Trapped in the enclave, Palestinians on the social media platform are documenting and sharing their harrowing experiences of life under Israeli airstrikes and a ground invasion.
The war in Gaza is unfolding on your cellphone.
It’s being captured and narrated by Palestinians, trapped in the besieged enclave with cellphones, a command of English and large Instagram followings.
While Israel and Egypt are preventing most journalists from entering Gaza, these Palestinians are documenting the devastation of Israel’s airstrikes and ground invasion in stories and reels. Their posts are intimate and raw — capturing images that mainstream media might consider too graphic to run.
They live the war they’re covering: surviving bombardments, rationing food and water, and sheltering in hospitals.
They are not neutral observers, and in their impassioned posts, they don’t purport to be. Some even accuse them of being propagandists for Hamas, which runs Gaza.
In response to Hamas-led attacks on Oct. 7, Israel began an intense bombing campaign in Gaza that has killed more than 10,500 people, including over 4,300 children, according to Gaza’s health ministry. U.N. experts have declared that “the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide.”
At least 33 Palestinian media workers have been killed inside Gaza, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Yet Palestinians in Gaza keep documenting the brutal war, attracting millions of followers around the world.
Here are three of them.
It was 4 a.m. when Motaz Azaiza fell asleep on Oct. 7.
The 24-year-old had been up late editing a video for a U.N. agency where he worked as a part-time producer, and watching “Friends” reruns.
Two hours later, he awoke to the sound of explosions and ran to his roof to see a barrage of rockets above him. There had been no warning, no exchange of fire that typically signaled a full-blown war. But one had started while he was asleep.
Hamas-led fighters had breached the barriers dividing Gaza from Israel, attacking soldiers and residents of nearby communities. Israeli officials said about 240 people were taken captive and around 1,400 people, mainly civilians but some soldiers, were killed in Israel.
In response, Israel launched a full-scale war against Hamas, trapping Mr. Azaiza and two million others under bombardment in Gaza, a tinderbox after decades of conflict.
Mr. Azaiza, who had already lived through four wars, grabbed his camera, and stepped out into an unraveling world.
Armed Palestinian men whizzed by in an Israeli military Jeep with three captives, two of them in uniform, and paraded them before residents, he said. Mr. Azaiza remembers the fear in one of the captive’s eyes.
He filmed the scene, uploading the video to his 24,000 Instagram followers.
“I didn’t even know what to feel,” he recalled. “We didn’t know that this Jeep was going to bring this disaster on us.”
Mr. Azaiza received a bachelor’s degree in English translation from a Gaza university, and had a passion for travel photography. He honed his craft capturing Gaza’s beauties and horrors.
But war in Gaza transformed him into a war correspondent for the social media age.
Now, he has 13 million Instagram followers.
Mr. Azaiza documents the effect of Israel’s bombardments in a way typical of his generation: raw footage filmed selfie-style, uploaded as stories. His English narration makes his reach global.
“I just post on my stories like everybody else,” he said. “I post videos from my daily life just like celebrities do,” he said.
But his videos are starkly different. On Oct. 9, Mr. Azaiza filmed himself crying after he survived an explosion.
“It just moved something within me,” he said. “I was traumatized, so I cried for two minutes.”
On Oct. 11, he said he lost his best friends in a strike on their home. Then, members of his extended family were killed. On Oct. 22, he stood over the corpses of dead babies. On Oct. 23, he walked over rubble and declared: “We still alive.”
“In the beginning, I didn’t know what I was doing or what I was covering,” he said. “I just wanted to document it and tell people that we are here. I am here.”
His coverage and fame has had a cost. He’s finding it hard to focus, exhausted by what he’s witnessed, and he’s scared for his safety. He’s witnessed the killing of colleagues, how their homes have crumbled in airstrikes, and said he pulled his friends from the rubble.
“Yesterday, I slept in the house. I had one leg on the bed and one leg on the floor,” Mr. Azaiza said. “I don’t know if I should stay or leave. My mother is distraught.”
On Nov. 4, Mr. Azaiza posted a video stating that he was no longer in Gaza City, and that it would be too risky to return because it was surrounded by Israeli troops.
While he promised to continue documenting the war, he reminded followers of his limitations: “I’m not superman.”
“I feel like my body is going to collapse,” he said to the camera. “I wish I can cover it all, but I’ll try to cover what I can without risking my life.”
When Hind Khoudary left home early in the war to report on the wounded and dead arriving at a Gaza City hospital, she didn’t realize it would be for the last time.
While she was on assignment, Israel ordered the evacuation of residents from northern Gaza and her family joined hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing south. Ms. Khoudary, 28, stayed to document the war, but couldn’t return home after her neighborhood was bombed.
Ms. Khoudary has lived through four of the five wars between Israel and Hamas in the past 16 years. This time, she became homeless — without an adequate supply of clothing.
Reporting on mounting casualties consumed her, but after a week of stepping over smoky rubble and bloodied floors, she couldn’t ignore the smell of her socks. She was relieved when another journalist gave her new ones.
“I felt as if he gave me an iPhone, a MacBook — something I would wish for Christmas,” she said.
A freelance reporter for Anadolu Agency, a Turkish news service, Ms. Khoudary has simultaneously been targeted by Hamas and scrutinized for posts critical of Israel in the past.
She reports in fluent English and is often one of a few female reporters at the scene of attacks, documenting endless scenes of destruction.
