Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Gaza and journalist coercion. Will we hear the truth?

Everyone seems to agree that this latest war between Gaza and Israel is ‘over’. That means that journalists who have been in Gaza can return home. Will they go home now?

Some of us want to know. We want to hear what they have to say about Hamas.

We are interested in their post-Gaza analysis because Israel has been vilified and criminalized by their reporting. We are particularly intrigued by what they might have to say because of what we have already heard.

We have heard that journalists working in Gaza cannot report the truth. They have been harassed, threatened and intimidated. We have heard that Hamas tracks much if not all of what journalists write—and if Hamas discovers a journalist writing something negative about it, it threatens the writer.

In virtually every case, we have heard, the threatened journalist has deleted or retracted his report. That has meant that virtually every report we have seen from Gaza has painted Israel as a brutal killing machine and war criminal.

On July 24, 2014, The Jerusalem Post reported that foreign journalists receive death threats for negative reports. For example, when several journalists from around the world reported seeing rockets fired from civilian areas in Gaza, they received threatening tweets accusing them of “informing” the IDF.   Specifically, Peter Stefanovic of Australia’s Channel Nine News tweeted: “Hamas rockets just launched over our hotel from a site about two hundred metres away. So a missile launch site is basically next door.”  Quickly, an account called @ThisIsGaza, said this was Stefanovic’s fourth time “passing and fabricating information to Israel... from GAZA”. It threatened to sue him.   Another account, @longitude0 wrote: “You are a cretin. Are you working for the IDF” and “in WWII spies got shot.” 

Financial Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief John Reed reported seeing “two rockets fired toward Israel from near al-Shifa hospital, even as more bombing victims were brought in.”  Shifa, in Gaza City, is the main medical facility in the Strip. Israel had said it was a Hamas headquarters (a war crime).

In response to Reed’s report, @Saritah_91 tweeted: “We’ll hold you responsible if Israel uses your tweet to bomb the hospital & then justify it.”  Another twitter user, @ Faysal_FreeGaza, said he’s “subtly justifying and encouraging IDF attacks on hospitals,” and @Maysara_ ara wrote: “Get out of Gaza u informant.”

Four days later, on July 28, 2014, The Times of Israel reported that reporters are bullied, have equipment confiscated, and are barred from sensitive sites.  As a result, they have become too frightened to file accurate reports.

The Times of Israel confirmed several incidents in which journalists were interrogated and threatened. These included cases involving photographers who had taken pictures of Hamas operatives in compromising circumstances — gunmen preparing to shoot rockets from within civilian structures, and/or fighting in civilian clothing — and who were then approached by Hamas men, bullied and had their equipment taken away. A correspondent for the local Ouest France daily newspaper told Libération, another French daily, about how he was interrogated and intimidated by Hamas officials in what appeared to be their office in Shifa, a hospital that Hamas had been using as a command headquarters (against International law). An article he had written, which had prompted the threats, was later removed from Libération’s website. The site says this was done at the request of the reporter, whom it named.

Two days after that report, on July 30, Arutz Sheva reported that an Italian journalist no longer in Gaza was now reporting that a missile strike on a school playground, universally attributed to Israel, was actually a Hamas rocket that went astray. Another Italian journalist, who had also left Gaza, now backed the IDF's account of another rocket strike on a school playground in central Gaza's Shati refugee camp.  Palestinian sources had blamed Israel for the deaths there, claiming that Israel had deliberately fired at the playground.  That’s how everyone reported it: Israel had done it, not the Arabs.

As a result, the civilian death count attributed to Israel, went up.

In a different case, Nick Casey, a journalist from America’s prestigious Wall Street Journal, tweeted evidence--and veiled criticism--of Hamas's leadership's use of Shifa Hospital in Gaza as a command center. This tweet served a news purpose, for it helped to shed light on the group's use of human shields. Hamas reacted furiously. A Hamas-affiliated twitter account blacklisted him as a journalist "who lies for Israel"--a potentially deadly accusation for anyone in Gaza, let alone a foreigner. Shortly afterwards, the tweet was removed by Casey.  

In a second case, another WSJ journalist tweeted evidence of a Hamas rocket misfire which damaged Gaza's main hospital. Again, shortly after tweeting it, the reporter, Tamer El-Ghobashi, removed it.

The use of human shields by Gazan terrorist groups during the current conflict has been repeatedly documented. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have stored and fired rockets from within densely-populated civilian areas. Hamas has also openly encouraged civilians to act as human shields, glorifying their actions as heroism. Terrorists have also used hospitals and schools as command centers and military bases.

Few, if any, reporters in Gaza sent out word that civilian deaths were being caused by Hamas, not Israel. As a result, the world—following the lead of the UN—has condemned Israel for deaths and war crimes committed by Hamas.

Will casualty figures now be amended? Will we now hear the truth?

Don’t hold your breath.

The world will reap what it sows.

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