Intimidation of Media in Gaza: Compare it to the Rest of the Arab World

Avi Issacharoff has an important piece on the fate of (Arab) journalists in Gaza. All the Western reporters have fled, and what’s left is Arabs working for Arab and Western news agencies. The pervasive violence against reporters is close to suffocating, and yet — the journalism is better in Gaza than elsewhere in the Arab world according to one observer.

For Gaza journalists, kidnap is no longer the biggest fear

By Avi Issacharoff

What happened last Friday to Abd a-Salem Abu Askar, the head of Abu Dhabi television in the territories, is the nightmare of every journalist in the Gaza Strip.

At about 7:30 P.M. that day, Abu Askar left his house in Gaza City. Some 200 meters away, he ran into a roadblock manned by masked gunmen, who demanded his identification card. Then one radioed: “We’ve detained Abu Askar.” Abu Askar managed to call his office and say that he had been kidnapped; a few minutes later, a van carrying 10 gunmen arrived, removed him from his car, beat him up and took him to an unknown location.

The kidnappers, who said they were from Hamas, interrogated him for two hours about his business, his sources and his income. Meanwhile, his office contacted members of the Gaza Journalists Union, who in turn called senior Hamas officials, including Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Two hours later, the kidnappers were ordered to release Abu Askar.

But since the Hamas-Fatah infighting in Gaza began last week, being kidnapped is no longer the greatest danger facing journalists. On the very first day of the clashes, a reporter for the Hamas-affiliated paper Falastin was shot dead, along with another employee of the paper.

“The danger is real,” said an employee of a foreign news agency. “Journalists have stopped leaving their houses. You can’t move in the streets for fear of being hit by a stray bullet.”

“And even if you stay home and don’t move, that doesn’t mean you’re safe,” he continued. “So many media offices have been hit during the battles because they are located in strategic, multistory buildings: Al Jazeera, Reuters, German television, Radio Al-Quds, private production companies and others.”

Those who can, travel in armored cars, but few journalists are so privileged.

One day last week, dozens of journalists huddled for hours in the Ramatan studio in Gaza City, which is located near the house of a senior Fatah official, as bullets rained down on the building. One of them, A., said that he was not afraid of the warring organizations themselves, but of “the young roughnecks, who care about nothing and don’t know what journalism is. I’ve already received more than a few phone calls: ‘Why did you say that, why didn’t you say something else’ … It’s frightening, but you learn to work with these threats. [But] I know at least one journalist who preferred to leave Gaza, for fear of his life.”

You learn to live with it? This is violent micro-managing. It pervades the news that comes out. You don’t “learn to live with it” (which suggests you learn to ignore it and go on); you learn to manage it.

A., who writes for a Palestinian paper, also noted that since BBC reporter Alan Johnston was kidnapped, “foreign journalists have virtually stopped coming to Gaza. The foreign media have to make do with us – the locals.”

But despite this grim picture, he stressed: “There is more freedom of the press in Gaza than in any other Arab country.” Even the foreign media understand that “despite all the pressures on us, we can still provide an accurate picture [of events],” he said.

There’s a famous essay by Leo Strauss called “Persecution and the Art of Writing,” about how much writers in the Middle Ages needed to write with someone looking over their shoulder and the incredible subtlety of the texts they produced which give the reader hints about what’s going on. The best of the journalists may do that for us from Gaza, but how many of those are there? And how many editors and readers pick up the hints?

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