how it is here, we’re grateful to be alive,” she said with relief and a certain fatalism.

A week after the war began, the Gaza City of home of Ola and her family was damaged by a nearby bombardment. Two nights later, Ola, four of her children and her husband, Adel Al Zaanoun, AFP’s Gaza correspondent, evacuated their home without knowing if they would ever be able to return. In November, while staying with relatives in Rafah, Ola broke her ankle when she jumped from the second floor of a house to shelter from an Israeli strike. Despite all these problems, she never stopped working.

 Aged 43, Ola is a journalist by vocation but it is one she shares with other members of her family. As well as her husband, her brother and one of her sons have also chosen this profession. “Each time I covered violations being committed against a journalist in Gaza, I trembled with fear that it was my husband, my son or my brother,” she said.

 Less than 24 hours after arriving in Doha, Ola was already thinking about the future. “I wish nothing more than to return to Gaza after the end of the war,” she told RSF. “To return to my home and to my beloved Gaza, my first love.”

Published on