War reporters are crucial to report Gaza’s true horror
Israel’s ban on journalists in the Gaza Strip has led to skewed information on both sides in the crisis
Martha Gellhorn, the legendary American war correspondent, had little faith in the power of her writing to change the sometimes wretched lives of those she encountered.
Indeed, she said that journalists had but one redeeming role to play: "If he can do nothing positive, to make the world more liveable or less cruel or stupid, he can at least record truly, and that is something no one else will do, and it a job that must be done. It is the only revenge that all the bastardised people will ever get: that somebody writes down clearly what happened to them".
One could never accuse her of hypocrisy. Gellhorn reported compulsively, continuing to write well into her eighties, even as she progressively lost her sight. Her career spanned five decades, encompassing the Spanish Civil War and Vietnam, as well as various Central American conflicts. She was one of the first to report on the horror of Dachau after its liberation.
Israel has won the PR war; at best Hamas has managed one article in the Guardian
Her words are just as pertinent today. As the escalation between Israeli forces and Hamas continues without the watchful eye of the international press pack, her belief in the importance of someone "writing down clearly what happened to them" is at stake.
There are journalists inside Gaza, notably from Al-Jazeera, but Israel's refusal to allow the press inside to report fully on conditions for civilians is preventing the proper scrutiny of events. The effect of this is twofold.
Firstly, we simply do not know what is happening inside Gaza at any one time. We are ignorant, for example, of the reasons for the bombing of a UN school packed with civilians which left 40 dead. The rumours of a text message which indicated Hamas leaders were hiding out in the building show that hearsay is not an excuse when the phrase 'war crimes' is being used by the UN.
Brave journalists who are willing to put their own safety at risk to tell the world what is really going on in Gaza cannot do their job, ostensibly over concerns about safety.
The Israelis are of course aware that war zones are always dangerous, and that danger is clearly not the first priority of the Jeremy Bowens and Kate Adies of this world, for whom reporting the facts amid hazardous conditions is a right and a privilege.
Secondly, Israel's blockade on information has led to skewed coverage of both sides. The Israelis have had statements from Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak representing them across media platforms, as the journalists stuck on the border are forced to interview the only sources of information they have access to: the Israelis.
Hamas issue statements as best they can, but with some of the leadership hiding in Damascus, and the bombing of their government buildings and TV station by Israel, a media offensive is difficult at best. This means that Hamas is lacking in the most important currency in international opinion: good PR.
Israel has been unable to prevent the release of photos of dead children in Gaza, which have appalled the world
From Twitter to TV, Israel have dominated the information streams which have such a huge role to play in the resolution of this kind of conflict. Ha'aretz commentators have been far more widely quoted in this conflict than any Palestinian publication, and at best Hamas has managed one article in the Guardian by the leader of their political bureau, Khalid Mish'al.
If any more proof were needed of the absolute necessity of war correspondents, we need only look at those who believe the press shouldn't have a role to play during conflicts. Joe the Plumber, the tradesman used by John McCain as a prop against Barack Obama's tax plans, has weighed in as Pajamas Media's new war correspondent.
His view is that: "Media should be abolished from, uh, you know, reporting. You know, war is hell. And if you're gonna sit there and say, 'Well look at this atrocity' well you don't know the whole story behind it half the time, so I think the media should have no business in it."
That the media's responsiblity is to find the "whole story" is, of course, the point. If unchecked ignorance is allowed to take the place of reporting, the result is that atrocities like the ones Joe so astutely points to get missed.
There is one aspect in which the Israelis are losing this PR war, despite their best efforts. The photographs of dead children lying in the streets outside overflowing hospitals have appalled the world. The images of screaming mothers and weeping fathers will not be wiped from the public consciousness as easily as Israel would like, especially as the IDF protest they are doing "all they can" to prevent civilian suffering.
We need objectivity and a calm, informed explanation of what is happening in Gaza. Martha Gellhorn put it this way: "The lousier the world, the harder a writer should work."
This situation seems lousier than most, so all we can do is hope that the reporters willing to put their lives on the line can push Israel hard enough to give the people of Gaza a chance to be heard. ·
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