A good look at the Press in Gaza...
Stephanie Gutmann has actually written a terrific book about press reporting in the middle east...
But what of the Times’s argument that having reporters in the combat theater is “essential to full public understanding of the conflict”?
The argument sounds unimpeachable—until you learn what reporters are up against in the course of trying to do their jobs in the Gaza Strip. Here are some of the more famous incidents:
In December 2005, British aid worker Kate Burton was kidnapped along with her parents. She was held for three days. During this time she was asked, as the British paper the Guardian put it, “to read a statement in which Britain was castigated for its past and present role in the Middle East.” Did her reading the statement for video cameras affect whether she was released? The Guardian did not ask her to speculate.
In August 2006, it was the turn of Fox News reporter Steve Centani and his cameraman to be held in a mysterious location for two tense weeks, during which they were also filmed apologizing for past sins and promising to do better. An obviously shaken Centani has not returned to his Israel/Palestine beat and now covers Washington, D.C.
In September 2006, in the Jerusalem Post, Khaled Abu Toameh detailed a crackdown by Hamas on Palestinian media: “At least 15 gunmen stormed the offices of the local Sawt Al-Hurriya (Voice of Freedom) radio station” in Gaza City and forced a popular, but anti-Hamas, radio host “to accompany them to an unknown destination.” A week before, a Palestinian journalist working for WAFA (a sort of Palestinian AP) “was severely beaten by masked gunmen who stormed his office and destroyed all the equipment and furniture.”
In March 2007, Palestinian gunmen fired 14 bullets into the armored car of a United Nations official. “This is unprecedented, to shoot at a clearly marked U.N. vehicle with a U.N. flag flying in broad daylight,” said the official, John Ging. Ironically, Ging was Gaza director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), the largest nongovernmental employer in Gaza. It supplies food, medicine, and schools for about 70 percent of Gaza’s 1.5 million people.
Then, for reporters at least, there was the last straw: the kidnapping in March 2007 of the BBC’s Alan Johnston. Johnston, who had always gone out of his way to “tell the Palestinians’ story,” was held for nearly four months, during which he was given the full Baghdad-style hostage treatment. In the videos released by his captors, relatives could see him getting gaunter and more frightened with each appearance.
Johnston’s captivity may have been prolonged by what Steve Erlanger of the New York Times called “the madness,” the climactic war between Hamas and al-Fatah. Erlanger, who had himself been the victim of a very hushed-up kidnapping attempt, described “the madness” as “putting bullets in the back of the heads of men on their knees. Shooting up hospitals. Killing patients. Kneecapping doctors. Executing clerics. Throwing handcuffed prisoners to their deaths from Gaza’s highest (and most expensive) apartment buildings.”
After Johnston’s kidnapping, the strip became “a no-go zone for our members,” in the words of the Tel Aviv–based chapter of the global Foreign Press Association (FPA). “There is a huge load of frustration over Alan Johnston’s condition,” Simon McGregor-Wood, bureau chief for ABC and then chairman of the FPA, told Anshel Pfeffer of the Jerusalem Post, “and of course that is linked to the failure of the Authority to fix law and order.”