Best of AP — First Winner


Documenting Gaza’s generations of loss, name by name

Israel-Palestinians-Gaza-Death of a Family Tree Image ID : 24164780207239 Yousef Salem works on his computer in Istanbul, Turkey, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. In December 2023, in a matter of days, 173 of his relatives were killed in Israeli airstrikes. By spring that toll had risen to 270. He spent months filling a spreadsheet with their vital details as news of their deaths was confirmed, to preserve a last link to the web of relationships he thought would thrive for generations more. “My uncles were wiped out, totally. The heads of households, their wives, children, and grandchildren,” he said. AP PHOTO / KHALIL HAMRA

Israel-Palestinians-Gaza-Death of a Family Tree

Over months of tenacious work, Beirut-based investigative correspondent Sarah El Deeb documented name by name how Israeli airstrikes in Gaza decimated dozens of Palestinian families, with some losing well over 200 people across generations.

El Deeb, who has worked for the AP in the Middle East since 2000, knows better than most journalists the importance of extended family in Gaza. Early in the war, Palestinians started contacting her about entire families dying under Israeli airstrikes, multiple generations at once. She resolved to document exactly how the war was decimating Gaza’s families, one family tree at a time.

Despite frequent communications cuts and scant official information, she tracked down people from multiple families who were building their own databases of loss to show how the war will affect Palestinian culture and society going forward. El Deeb created a spreadsheet that cross-referenced airstrikes by date and the families killed, including obtaining exclusive access to some of the documentation of the casualties by the non-profit transparency watchdog Airwars. As part of her investigation, AP also geolocated and analyzed 10 Israeli strikes, among the deadliest in the war, between Oct. 7 and Dec. 24. Together the strikes killed more than 500 people.

Using the families’ own video and photos, she and New York-based video investigative journalist Marshall Ritzell created a video to document the toll, leading with an especially moving photo of a wedding party in which only two of the attendees pictured were still alive.

AP’s X post to the story had 5.9 million impressions. NPR’s program “Here & Now” asked El Deeb to detail her reporting on its show. The Saudi-owned news site Ashraq al-Awsat ran the full story in Arabic. Al-Jazeera English featured the report in a discussion group. And the Global Investigative Journalism Network asked to detail the project’s tradecraft in its newsletter.

For an extraordinary project to document the toll of the Israeli air and ground campaign in Gaza and its effects on at least 60 Palestinian families in which 25 people or more were killed, El Deeb earns this week’s Best of AP — First Winner. 

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