In a makeshift funeral service on a packed sidewalk in southern Gaza, Wael Dahdouh fought back tears as he led a communal prayer over a body draped in a white burial shroud covered with a blue press jacket.
Dahdouh's 27-year-old son, Hamza Dahdouh, on Sunday became the latest Palestinian journalist killed in an Israeli airstrike, and the latest searing loss for the veteran reporter. Yet after joining mourners who wailed and prayed over the death of his son, the elder Dahdouh — Al Jazeera's Gaza bureau chief who has become a symbol for many during this war of both personal tragedy and defiant perseverance — vowed to continue his work.
“It is true that the pain of losing someone is very difficult and when it is about your eldest son after the death of the family, then it becomes even more difficult,” he told an NBC News crew in Gaza later Sunday, as he sat with grieving relatives to receive condolences.
“In the end, this does not change anything of reality, and will not change any of our decisions. We are going to proceed as long as we are alive and breathing. As long as we are able to do this duty and deliver this message,” Dahdouh said.
Addressing crowds who gathered to pay respects and bid farewell to his son, Dahdouh described Hamza as “chivalrous,” “tender” and “generous.” He comforted his daughter, who wept on his shoulder.
Like his father, Hamza was an Al Jazeera journalist. He was killed alongside a colleague, Mustafa Thuraya, in a strike on their car in the southern city of Rafah on Sunday.
Their deaths drew calls for an independent investigation from the United Nations and outrage from press freedom groups. Israel has denied targeting journalists, and has said it works hard to avoid harming civilians as it battles Hamas.
The Israel Defense Forces confirmed carrying out the strike, saying that it had targeted a “terrorist” in the vehicle.
“An IDF aircraft identified and struck a terrorist who operated an aircraft that posed a threat to IDF troops,” the IDF said in a statement. “We are aware of the reports that during the strike, two other suspects who were in the same vehicle as the terrorist were also hit.”
Asked by NBC News if the IDF had evidence to support its allegation that an individual in the vehicle was a terrorist, IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said the incident was “unfortunate” and an investigation was still ongoing.
“Every journalist that dies it’s unfortunate," he said.
“We understand they were putting a drone, using a drone. And using a drone in a war zone, it’s a problem. It looks like the terrorists,” Hagari said, adding that Hamas uses drones to collect intel on Israeli forces. “So we will investigate this incident and we will provide the data,” Hagari said.
Al Jazeera managing editor Mohamed Moawad told NBC News that Thuraya was a freelance drone operator, who was part of a convoy of journalists including Hamza. He said the duo were in the car on their way home from filming the aftermath of an airstrike when their vehicle was targeted by Israeli forces, adding that they were not flying a drone while driving back to Rafah.
In a statement, Al Jazeera condemned the attack, calling Hamza and Thuraya’s deaths an “assassination” and urging legal action to be taken to restrain the Israeli military. The network added that the Israeli military has “systemically targeted” Dahdouh and his family.
The journalist became a well-known figure outside the region after he learned during a live broadcast in October that his wife, 15-year old son, 7-year old daughter and grandson had been killed in an Israeli airstrike on Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza. Stunning many viewers, he returned to the airwaves the next day.
In December, Dahdouh sustained injuries and his cameraman was killed in a drone strike as the pair were covering the aftermath of an airstrike on a school in southern Gaza.
Dahdouh has been the face of his network's 24/7 coverage of the war, and has become a household name among Arab viewers for his relentless reporting despite his family's loss.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken described Hamza’s death as “an unimaginable tragedy” in comments Sunday.
“I am deeply, deeply sorry for the almost unimaginable loss suffered by your colleague Wael al-Dahdouh. I am a parent myself. I can’t begin to imagine the horror that he’s experienced, not once, but now twice,” he said during a joint news conference with the Qatari prime minister on his diplomatic tour of the region. Al Jazeera is funded by Qatar.
A crippling 17-year blockade on Gaza imposed by Israel and backed by Egypt has largely shut out the foreign press, leaving Palestinian journalists in Gaza to document their community's stories.
But the news of Hamza's death underscored the dangers that come with that burden.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an American nonprofit group, has accused the Israeli military of targeting journalists and their families in Gaza, which Israel denies. The CPJ says 72 Palestinian journalists have been confirmed dead in the conflict since Hamas' Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel.
Reporters without Borders, a nongovernmental organization that monitors censorship in the press, said the news of Sunday's strike marked “a never-ending slaughter.”
“Israel must be held accountable for this eradication of journalism in Gaza,” Christophe Deloire, the organization's secretary general, said in a post on X.
The United Nations human rights office said in a social media post on Monday that it was “very concerned” by the high death toll of Palestinian media workers since hostilities began. It called for all such killings, including those of Hamza and Thuraya, to be “thoroughly, independently investigated to ensure strict compliance with international law, and violations prosecuted.”
“Journalists are facing a massacre, a bloodbath in Gaza,” Dahdouh said as he reflected on his son's death to NBC News.
He added that the global silence and lack of protection for journalists on the ground in Gaza, “hurts us more than the killing itself.”
“We are not a part in any conflict. We have a duty the world has promised to protect and we demand the entire world to guarantee the safety of the Palestinian journalists. We hope that Hamza’s killing is the last killing that happens,” Dahdouh said.
Keeping to his words, the grieving father was soon back on TV to report once more.