Journalists make news over Gaza
Once again access to the Gaza Strip is in the news. This time, perhaps a little self-servingly, because foreign journalists are being denied access to Gaza by Israeli authorities.
The Foreign Press Association, which represents the collective interests of the international media covering the news in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, has filed a law suit with the Supreme Court demanding Israel lifts its ban on journalists entering Gaza. It has been in force for nearly three weeks, since violence flared with Israeli army raids and air strikes and Palestinian “Kassam” rocket fire from the coastal enclave.
The ban has raised eyebrows in Israel – where many are fiercely proud of a vocal and boisterous media which operates largely free of government interference save for a rarely-invoked military censorship law in matters of national security.
In an editorial in the leftist daily Haaretz, the paper says that “shutting out foreign journalists is an act of punishment that gives Israel and her democracy a bad name.” An unnamed Israeli official told the mass-selling Maariv newspaper on Monday: “Israel is being portrayed as trying to put a lid on free speech and to restrict the freedom of the press. We are losing because foreign journalists are busy with Israel’s decision to close the crossings in their faces and not with the real story, which is the firing of Kassam rockets.”
Reuters, along with other international news agencies, is less affected by the ban because we maintain a fully-staffed bureau in Gaza covering events as they unfold. But for the scores of foreign journalists who rely on travelling in day by day from Israel to be on the spot themselves to cover the story – the ban is especially difficult.
Even for the large media organisations based in the region, access to and from Gaza is a perpetual headache.
Trying to get equipment and supplies in to keep our bureau running, or trying to get colleagues out for medical treatment, overseas assignments or training can often seem like a lottery – sometimes easy, other times impossible.
“Putting the ‘porter’ back in ‘reporter” is the wry joke that does the rounds when a group of journalists sets off across the several hundred metres of rubble-strewn no man’s land that lies between Israel and Gaza as we hand-carry diesel fuel or computer equipment for our bureaux, or school shoes for our colleagues’ children.
Getting in to Gaza wasn’t always like this – and the changes at Erez crossing are a sign of how far the situation in the region has deteriorated in the last decade and how far away the combatants still are from a lasting solution.
A fragile truce agreed in June between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, has brought a degree of peace over the last few months – but access to Gaza has not been eased by Egypt or Israel, who control the border crossings.
In the absence of a resolution Gaza remains blocked and Gaza’s civilians have to endure life in what they call the world’s biggest prison.
Faced with these hardships – Gazans have shown typical human ingenuity to have some access to the outside world – as evidenced by the smugglers who use tunnels under the Egyptian border to bring in weapons, people and even cows.
Also refusing to take a closed land border as an impediment – these activists who wanted to highlight the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and recently took to the high seas to get their point across
And who can forget these images of the flood of people who rushed across the Egyptian border at Rafah after Hamas militants blew down the fence to enjoy a rare and fleeting taste of freedom outside the Gaza Strip.