Monday, August 4, 2014

Does intimidation of news reporters work? The thugs of Hamas can answer that

 Does intimidation of news reporters work? The thugs of Hamas can answer that

Some of Al Jazeera's eyes and ears on the ground in Gaza [Image Source]
It's long been said that history is written by the victors. Perhaps Winston Churchill said it, and perhaps not, but in the on-line age of blogs, Twitter and YouTube it's plainly no longer true. Even the terrorists - among other losers - can write history, leaving the rest of us to figure out whose narrative we want to accept.

news report this morning about Qatar - owner and operator of Al Jazeera, aspiring Middle East peace brokerprovider of jet travel services to Ban Ki-Moon, and major source of finance for the terrorism of Hamas - got us thinking (and Tweeting) about the larger issues of news reporting in time of war and the influence that fear and intimidation play in what does and does not reach news consumers around the world.
"Qatar’s emir has phoned UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to express his anger that the United Nations blamed Hamas for breaking Friday’s ceasefire, Al-Jazeera reports. Speaking with Ban, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani said he was astonished that the UN would blame Hamas without first verifying the facts. Al-Thani, considered a Hamas backer despite attempts to broker a ceasefire, called on the UN to come out clearly against Israel. A 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire announced by the UN and US State Department fell apart shortly after it began Friday morning, when Hamas fighters attacked a group of Israeli soldier working to dismantle a tunnel it says was built for terror attacks, killing three. At the time, Ban’s office released a statement saying he “condemns in the strongest terms the reported violation by Hamas of the mutually agreed humanitarian ceasefire which commenced this morning. He is shocked and profoundly disappointed by these developments." Source: ”Hamas threatening journalists in Gaza who expose abuse of civilians [Times of Israel, July 28, 2014]: 
    We tweeted:

    Then we went searching online for indications that thoughtful people see this and are troubled by it. We found Daniel Schwammenthal, head of the AJC Transatlantic Institute in Brussels and formerly a writer at the Wall Street Journal Europe, who tackled this in an article published by The Commentator ["Fear and trembling: Western media and Hamas"] on August 1, 2014. In it, he observed:
    We are all aware of the wilful blindness of Western media when reporting on Hamas in Gaza. Though it's no excuse, what may not be so clear is that many of the journalists are also terrified of telling the truth... Whatever the reason is for today’s miscoverage - fear, ignorance or bias - we are not getting the true picture from Gaza... Occasionally, though, the truth slips out, often almost accidentally. 

