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In June 2022, Palestinian journalist and MCJN member Mariam Barghouti attended a special safety course in Birminmgham, UK, organised by Cosain Consultancy. The course covered crucial safety advice and training for journalists working in conflict zones. In this piece, she reviews the most important takeaways from this course, which we can all apply in the field.


I admit that the only reason I finally felt it was necessary to take a course in field safety was the killing of our beloved colleague and mentor Shireen Abu Aqleh, Al Jazeera’s correspondent who was killed by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Jenin in May this year. I had just started a new position as the senior Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss, and suddenly I was overwhelmed with anxiety and fears. I was so angry and felt so betrayed because not even the PRESS vest could protect someone as well known as Shireen, just as it was unable to protect  Yasser Murtaja, the 30-year old journalist from Gaza who was shot in the abdomen by Israeli snipers in April 2018.

If only I knew how to tie a tourniquet. If only I knew how to give CPR.

When I started the course, I wasn’t sure if it could offer me any additional knowledge that I wouldn’t be able to learn through research or actual experience from covering protests and enduring daily repression from the occupation. But my scepticism was dispelled in the first few hours of the course, and I fought the fatigue, jet-lag and exhaustion in order to absorb all the information that was being kindly and courageously provided to me. 

The sessions on dealing with medical emergencies brought back images of all the times when I saw my own friends and colleagues get shot, and I froze or yelled for the paramedics to come and help. As I membered those incidents, I kept thinking: “If only I knew how to tie a tourniquet (see video below). If only I knew how to give CPR.” What I learned during this course didn’t only come from the actual content and design of the course, but also from the comrades and colleagues I got to meet there, who were covering conflicts from Sudan to Ukraine and Iraq. 

The training was focussed on two areas: medical training (first aid) and security assessment. I will provide some highlights of the technical and practical tools we learned.




Whether you’re going out to cover a demonstration in your own cities, where you know every street and alleyway, or you’re on a foreign assignment in a new location, the following steps should always apply:

1- Make sure you know the basics of first aid; from CPR, to tying a tourniquet around an arm or leg wound, to a Heimlich (see below) manoeuvre in case someone is choking. 

Given that bleeding is a common risk in the field, the number one rule is to try and stop it. You want to put pressure around the wound to stop the bleeding. It helps to have a better understanding of the different types of bleeding so you can provide quick information to the paramedics when they arrive at the scene or when you make it to the hospital.

2- Make sure you always know addresses and telephone numbers of the nearest hospitals and emergency rooms. Know the best routes to get there (and alternative routes in case of checkpoints or presence of militants). If you are with a team, make sure you delegate quickly and effectively. Someone could be in charge of calling an ambulance, while others do injury checks, and others prepare medical supplies if needed immediately).  

3- In case of an attack, check your environment first before you offer help or first aid to anyone. Whether you were hit by police in a demonstration, or got caught in the middle of a bombing, airstrikes, or any kind of direct or indirect fire, you must find a safe space first before you offer to help anyone. 

Make sure you give a trusted individual all your necessary information to mitigate risk in cases of arrest, death, kidnap or injury.

If there’s ongoing fire, listen to the patterns. Is it continuous (random), or is it intermittent (specific and targeted). Does it sound close? And what does that mean in terms of which direction you should go? If there are airstrikes, get on the floor immediately. If it seems like it’s going to last for a long time, start digging a hole as you remain on the ground.  

4- Carry out a quick medical primary survey once you are in a safe zone. A primary survey is a series of first aid checks that will help you find out if someone has any life-threatening injuries or conditions, and you should conduct that for yourself first, then your colleagues. Here’s a video to explain how to do so.



Check for any severe bleeding and make sure the person is still breathing. Check their pulse, ensure the cervical spine is safe (don’t move the neck), and check for any limits in movement (if they can’t move their limbs for instance). After you ask the person all these questions, then you can respond properly to ensure that the least amount of damage is done and increase their likelihood to survive or recover.  

