Opinion: The Israeli censorship regime is growing. That needs to stop.

Barring outside journalists from Gaza and the killings of those covering the war must stop.

Dadu Shin for The New York Times

When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, newsrooms across the world scrambled to send their reporters to the front lines. Journalists gave the international public firsthand experience of the conflict. Air raid sirens blared during live on-air reports. Reporters flinched at nearby explosions. They brought the world to the heart of the fighting: “20 Days in Mariupol,” a documentary that showcased an Associated Press report on the attack on the city, won an Oscar last month. That report, among other things, helped debunk Russian claims that the bombing of a maternity hospital, in which three people were killed, was “staged.”

No such international coverage has been possible a thousand miles away in Gaza, where war has claimed the lives of more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that left some 1,200 Israelis dead, according to the government.

Though international media workers rushed to Israel (it has granted accreditation to at least 2,800 correspondents since the war started), none have been allowed into Gaza except on a handful of tightly controlled tours led by the Israeli military. As a result, for the past six months, the world has been almost entirely reliant on the reporting of local Palestinian journalists for on-site information about the impact of the war — along with mostly unverified social media posts that have flooded the information space since its start.

The refusal to allow international media to cover Gaza from the inside is just one element of a growing censorship regime that leaves a vacuum for propaganda, mis- and disinformation, and claims and counterclaims that are extraordinarily difficult to verify independently. A CNN report on the so-called Flour Massacre — the deadly aid delivery that the Gazan Health Ministry said killed 100 people and injured 700 — for example, cast doubt on Israel’s version of events. But it took more than a month to piece together that evidence from eyewitness testimonies and after scouring dozens of videos.

Outside media access would enable journalists to more rapidly verify Israel’s claims that Hamas is seizing or stopping food aid or that it has used hospitals to shield its fighters. It could also help the world better understand the nature of Hamas’s tunnel system, which Israel says extends under civilian infrastructure, and the level of support for its leadership.

Free access could enable us to better understand whether Israel has deliberately fired on children, which it denies, and the extent of the famine that aid agencies report is spreading through northern Gaza. It would shed light on the killings of at least 95 journalists and other media workers that my organization, the Committee to Protect Journalists, has documented since the start of the war — the most dangerous conflict for reporters and media workers since we began keeping records in 1992.

Israel champions itself as a democracy and a bastion of press freedom in the region. Its actions tell a very different story. The high rate of journalists’ deaths and arrests, including a slew in the West Bank; laws allowing its government to shut down foreign news outlets deemed a security risk, which the prime minister has explicitly threatened to use against Al Jazeera; and its refusal to permit foreign journalists independent access to Gaza all speak to a leadership that is deliberately restricting press freedom. That is the hallmark of a dictatorship, not a democracy.

Israel’s allies, too, pride themselves on their commitment to a free press. The United States, Britain and other Israeli allies like Germany all loudly proclaim their commitment to a pluralistic and independent media. Their governments explicitly support news outlets that broadcast information into and about countries that censor and control information, such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is funded by the U.S. Congress. A government that has made explicit formal commitments to defend media freedom at home and abroad should be equally explicit in calling on Israel and Egypt to allow international journalists access to Gaza.

Banning journalists is an often used strategy: Russia heavily restricted international reporters’ entry into Chechnya during its war there, and Syria also largely barred foreign reporters during its civil war. But as one experienced war correspondent told me, “We could always find a way to sneak in.” That has not been possible in this war, with both Egypt and Israel preventing nearly all unsupervised foreign access and concerns abounding that journalists and other noncombatants may be targeted even when clearly marked — as evidenced by the killing of World Central Kitchen aid workers this month despite working in a so-called deconflicted zone and having communicated their movements to Israeli officials.

To be sure, governments waging war can make a legitimate argument that conflict zones are too dangerous for journalists and that protecting them would be too hard or even endanger troops. And Hamas in its rule over Gaza was no beacon of press freedom, banning news outlets and arresting journalists. But at least since the middle of the 19th century, with the Crimean War and the American Civil War, armies have given some kind of regular, if controlled, access to battle zones.

Journalists in Gaza are reporting under excruciating conditions that few of even the most seasoned war reporters have ever experienced: no food, no shelter, telecommunications blackouts, and routine destruction of professional equipment and facilities.

“From the first day, it has been impossible to comprehensively cover the war,” Diaa Al-Kahlout, a Gaza-based journalist, recently told the Committee to Protect Journalists. Bombings and communications blackouts stopped stories from getting out, he said. “What was shared were just bits of breaking news, and the deeper stories were lost or silenced because journalists were targeted, there was no security, and essential supplies like electricity and the internet, and work tools like laptops, were missing.” Mr. Al-Kahlout was himself detained by Israeli forces in a mass arrest and held for 33 days in custody, during which time he said he was interrogated about his journalism and subjected to physical and psychological mistreatment.

Israel frequently brands journalists as terrorists and sympathizers, encouraging the public to question these journalists’ veracity. Having journalists from outside Gaza would help counter such claims. Without them, Palestinian journalists will continue to bear the full risks — and responsibility — of reporting this conflict.

Governments and military regimes the world over like to say that censorship — including outside of war settings — is necessary to protect national security. In fact, the opposite is true. Without independent witnesses to war, atrocities can be enacted with impunity on all sides. Israel must open Gaza to journalists, and Israel’s allies must insist on it. Justice and democracy depend on it.

Jodie Ginsberg is the chief executive of the Committee to Protect Journalists. This article originally appeared in The New York Times.