We speak with Palestinian reporter Youmna al-Sayed, who was among the journalists who had to flee for their lives when Israel bombed and leveled a 12-story Gaza building that housed the offices of media organizations including the Associated Press and Al Jazeera. Israel has claimed, without evidence, that the building was being used by Hamas operatives, but al-Sayed says it’s part of a pattern of Israeli attacks on media. “This is no coincidence,” she says.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.
On Saturday, Israel leveled a 12-story building housing the offices of Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other media outlets. Israel justified the bombing claiming Hamas uses the building, but offered no proof. Earlier today, U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken said he has not seen any Israeli evidence of Hamas operating in the building. While Israel gave advance notice of the attack, the head of Al Jazeera called the attack a “blatant violation of human rights” and “war crime.” Associated Press is demanding an independent investigation. They said they know of no evidence of Hamas operating in the building.
Youmna al-Sayed is a reporter for the Associated Press in the Gaza Strip. She’s been covering Israel’s attack on Gaza over the past week.
You work with Al Jazeera, as well. Talk about what happened to the building. Talk about where you work.
YOUMNA AL-SAYED: Hi. Yes, I’m Youmna al-Sayed. I’m a reporter at the Associated Press, and I broadcast for Al Jazeera from Associated Press.
While we were at the building, on a normal day of work, like reporting aggression that is happening on the Gaza Strip, we suddenly got a call by the owner of the building saying that he was called by the Israeli army and he’s been asked to tell the residents of the building to immediately evacuate. In an hour, the building shall be targeted. So, this was an emergency situation for us. Everybody was — honestly, everyone was, like, frightened of what is going on and what is going to happen. Usually when we get such calls of other buildings that we have seen, there is — in 15 minutes, there is a targeting by a warning missile that is close to the building or in an empty apartment in the building. And that is what we were afraid of. In exactly 15 minutes, the first missile, warning missile, has been targeted next to the building. It was really traumatizing for all of us, running around on the stairs.
The building is out of 12 stories. And the first five floors were offices that host doctor’s offices and lawyer’s offices, a Falastinia lab. And the other six floors are residential apartments, and the last floor is the floor that hosts the Associated Press and, opposite to it, the Al Jazeera office. So, basically, this building is one of the most famous buildings in the Strip. All the residents know each other. The doctor’s offices are known. The lawyer’s offices there are known. No stranger comes in or out of that building.
And that’s why — I mean, the side of the story that says that there is Hamas intelligence that was in that building and that’s why they targeted the building has to do nothing with the reality of targeting the third building that hosts media offices in the Gaza Strip, after just a couple of days, al-Sharouk tower and al-Johara tower. The largest three buildings that host all the media offices in the Gaza Strip were completely destructed and brought to the ground. This was just the third one, but it had international media offices. And it was one of the safest places ever.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you all have moved in with Agence France-Presse, who has offered their offices for you to try to safely operate?
YOUMNA AL-SAYED: We are operating from different places now, al-Shifa complex. Like, we weren’t able to take a lot of what we had in the office. I mean, very few cameras, one or two, very few of our equipment, we were able to save. Some of us were just on the stairs trying help civilians with their children to evacuate the building. It was really frightening. And it was really — we were really in a hurry, especially after the targeting of the reconnaissance warning missile that just targeted next to us. Another one was targeted like 15 minutes later. So, like in half an hour, we had two missiles, warning missiles. That itself, in like already in 30 minutes, almost all the building was evacuated, because we were very much frightened that it could be targeted or destructed in less than an hour. We asked the Israeli army spokesman for just 30 minutes. We asked him for 30 minutes when he called again. And we said we just need 30 minutes to get a little bit of our equipment from the offices. The residents needed to get some little necessities or essentials from their apartments. But he totally refused. And right after that, the targeting began, and the tower was all brought to the ground. So now we are just shattered here and there, trying to work from different locations with very little resources and little equipment that we have.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe more also what happened this morning just as you were driving in Gaza, the targeted attack on a car in front of you?
YOUMNA AL-SAYED: Yes. I was going to Shifa complex, where I broadcast for Al Jazeera. And just 10 meters away, like 10 meters away, a car got targeted in front of us. And, like, honestly, if my driver hadn’t lowered the speed just like 30 seconds, because his phone rang so he had to lower the speed, just 30 seconds away, we would have been in that targeting, as well. We would have died in that targeting, as well.
