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Saturday, May 23, 2015

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Some Questions for Reporters in Gaza

Tags: Columnists CIJA Paul Michaels
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Paul Michaels

Seven hundred and ten. According to Ha’aretz’s Anshel Pfeffer, that’s the number of foreign correspondents who’ve covered the Israel-Hamas war from Gaza.

Even if only some of those 710 reporters have been in Gaza at the same time over the past month, the total is remarkable, given that less than two per cent of that number are reporting from Syria or Iraq – where fatalities immeasurably exceed those in Gaza. But then, journalists know they face kidnapping or death in Syria – where about 150,000 people have been killed in the past three years, including 1,500 in just one July week – and that they risk the same in Iraq, where ISIS is rounding up and executing large numbers of civilians, and entire religious sects (Christians, Yazidis) are at risk of genocide.

So, the continuing atrocities in Syria go mostly unreported, and attention to Iraq has increased recently only because of the renewed, if limited, U.S. military airstrikes against ISIS.

By contrast, foreign correspondents travel relatively freely from Israel to Gaza and claim uncensored access to the story in Gaza – more than anywhere else in the Arab world.

There are about 350 full-time foreign journalists stationed in Israel, a country of about 20,000 square kilometres and eight million people. Only Washington, D.C., and possibly London, are home to more foreign correspondents. This makes Israel, on any ordinary day, the most covered country per kilometre and per capita in the world. During wartime, the number of journalists (often referred to as “parachuted” reporters) flocking to Israel typically swells to more than 1,000. With approximately 70 per cent of these travelling to Gaza, an area of 360 square kilometres with a population of 1.8 million, Gaza has become the most densely covered entity in the world.

Now, given all the physical destruction and casualties they’ve shown repeatedly on TV news (the fatality count of Gazans is about 1,900 at the time of writing, with the actual civilian total in dispute), one might ask: how have these journalists managed to remain safe?

Other questions have been raised with growing frequency: how is it that virtually none of the 710 reporters has managed to capture pictures of Hamas and Islamic Jihad missiles, now numbering about 3,000, being launched from dense urban areas near schools, hospitals, mosques, and apartment buildings? As tragic as it is that Palestinian civilians (even with prior Israeli warnings) have been killed and injured in Israel’s efforts to eliminate Hamas missiles and launchers, why is it that – as Hamas has been banking on – all western audiences see day after day are undeniably heart-rending scenes of Gazan rubble and civilian casualties, especially children? Where are the visuals from Gaza of Hamas’ violent provocations against Israel to provide context to Israel’s counter-strikes?

Why is it that no reporter in Gaza is on record asking a Hamas spokesman such critical questions as: “Why do you feel safe to speak to us freely from Gaza City’s Shifa hospital? Is this where Hamas has its headquarters, buried in bunkers beneath the hospital, amid a matrix of tunnels?” or “Since Gaza civilians complain that they have no shelters to run to, why doesn’t Hamas open their tunnels and bunkers for the protection of their civilians?”

This last question led Times of Israel editor David Horovitz to remark (Aug. 6): “We have scraped the bottom of the barrel of western morality when it takes an Iranian official to observe, while obviously praising the ‘resistance,’ that Hamas really ought to have let Gaza’s civilians share some space in its tunnels to shelter from the Israeli military strikes it was provoking with its rocket fire and tunnel attacks.”

Could the answer to all questions rest with what the Foreign Press Association charged on Aug 11 – that journalists in Gaza “have been harassed, threatened or questioned over stories or information they have reported”?

Surely a thorough investigation into the reporting process from Gaza is warranted.

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