Why you don't get the truth from Gaza
An important story by veteran journalist Mark Lavie about what's different about covering Gaza
than other war zones.
It’s nothing new. I’ve experienced it for decades. Autocratic regimes
threaten, attack and jail reporters who write anything critical of
those in power. Other reporters get the message and just don’t do it.
Bringing this element of the Gaza situation to light entails some
real dangers. It’s a saga that can’t be told directly in detail. If it
is, and if specific reporters can be identified here, people will be
harmed. Not just the reporters, but their families, too. But if this
isn’t told, you’ll be harmed. You won’t know why you don’t get the whole
Here’s the serious part. A typical news report from Gaza a few days
ago described the destruction, interviewed Gaza civilians who related in
heartbreaking detail the deaths of their relatives and loss of their
belongings, and listed the hardships and travail the people are facing
because of the Israeli military operation. Halfway through the long
story was a single paragraph that said that Israel claims Hamas fires
rockets from civilian areas. This is how journalists protect themselves
from charges that they didn’t tell “the other side.”
But in fact, they didn’t. They didn’t report from Gaza about where
the Hamas rocket launchers were, where the ammunition is stored, where
the openings of the tunnels are—if they mention the tunnels at all,
which in this case, they didn’t.
A reporter for a European news outlet told a friend that he saw Hamas
gunmen firing rockets from outside his hotel, but he didn’t take
pictures, certain that if he had, they would have killed him. He told
the tale only after he was safely out of Gaza. Apparently his news
outlet did not have a permanent local stringer there, or he would not
have been able to speak even from the relative safety of Tel Aviv
without endangering his stringer.
News agencies, newspapers and TV networks use their local Palestinian
stringers to do most of the work on the ground. In this era of cutbacks
in my industry, there aren’t enough reporters, and those they send in
are not fluent in Arabic and don’t know their way around.
Besides the budgetary limitations, news organizations often hesitate
to send reporters into Gaza at all because of the constant danger, and
not from Israeli airstrikes. In 2007, BBC reporter Alan Johnston was
kidnapped by Palestinian militants and held for more than three months.
Many other foreign journalists were kidnapped there and held for a day
or two around that time. There have been no kidnappings recently, but
the message was clear—foreigners are fair game. The message was heard
and understood. For lack of an alternative, news organizations began to
rely more and more on local stringers, giving the regime considerable
leverage through intimidation. It’s expected that news organizations
will deny all this—it’s part of the dance.
On many occasions, frightened stringers have pleaded to have their
bylines taken off stories.
Some have been “evacuated” from Gaza for a
time for their own safety, after an article critical of the regime was
published or broadcast. Families have been spirited out for a while.
So when the stringer returns home and gets back to work, it’s pretty
clear how he’ll behave. Everyone in the home office knows that and
The West Bank, run by the relatively moderate Fatah, is no better than Gaza’s Hamas in this regard.
Even the best are turned. A Palestinian reporter duly
relayed an official Palestinian story from an Israeli army roadblock
near Ramallah in the West Bank, where a pregnant woman had died after
heartless Israeli soldiers refused to let her go through to the
hospital. The reporter went to the hospital, where a doctor confirmed
the report. Uneasy, the reporter climbed on foot to the primitive
encampment where the woman lived, and there, her husband refuted the
whole story. The delay, he said, was getting her to the main road and
finding a taxi. Once they got to the roadblock, he said, the soldiers
cleared everyone else out of the way and sped them through to the
hospital—but it was too late. The reporter then confronted the doctor,
who admitted that he lied “for the cause.”
A decade or so later, this same reporter, like others, refused to
touch a story of a Palestinian whistleblower, appointed by President
Mahmoud Abbas himself to find evidence of corruption in the PA. He did
his job too well, it seems—he was fired, but not before he said he took
with him 40 boxes of incriminating documents, possibly answering the
question of where those billions of dollars and euros of aid to the
Palestinians has gone. The whistleblower approached several reporters,
but no story was done until a local Israeli TV channel broadcast a
report, and to the best of my knowledge, no serious examination of the
documents has been undertaken.
Clearly the abuse of reporters and perversion of journalism is not
unique to Gaza or the West Bank. This is the situation all over the
region save Israel. During my two years in Egypt, I saw some of my
colleagues beaten, harassed and arrested. The military-backed Egyptian
regime jailed reporters for Al-Jazeera last December, charging them with
belonging to or assisting a terrorist organization. Three, including
Australian Peter Greste and bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, a
Canadian-Egyptian, have been sentenced to seven to ten years in prison.
Read the whole thing
Labels: anti-Israel media bias, Fatah, freedom of the press, Gaza, Hamas, Palestinian Authority