Always check other signals such as their skin colour. If the skin tone is blue, then their oxygen levels are very low. If it’s pale, then it’s an indication they have lost a lot of blood. The best way to check their pulse (heart rate) is on the wrist or on the muscle between the bicep and tricep. The average rate is 60-100 beats per minute. You want to take into consideration the rush of adrenaline that increases heart rate in these moments. It may help to have the team’s medical information before the assignment, such as their average heart rate, oxygen levels and blood type.  

5- Trauma care: If you are injured, or you’re with someone who is injured, write down on a piece of paper the type of injury, blood type, time of the injury, and any other concerns about the injury. This is important in case you faint and someone comes to help. It also helps to prioritise care in cases of several injuries at once as it allows trauma responders to know exactly what is happening. It helps with time, effectiveness, and efficiency for your well-being.  



For the security segment of this training, we primarily focused on how to ensure safety for ourselves and our teams when on assignments in conflict areas.  

1- Trust your instincts: If you feel something is really not right, try to trust your instinct and talk to your colleagues to ensure you’re all not pushing boundaries with one another’s safety.  

2. Risk assessment: The first thing you want to do is avoid possible dangers. So prior to any deployment for an assignment, you want to check developments in the past weeks and see if there are any warnings in that area. Even if you are a local and familiar with the area, do not underestimate this step.  

Good sources of information include NGOs, embassies, local news networks (get someone to translate if needed). With this knowledge, you are likely to respond better by recognising the different parties involved in the conflict in that area, such as soldiers, militants or thugs.

Make sure you give a trusted individual all your necessary information to mitigate risk in cases of arrest, death, kidnap or injury.

Inform your workplace, editors and colleagues about your travel plans, and agree on updates regarding location every two hours or so, depending on the nature of your assignment. Take into consideration access to internet and communication platforms.  

3- Location: Make sure you familiarise yourself with your location. This means you should know the location of the following venues: safe houses, safe hotels, medical facilities, police stations, fire departments, embassies or official missions (in cases of uprisings, attacks, or likelihood of assaults on official buildings). 

4. Transportation: Hire a local driver who knows the alternative routes. If you do, make sure you have a signed or orally agreed policy for things like giving the driver cash for the sole purpose of water and snacks that can be enough for at least 48 hours for all on board in case of breakdown, attacks, or any unforeseen situations.  

Rather than attempt to escape, I can at least have faith that I will be equipped to respond to violence.

Make sure you check the vehicle before getting in, and make sure you have a spare tyre and tools such as jump leads and a tow rope (this is also handy in case of having to pull an injured colleague). Make sure that the car is not conspicuous (if you are in an area that is antagonistic to the press, perhaps having PRESS stickers all over the car is not the best idea. Moreover, if you are in a highly tense area, you don’t want to be in a vehicle that has tinted windows, is bright red or that may attract a lot of  attention unnecessarily). However, if it doesn’t put you at increased risk, ensure you do have a visible “PRESS” sign installed.  

Agree with your driver in advance on the fee, payment method and duration of assignment. Don’t dictate to your driver how to drive, but have a policy on speed limit and any other concerns you may have. If you are stopped at checkpoints, don’t speak unless the driver tells you to. Trust the driver and only have your press accreditation held with both hands in front of you. This confirms you’re a member of the press, and having both hands visible is important to show that you are not carrying a weapon. 

5. Cyber-security: Sanitise your phone by making sure nothing on it can harm you or your sources in case of kidnap or arrest, for example. Make sure your information is protected, and do not share information with people you do not trust. Make sure you have an online tracker installed on your phone in order for your colleagues to identify your location if you’re afraid of a possible kidnap.  

6. Accreditation: You want to make sure you have all your press accreditation documents with you. Have them open and ready to present in case you are asked for them.



I have been avoiding covering many stories due to my limited confidence in taking care of myself and those around me. Since the killing of Shireen Abu Aqleh, I realised that I need to confront my fears and return to reporting. Moreover, I realised that no matter what, aggressions and assaults will inevitably find us. Rather than attempt to escape, I can at least have faith that I will – at the bare minimum – be equipped to respond to violence. As the images rushed back at me during the training, I felt like I had to keep holding it together because while the past is gone, there is an entire future to work towards.