“There’s no front or back line in Gaza,” she said. “It is all the front line.”
“We have all grown numb and we’ve all grown ‘alligator skin’ — it’s an airstrike? Oh, OK, an airstrike,” she said. “We no longer have reactions.”
Ms. Khoudary describes what once stood where rubble is now: a salon, a children’s play area, a wedding hall. She shares videos of her wartime life: empty shelves, funerals, families seeking shelter.
Ms. Khoudary and her team live off dates to avoid contaminated food and sleep in an office where she collapses on her backpack. Since Israel imposed a “complete siege,” water has become scarce.
“I am officially dehydrated,” she wrote on the social media platform X on Nov. 4.
Ms. Khoudary remains separated from her family — her husband, mother, three brothers and 5-year-old nephew. But she is determined to keep followers informed.
“People want to listen. People want to read,” she said. “Now, I feel a great responsibility.”
Ms. Khoudary has been in the spotlight before.
In 2019, Hamas detained her and accused her of spying for speaking to protesters arrested during demonstrations against the rising cost of living.
The next year, she appeared in The New York Times for a Facebook post rebuking Palestinian activists for befriending Israelis over Zoom, and tagging Hamas officials. Critics accused her of endangering the activists’ lives. She removed the post, denied support for Hamas and reminded critics that she had been jailed by them.
But she doubled down on her political stance: normalizing with the enemy was a “sin,” she said on Facebook.
Now, Ms. Khoudary has become prominent for documenting the uncertainties she and others face in a brutal war.
On Nov. 3, as she was standing outside a hospital, an explosion rocked the densely populated area. Videos showed at least a half-dozen bodies lying in pools of blood, and screaming children. Israel’s military said it targeted an ambulance “being used by a Hamas terrorist cell,” a claim that couldn’t be verified independently.
“Physically, I’m perfect. But psychologically, I am not,” she said by telephone, her voice cracking.
Ms. Khoudary and Mr. Azaiza have lost many friends in this war, including the photojournalist Roshdi Sarraj, who was killed at home on Oct. 22.
Their colleagues’ families have not been spared, either. Al Jazeera Arabic’s bureau chief in Gaza, Wael al-Dahdouh, lost his wife, son, daughter and grandson in an attack. After a strike on their home, Mohammed Alaloul, a cameraman for Anadolu, wept over the bodies of his four children, four siblings and three nephews.
Ms. Khoudary can’t fathom how she and colleagues will process the personal scale of this war once they put their phones and cameras down.
“We are speechless and numb,” she said. “We think that our souls are turned off.”
A month into the war, Noor Harazeen still can’t comprehend what happened on Oct. 7.
The night before, she was enjoying the company of friends at a hotel overlooking the Mediterranean. Later, she helped her twins, Sara and Bassam, 5, with their homework and cuddled them to sleep.
The attack on Israel surprised Ms. Harazeen, 34, but she quickly understood its gravity, and left for her job as a TV correspondent at CGTN, a Chinese network.
On air, she embodies the confidence typical of a seasoned war reporter. On Oct. 8, when what appeared to be fighter jets flew above Ms. Harazeen, she ducked but didn’t move. Days later, an anchor cut the live broadcast to urge her to seek cover from what appeared to be shelling nearby.
As a wife and mother, safety is Ms. Harazeen’s priority. So she made the difficult decision to flee south with her husband and twins. Her parents refused to leave, fearing a second “Nakba,” the expulsion and flight of 700,000 Palestinians during the creation of the state of Israel.
“The worst part about it is losing your dignity,” Ms. Harazeen said. “I hugged my kids and shoved them into the car with blankets and pillows, not knowing what was about to happen.”
She still reports for her network and posts updates on the war.
In one, she informed followers that she had been unable to see her parents, who are sheltering in a Gaza City hospital, for 20 days. In another, she described how she couldn’t reach them by phone because of downed networks.
Ms. Harazeen moved to Gaza from the United Arab Emirates with her parents before the 2007 civil war between Palestinian factions that led to the Hamas takeover of Gaza. Wars punctuated her life for the next 16 years.
Ms. Harazeen had invested her hopes in Gaza City, opening a cosmetics store in an upscale neighborhood in 2019. She painted it pink and named it “Rouh,” meaning soul.
The building is still standing, for now.
These days, Ms. Harazeen shelters in an apartment with about 20 people, sharing a mattress with her husband and twins. They survive mainly on canned tuna, and have to go to a coffee shop to use the bathroom.
But she spends most of her time at a hospital, reporting on the wounded there, and posting on her Instagram page, which has reached 100,000 followers in less than three weeks, partly because of her English.
“Arabs already know what is happening,” she said. “So I feel that there’s a responsibility to speak in English.”
Ms. Harazeen’s videos center on the youngest victims, with striking images of injured newborns, traumatized toddlers and anguished children.
She vividly remembers Oct. 15, when most casualties she saw at a hospital were children, she said. Some had missing heads and arms, others were in pieces.
“That was one of the most challenging days for me in the war,” Ms. Harazeen said. “I couldn’t find the words to express the scene as I stood in front of the camera.”
Whenever she sees an injured child, she thinks of her own. She worries for their safety, and their future. But she hopes her profession can inspire them.
“I also want them to carry the responsibility of being children from Gaza — and to one day represent Gaza’s voice.”
Abeer Pamuk contributed production from San Francisco.