Journalists admit they fear Hamas

By Adi Schwartz, August 14, 2014
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Barbati tweeted about ‘retaliation’

Barbati tweeted about ‘retaliation’

ANALYSISSitting in my living room for the last month and watching European and US TV coverage of the war was a confusing experience.

While sirens were going off in my Tel Aviv suburb, I never saw Palestinians firing rockets. In fact, I never saw any armed men in Gaza - only epic scenes of destruction. And yes, lots of children and elderly women.

That is a bit odd, given the fact that Palestinians have launched some 3,000 rockets, killed more than 60 Israelis and wounded hundreds. But who shot the rockets? Who was killing Israeli soldiers? While we saw Israeli tanks manoeuvring near the border, we never saw Palestinian combatants.

Foreign journalists who left Gaza this week admitted the obvious: Hamas controlled every image coming out of their territory, not allowing photographers and reporters to document military activity, or even show wounded Hamas men in hospitals.

Focused on winning a PR battle, the Palestinians used intimidation methods and would not allow any snapshot that could damage their image as harmless and defenceless victims.

Gabriele Barbati, an Italian reporter for TV station TgCom24, tweeted upon leaving the Strip recently: "Out of Gaza, far from Hamas retaliation".

He then refuted the Palestinian version of an incident on July 28 in which 10 children were killed. According to Mr Barbati, a misfired Hamas rocket was responsible, and Hamas militants "rushed and cleared debris".

While the Palestinian version that blamed Israel was circulating in all major media outlets, Mr Barbati's account was not.

A Spanish journalist coming out of Gaza last week said that he saw Hamas fighters very close to the hotel where he, and many other journalists, were staying. "If ever we dare pointing our camera on them," he said, "they would simply shoot and kill us." He refused to go on the record.

In France, the daily paper Libération published on July 24 a French-Palestinian journalist's first-person account of Hamas intimidation and how he was ordered to leave the Strip. His interrogation took place in a hospital, a few metres from the emergency room, affirming Israeli claims that Hamas uses hospitals and other civilian areas. The account was taken off the newspaper's website a few days later, at the journalist's request.

In 15 years of work as journalist in Israel, I have met plenty of professional foreign reporters. However, many hide a fundamental flaw in their work: they operate under Hamas censorship.

Some journalists recognise this limitation. In the words of a senior journalist for one of Europe's biggest newspapers, "what I can write from Tel Aviv, I cannot do from Gaza".

But sometimes problems run even deeper, as the story of a Spanish correspondent in Israel proves. Upon sending one of his stories to the newsroom, where the editor found it not sympathetic enough to the Palestinians, he was asked: "Why are you so objective?"

Consciously or not, many foreign journalists sympathise with the Palestinians. In their post-colonial worldview, Israel is the oppressor and Hamas is the victim.

This week, the Tel Aviv-based Foriegn Press Association, which has a record of criticising the Israeli government, put out a statement condemning the "blatant, incessant, forceful and unorthodox methods employed by the Hamas authorities against visiting international journalists in Gaza.

It continued: "Foreign reporters working in Gaza have been harassed, threatened or questioned over stories or information they have reported.

"We are also aware that Hamas is trying to put in place a 'vetting' procedure that would, in effect, allow for the blacklisting of specific journalists. This is vehemently opposed by the FPA."

Adi Schwartz is a Tel Aviv-based journalist

Last updated: 4:17pm, August 15 2014