So, like you would be going out to work, I leave my family. I say goodbye to them, and I go to work. And I know that I might actually get targeted or killed at any instant. That itself is something that is really, really traumatizing and heavy to carry around. I mean, I had to go on air after that, but I wasn’t even able to express what I have been through. I mean, this action might end any day, but the trauma that it has caused to each one of us is going to stay for so long with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Youmna, you have four children?
YOUMNA AL-SAYED: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you tell them?
YOUMNA AL-SAYED: I have four children. The youngest is two years and a half, and the oldest is 10 years.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you tell them?
YOUMNA AL-SAYED: I tell them to forgive me. I tell them to forgive me if anything happens to me and I have to leave them, because this is my duty, and I have to — I have to deliver this message to the world. I know that there is nothing that forces me to go out and report in such times, but I have to do this, because if I don’t do it in these hard times, if I don’t deliver the message now, then when am I going to do that? The destruction around us is massive.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think the message is that was delivered to the media by this attack on the main media offices, Al Jazeera and AP, where you work, other media organizations, now Tony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, saying he was not told of any direct evidence of Hamas working in this building?
YOUMNA AL-SAYED: Yes, and I’m sure that there isn’t going to be any. I mean, the Israeli army, when it has the proof for anything to back its story, it provides it, one, at once, instantly. I mean, it wants to back its stories. It has to. OK? But it’s not a coincidence that three towers hosting media offices would be completely destructed. This is no coincidence. I mean, this is just a deliberate targeting to the media voice in the Gaza Strip.
AMY GOODMAN: Youmna al-Sayed, I want to turn to video of you last week, when you were live on the air when Israel leveled another high-rise building in Gaza.
YOUMNA AL-SAYED: I’m sending a message to the world: Please, before you judge us, before you say that we are terrorists, I want you to make sure that you see the reality and the truth from all sides. Do not just take the Western media and go with it. Do not believe the Israeli messages and the Israeli side of the story without seeing our side. [aerial strike] As you can see now, the building has been brought down. It has been fully destructed. This is a tower. This is al-Sharouk tower, a 14-story building that has been brought to the ground, totally destructed by air raids. By the way, just for you to know, this tower is in a very densely populated.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Youmna al-Sayed reporting last week for Al Jazeera in the Gaza Strip. Now the building she worked out of, Associated Press and Al Jazeera, has also been bombed by the Israeli military. For our radio listeners, what you can’t see, Youmna is wearing a helmet. When that explosion happened, she ducks down. Can you describe where you were then? Was that the building that has now been destroyed, or is that another building, Youmna?
YOUMNA AL-SAYED: Yes, that is the building where we had our offices, the AP and Al Jazeera. And that is where I usually broadcast for Al Jazeera, from the rooftop of that building. That is the building that has been targeted. And the building that was targeted behind me in the video is the Sharouk building, which is a 14-story building that hosts three-quarters of the media offices in the Gaza Strip. It’s the second largest and hosts all the media, like most of the media offices in the Gaza Strip.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, this false report that was put out by the Israeli military that there was a ground assault taking place in Gaza, using the media to convey that message — actually, Associated Press did a breakdown of this and would not report it directly, but all the other press and now headlines in The New York Times and Washington Post about the media being tricked — what happened, Youmna?
YOUMNA AL-SAYED: So, if you’re talking about — I’m sorry. You’re talking about the video, where I was?
AMY GOODMAN: The media being — the Israeli military putting out that they were doing a ground assault of Gaza, and the Western media reporting that?
YOUMNA AL-SAYED: Yes, yes. I think that that was — if you’re going to ask me as Youmna, while I’m just a reporter, I will tell you that this was a kind of a way for the Israeli army to play with the feelings and emotions of the citizens in the Gaza Strip, just to add more pressure on them. I mean, everyone was extremely traumatized when they heard that there is going to be a ground operation taking place, with — alongside with the air operation, which is already taking place and causing great crisis here in the Gaza Strip. And then, suddenly, there’s nothing, and they start saying that, “No, it’s not true. We are not going to carry on a land operation.” So, I think it was an attempt to actually — it was an attempt to actually try to bring down or traumatize the people of the Strip even more.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Youmna al-Sayed, I want to thank you for being with us, journalist in the Gaza Strip with the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, worked in the building that housed AP and Al Jazeera that was bombed by the Israeli military. Youmna has four children.