Fox News Channel’s Yonat Friling On Reporting From Israel: ‘I Know What I’ve Seen And No One Can Deny It’

Fox News senior field producer Yonat Friling is used to getting calls at all hours of the day and night, but when her phone rang at six o’clock on the morning of October 7th, it wasn’t a journalist or a source, it was her father, telling her he’d heard gunshots near his home. “He usually calls me on these things and when we talked, he said ‘I think you should check this, because it seems weird.’”

Friling quickly called correspondent Trey Yingst, who in turn called Greg Headen, the network’s vice president of news who oversees the international desk in New York. Headen told the crew to head south, where Hamas had launched a surprise attack that would leave 1,200 Israelis dead. But early on that Saturday morning, Friling and her team didn’t know what they were speeding toward.

“By the time we arrived, I didn’t fully understand what I was seeing at first,” she said. “At the time, we weren’t aware that any car that was next to us could shoot at us. It was that chaotic.”

“We arrived at a triage point with all the people coming from the communities close to the border,” she said. “There were ambulances, private cars, helicopters, but there weren’t enough vehicles to evacuate them.”

“So, at the time, we all understood something horrific had happened. But it really hit me about 10 hours later when we saw the line of cars, the people who survived coming out of the communities and their faces were shocked. You could see the terror on their faces. They were coming out and looking for something, someone to hug, and so I hugged them. I hugged so many people I never met before, and it was then that I think we started to understand what happened. And the following day when we went into the communities and saw the atrocities, I understood the meaning in their faces.”

Friling had just returned to Israel from covering the massive earthquake in Morocco that killed more than three thousand people, and the things she saw while covering that story had impacted her. She’d scheduled an appointment with a therapist for the following Sunday. The Hamas attack meant that processing her experience in Morocco would have to wait. “In order to do our job and stay focused on the mission,” she told me, should would have to put her Morocco experience “in a box.”

“But we promised ourselves that we’re going to open the box and talk to professional people, with the help of Fox News and their tremendous help to us. Once you’re done, we have to unpack the box. And that’s what I’m going to do about it.”

In the month since she received that call from her father (who was unhurt), she has written about the emotional toll covering war zones can have on journalists. “I have always dreamt of being a journalist and am one of the fortunate ones who do what they love most. And while I cannot imagine myself doing anything else, I have realized in past years what a huge toll it has on my life.”

“The most disturbing thing I have seen, since the Hamas attacks of October 7, is too horrible to describe and share here. In the past week, I have seen the most awful things that can be done to people of all ages—babies, older women, young teens — scenes that I will never forget.”

Friling told me the fact that the attack unfolded on a Saturday morning, the Jewish Sabbath, made it all the more difficult to understand in those first confusing and horrific hours. “I grew up around here. I know how beautiful and peaceful it is, especially on a Saturday morning, which I think is the purest in Israeli society, that morning of Shabbat where you have a day full of family and friends,” she told me. “Everything is possible. It’s the essence of the weekend.”

“And the things that we’ve seen there, I don’t have words, not even in Hebrew, by own language,” she told me, remembering the homes she saw, some with breakfast still on the table, shattered by violence. “I couldn’t talk for half an hour after we left. I stood silently. My body when into a mode that I’ve never witnessed before. I just had to breathe, to make sure I’m breathing. And I’m unable to figure out what I just saw.”

In the weeks since that day, as Israel has responded with attacks on Hamas in Gaza, it has become “much harder” to report on the story, Friling told me. “As I always do, I approach it with great love and compassion. I’m trying to be as humble as I can, and only talking about the things I’ve seen and worked through and verified. And I understand that every story has many sides, and I only see one small part of it.”

“I have friends in Gaza. And they tell us things and we report on that. But we still don’t see everything. And also out of respect to them and fear for their lives, we don’t ask questions that may jeopardize their own safety. Everything that you say here is so volatile.”

“But at the end of the day, I know what I’ve seen in the first week, and no one can deny it. And I don’t think as a human being, regardless of being Israeli, Jewish, or any type of religion, that people would have seen what I saw with my own eyes, and what I’ve smelled and what I’ve witnessed, nobody would doubt it. And it breaks my heart that this has happened.”

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