Khaled Hamad, a 25-year-old Palestinian journalist and videographer, died Sunday inside an ambulance that was struck by an Israeli rocket as he documented the difficult and increasingly life-threatening work of paramedics in the Gaza Strip.
On Twitter, photos of Hamad’s corpse, wrapped in a white, blood-soaked sheet and still bearing a body armor vest with the word PRESS painted across it, are being shared by journalists and activists alike. One image shows Hamad’s father kneeling at his dead son’s feet, weeping.
Hamad’s boss at Continue TV, Alaa Alool, confirmed the journalist’s death Monday afternoon to the Committee to Protect Journalists. VICE reached him on Tuesday.
“Khaled was a wonderful person,” Alool told us. “It is very difficult to find someone with his tenderness, goodness and generosity.”
Hamad left behind a wife, a woman named Hala who is six-months pregnant with the couple’s first child.
“We will miss him in every corner of the company,” Alool said, “but his spirit will remain in place.”
After hearing of the chaos and death raining down in the Shujai'iya neighborhood, where more than 60 were killed overnight Saturday, Hamad joined a crew of paramedics in an ambulance en route to the area. Hamad and Alool have been working on a documentary about paramedics in Gaza that will eventually be aired on Al-Jazeera. After the vehicle was struck by an Israeli rocket, Hamad and the crew exited the ambulance only to be hit by a second shell.
“While checking out the situation outside the ambulance, they were targeted again, which led to the martyrdom of (paramedic) Khaled Fouad Jaber and the injuring of other paramedics,” Alool said.
The International Federation of Journalists condemned Hamad’s death on Sunday, saying the situation in Gaza is “both shocking and horrific.” In that same post, the group called on Israel to “respect the rights and freedoms of the Palestinian media.” Hamad’s death comes on the heels of a declaration Saturday from Israel’s Government Press Office that journalists should take the utmost caution while covering the conflict in Gaza, and that “Israel is not in any way responsible for injury or damage that may occur as a result of field reporting,” according to an email cited by Reuters. The GPO also blamed Hamas for using journalists as human shields much in the same way the Israeli government and military have said is the case for Palestinian civilians.
The Committee to Protect Journalists refuted the assertion that journalists are being co-opted by fighters in Gaza:
"It is tragic that a cameraman documenting the dangers faced by medics seeking to help civilians caught in this relentless fighting should himself be killed," said Sherif Mansour, the group's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "Journalists in Gaza are not allowing themselves to be used as shields. They are trying to do their job. As such, they should be treated as civilians and afforded protection under international law."
The claim that reporters are being used as pawns represents a back-and-forth between Israel and Hamas with few winners as civilians, journalists, emergency personnel and doctors continue to find themselves in the middle of a bloody and protracted battle that has cost more than 600 lives, most of them Palestinian non-combatants. Whether deliberately so or as a result of intense bombing over the past two weeks, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have been racking up hits on ambulances in Gaza. Those ambulances have been unable to reach areas struck by Israeli rockets, portions of Gaza which journalists have been at times prevented from entering in order to give emergency personnel more space to reach the wounded.
That said, in a Monday Wall Street Journal op-ed, Thane Rosenbaum claimed that “Hamas and Islamic Jihad are transporting themselves throughout Gaza in ambulances packed with children.” Rosenbaum didn’t cite his source for that information, but the charge may have come from an Israeli TV station that later retracted a claim that a United Nations ambulance had been used by militants to transport weapons. What is irrefutable is the targeting of an area near a Gaza hospital that resulted in the death of five people on Monday. The IDF said Hamas’ storage of weapons nearby was the reason for the hospital being caught in the crossfire.
In addition to Hamad’s death, the Committee to Protect Journalists also intimated that Israel has been complicit in the wounding and killing of other journalists working in Palestine, saying:
“The Israel Defense Forces did not immediately respond to CPJ's request for comment on Hamad's death. They have also not responded to requests for comment on the targeting of a press car that killed driver Hamid Shihab on July 9 or the airstrikes against two buildings housing media outlets last week. Moroccan Medi 1 TV reported that its cameraman, Kareem al-Tartouri, was also injured in the airstrike on Al-Jawhara tower in Gaza City on July 18, which raises the total number of injured journalists in last week's dual airstrikes to at least four.”
At the time of this writing VICE was unable to obtain comment on Hamad’s death from Israeli authorities.
Hamad’s widow, Hala, also could not be immediately reached for comment. Her Facebook page indicated the couple’s first child will be a boy.
When asked if Hamad’s death was a tragic result of his presence in a warzone or the direct targeting of a journalist working with emergency personnel, Alool said the latter was a “possible answer.”
But Mansour said the circumstances surrounding Hamad’s death are difficult to decipher at the moment.
“Whether he was in the vehicle and that was why it was shot...we don’t have any information about that and we’ve tried to press the Israeli side about why but haven’t heard back,” Mansour said. “So far, we don’t see any evidence that he was specifically targeted.”
Regardless, like many who have died in the past three weeks since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, Hamad is now a martyr.
“Magnificent men, it seems they do not like this world and prefer to be next to their Lord,” Alool said.