Covering conflicts in your own country is difficult. But sometimes, covering conflict from exile or in the diaspora is much more challenging, especially if you fear for family and loved ones back home who are in danger. Three of our members reflect here on their personal experiences after being forced to leave their homes, either because of a war or multiple political crises.
Hajar Harb - Palestine
An award-winning journalist, Hajar Harb left Gaza five years ago, and currently lives in London where she works as a freelancer with The Washington Post. She lives with her parents and sister. But this summer, her mother went to Gaza for a short visit and, at the time this article is published, is still trapped there because of the war.
My mother went to Gaza for a family visit, but then the war broke out and she got stuck there.
She was supposed to have an operation for her knee here in London, and we’ve had to reschedule it several times already because we don’t know how to get her out of Gaza. . She also has glaucoma. Every time I talk to her I can feel and hear her fear. The one person that is supposed to make you feel safe is afraid. Her voice used to bring me comfort, and now it is shaking and scared. For the first time in my life I hear my mother crying.
Dying with your people is more merciful than dying alone
I have never stopped covering Gaza. I lived there until 2019. All of my sources, colleagues, family, friends and neighbours are there. It is really hard to reach them now and cover the war properly because the phone and internet connections are constantly down. One can get the information from official sources like the Health Ministry, the Red Crescent or the Civil Defense Authority, but it is really difficult to report this. I feel a lot of fear and anxiety because I know the people, the families’ names, and what the houses and streets looked like before they were bombed.
The fear is multiplied because my mother is there. Even though I live here in London, far from the war, I have nightmares. I see myself, my family and my house under the rubble. This is the trauma from previous wars that I lived through there. In 2014, I walked around the bodies of martyrs. I remember the smell of death. When I see videos from Gaza now, I immediately remember this. The traumas that my body remembers so well have resurfaced again, and I can’t sleep from the pain.
I feel helpless, not being able to help anyone back home, including my mother. Money can be compensated, but houses are more than just walls. People lived there and made memories. Dying with your people is more merciful than dying alone.
I have to interview people, including children, and they ask me when the war is going to end. I want to scream because I feel the world is blind and deaf. I want to tell the world what is happening in Palestine.
Hind Al Eryani - Yemen
A freelance journalist and human rights’ advocate from Yemen. She publishes a blog with Radio Monte Carlo, and her work has been featured in The Washington Post, France’s TV5, Middle East Eye, and other publications. She has covered the war in her country and actively campaigned for peace. She also advocated for the rights of the LGBTQ community, religious minorities, and led a campaign against the use of qat, a mild narcotic leaf common in Yemen. She now lives in Sweden with her daughter.
At the onset of the war in Yemen, I felt guilty because I had a good life here, with electricity and water, while my family and people were suffering in Yemen. I feel bad because I am not there with them. I used to write about human rights, children and women’s rights. Extremist groups were not happy about my coverage, especially because I challenged religious and authoritative figures. I spoke out against the war, and crossed their red lines.
I feel guilty because I have a good life here, while my family and people suffer in Yemen
I worked on a campaign to raise awareness over the harmful effects of qat on agriculture, war and the economy. We almost succeeded in adding a new clause in the constitution to deal with this issue. But then the war broke out, and the voting never took place. Awareness campaigns were no longer a priority.
I had big dreams for Yemen. Dreams about changing Yemen for the better. But my dreams were crushed by the war.
Religious groups, like the Houthis, have been emboldened by this war, along with fundamentalist figures who justify crimes against women and children. They threatened me because I spoke out against their crimes. Being a journalist and a human rights defender is really tough during these times. I haven’t been able to work or write a word because of the war on Gaza. Since we were young, we’ve been watching news of injustices in our region, of occupation and colonisation. Today, the war on Gaza is bringing back horrible memories of past injustices.
I received treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and it helped me alot. I firnly believe that mental health should be a priority. I believe that many journalists in our region suffer from some form of trauma, and mental health has to be offered to them because it affects their safety. Journalists are risking their lives everyday and they get paid meagre salaries and have no rights or protection.
Mariam Seif - Lebanon
When nationwide protests erupted in Lebanon in 2019, Maryam Seif was one of those freelance journalists who spoke out against the ruling elite in Lebanon. She endured a vicious online campaign of intimidation and incitement, and was forced to leave her home with her family after gunmen attacked them several times. Her brother was almost killed in one of those attempts, while her father escaped a similar attempt several months later. She left Lebanon with her family because the law did not offer them protection. She now lives in France.
I needed to get out of Lebanon because my articles irked Hizbullah as I exposed some of their crimes, including a murder which they tried to conceal for electoral purposes. I refused to give in to the censorship they impose on journalists who work in their areas of control. So they threatened me and my family and attacked us.
To be a free journalist can mean that you need to be away from home to talk freely without restrictions
Sometimes, I wonder if there is a point in continuing to work as a journalist anymore. I feel helpless and I feel that power and money are much stronger than my efforts to tell the truth. With the war on Gaza, I feel even more helpless. The world is divided, and journalists are being targeted. Journalists have been killed back home on the border with Israel. My colleagues saw Reuters’ cameraman, Issam Abdullah, die from an Israeli airstrike on October 13th.
When Issam was killed, I felt a surge of mixed feelings that didn’t make sense. I felt guilty for not being there; I was angry and helpless.
One of the worst things that happens to you when you work as a journalist in this part of the world is you start to censor yourself. You could even get paranoid. Your choices are limited. To be a free journalist can mean that you need to be away from home so you can talk freely without restrictions.