    He then offers some disturbing examples:
    • A report on an earlier broken Hamas/Israel ceasefire includes the disclosure in paragraph seven that Gaza City's Shifa Hospital had “become a de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders, who can be seen in the hallways and offices.” Schwammenthal says this is reported "almost in passing, without further analysis. It seem neither the journalist nor his editors realized the enormity of this information. The leadership of one of the warring parties is hiding in a hospital, a clear war crime validating Israeli accusations. But instead of this becoming headline news, triggering further reporting by other journalists, we get nothing but silence". Source: “While Israel held its fire, the militant group Hamas did not”, Washington Post July 15, 2014.
    • He brings "one of the rare instances the media bothered to detail to what extraordinary length Israel goes to protect Palestinian civilians". It's a NYTimes piece in which an ordinary Gazan by the name of Salah Kaware "tells the reporter that he received a personal call from Israel urging him to leave the building. The second paragraph contains this bombshell: “’Our neighbors came in to form a human shield,’” he said, with some even going to the roof to prevent a bombing.” Amazingly, the reporter did not take further note of this incredible admission from a Palestinian, which again validates Israeli accusations usually treated with much skepticism." Source: “Israel Warns Gaza Targets by Phone and Leaflet”, New York Times, July 8, 2014.
    • On July 28, NBC News (among many others) reported on a "strike" at the Al-Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza. Quoting a Palestinian "health official" as well as a Palestinian resident of the area at length, the story describes the deaths of "at least 10 people, including children". And while it pays some minor attention to the IDF's version, the weight of the story is about children playing in a crowded street until they are tragically killed by the Israelis. "Hamas later text messaged a statement to journalists, blaming the IDF — and alleged they had proof of Israeli responsibility... Early reports from the ground had said an Israeli drone appeared responsible for the attack... "May God punish... Netanyahu," he said, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu." A statement by a notorious Hamas "spokesperson" is prominently featured. Then the following day, July 29, an Italian journalist Gabriele Barbati, sends out this tweet“Out of #Gaza far from #Hamas retaliation: misfired rocket killed children yday in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris.” Barbati's close-to-the-scene report corroborates the results of the Israeli investigation which found that the deaths came from yet another Palestinian Arab rocket that fell short; instead of killing their intended civilian targets in Israel, it killed still more Palestinian Arab civilians, children among them. He also tweeted, “@IDFSpokesperson said truth in communique released yesterday about Shati camp massacre. It was not #Israel behind it.”
    • He brings the case of a Palestinian Arab journalist, Radjaa Abou DaggaHis article in the French newspaper Libération, published July 23, 2014, substantiates those other accounts of reporters bring cowed by Hamas intimidation. In his case, this lead the reporter to flee Gaza. He too says Hamas terrorists work from inside Gaza's Shifa Hospital, right next to the emergency room, as the Washington Post had reported. Dagga then asked that his revelatory article be removed from the Libération website, evidently because of fears for the well-being of his family still in Gaza. Source: Liberation (French), July 24, 2014
    • Schwammenthal refers to other instances of Western journalists removing Hamas-critical tweets without explanation, and still others who "have been prevented by Hamas from leaving Gaza." Other observers [herehereherehere and many other places on the web] have raised similar concerns.
    We also recall the notorious matter of Ricardo Cristiano. An Italian TV crew, working for the RAI station, captured an especially gruesome attack on video in Ramallah in 2000 that resulted in two Israelis being literally torn to pieces and murdered. They sent this, the only existing visual record of the horrifying Palestinian Arab lynch mob, to Rome from where it shocked audiences throughout the world. Then the fear and intimidation kicked in. Cristiano, RAI's representative in Jerusalem, sent a groveling letter of apology to Arafat, pledging to "respect" the "rules" laid down by the Palestinian Authority, assuring the arch-terrorist that his station never again do such an act or otherwise harm the Palestinian cause, and reaffirming his personal solidarity with the Palestinians. This caused uproar in Italy, and led to his subsequent recall to Rome. But plainly (and the evidence since then confirms) there cannot have been a single journalist working the Middle East beat who failed to draw the obvious conclusions.

    Schwammenthal steps back from the specific facts and asks whether journalists working "under the constant threat from Hamas" are “self-censoring” themselves, and therefore censoring the news reports and images that we get. He asks: Is this why we don’t see coverage of Hamas terrorists firing rockets from civilian areas, the use of human shields and other war crimes?

    Times of Israel reported on Friday ["The images missing from the war with Hamas"] that photographers who had taken pictures of Hamas operatives in compromising circumstances - like those of Hamas terror operatives preparing to shoot rockets from within civilian structures, fighting in civilian clothing - were bullied and threatened by Hamas men who confiscated their equipment. An L.A. Times slideshow of more than 75 photographs from the conflict includes not a single image of a Hamas fighter [source]. An Israeli official quoted there says what might not be already obvious:
    “Walking around Gaza with a camera and asking people what they think is not like walking around New York or London. People are not free to say their true opinions. It’s a bit like asking Syrians in government-controlled areas of Damascus if they like President [Bashar] Assad.”

    Even so, it's disturbing that too few of the many working journalists now covering Gaza from inside seem to be asking the sorts of incisive questions we expect from their profession. We means questions like those set out in an invaluable posting on the Harry's Place website two days ago: "40 questions for the international media in Gaza".

    And we mean the intelligent, unfiltered observations (and photos and videos) like those that show gunmen and rocketeers and some of the thousands of Hamas and PIJ fighters whose exploits they regale. Having those would go some way towards enabling the rest of us to reach reasonably-founded conclusions about what's really happening in that dark and dangerous place.

    For the record, at the New York Timesthey now claim they don't have any pictures of Hamas fighters. It's a stance that deserves much closer scrutiny.

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