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Media must call out Israel’s ban on foreign journalists

The body of Eyad Hegazi rests in the arms of his sister after he died at the Aqsa Martyrs hospital in in Gaza. (AFP)
The body of Eyad Hegazi rests in the arms of his sister after he died at the Aqsa Martyrs hospital in in Gaza. (AFP)
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15 Jun 2024 04:06:59 GMT9
15 Jun 2024 04:06:59 GMT9

For eight long months of its bloody and brutal war in Gaza, Israel has not allowed any international journalists to cover the fighting from the war theater. Hundreds of foreign journalists are accredited in Israel, yet not a single one has been allowed free access. International journalists were told by the foreign minister of Egypt that Israel had threatened that it would cut off humanitarian aid to Palestinians if any of them were allowed in from the Egyptian side.

Meanwhile, Palestinians working for international media outlets from inside Gaza were not immune from the indiscriminate Israeli war machine. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists and the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, the number of Palestinian journalists killed in Gaza has passed 100. Buildings owned by major international media outlets have also been bombed by Israel. In May, Israel closed down Al Jazeera’s local office on the false claim that its reporting constituted a threat to national security.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, “journalists and their equipment enjoy immunity … as long as they do not take a direct part in the hostilities. News media, even when used for propaganda purposes, enjoy immunity from attack, except when they are used for military purposes.”

Why is the so-called only democracy in the Middle East banning access for journalists?

It is not about the safety of foreign journalists. Israel has allowed medical and humanitarian workers into Gaza. Saying that it is for their own protection does not fly when war journalists around the world are familiar with the risks they take and can make their own decisions about when and where to go and how to stay safe. If doctors and food kitchen workers are allowed in (they have also not been spared either), then the simple justification of the ban being for journalists’ own protection does not make sense.

The evidence the Israeli army presents is worthless in terms of credibility and has been debunked many times

Daoud Kuttab

A better understanding of the reasons for the ban on journalists has to do with the constant aim of Israel and its supporters to control and spin the narrative. Sure, war has its secrets, but the biggest problem in this war has been the repeated accusations of Israel committing war crimes, as it has targeted civilians, hospitals, churches, schools and universities.

Israel claims, without proof, that many of those locations were Hamas “headquarters.” The evidence that the Israeli army presents to the world is worthless in terms of credibility and has been debunked many times by courageous investigative journalists.

But let us imagine if journalists like CNN’s Anderson Cooper, The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof or the BBC’s Lyse Doucet were at the Shifa Hospital when Israel rolled out the fabricated video claiming that Hamas fighters (they called them terrorists) were using the basement of the building as their headquarters. If any well-known foreign journalist was around, he or she would have easily debunked the claim by simply saying, “I am at the hospital, I have checked it out and the claims are bogus.”

But Israel is not willing to let anyone expose its lies, which are necessary to continue its military efforts aimed at forcing the Palestinian resistance fighters to surrender. How many innocent Palestinian lives would have been saved had Israel allowed foreign journalists into the war theater?

Regardless — and as obvious as Israel’s goal in controlling the narrative is — the complicity of Western media anchors, editors, broadcasters and corporate chiefs should not be overlooked. A simple note or superimposed text should be included every time a report about or from Gaza is broadcast or printed. The note should say: “Israel denied our reporters access to Gaza.” If this message was repeated every single time a story about Gaza was published or broadcast, the so-called only democracy in the Middle East would be forced to give in.

The corporate media must rise to the occasion and insist on the public’s right to hear first-hand from their own reporters

Daoud Kuttab

But Western broadcasters and editors are clearly part of the problem, not part of the solution. If truth is the first victim of war, then the media platforms of America, Europe, Australia and elsewhere are part of the reason for this victimhood of the truth. No wonder there is a chasm today between the young, digitally wired peoples around the world, and especially in the Global North, including university students, and the older generations.

One can get information relatively unfiltered on social media thanks to posts by courageous Palestinian bloggers and journalists. Meanwhile, those depending on legacy media get highly spun narratives with a strong dose of Israeli input, no journalists on the ground and non-Palestinian experts explaining to their generally older audiences how careful Israel is in carrying out this war of revenge that has devastated an entire community in Gaza.

The problem of bias long preceded Oct. 7. When an Israeli sniper shot dead American-Palestinian Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in May 2022, Israel was able to shun calls for a full investigation and the American government and media, while offering some coverage of the case, let it go after a while. In contrast, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is being held in a Russian jail, is regularly mentioned in media conferences, public events and state dinners. And when Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was arrested in Iran, Americans kept the pressure on until he was released. Where is the pressure for an investigation into the murder of Abu Akleh? And where are the demands for an explanation of the arrest without trial or charge of 50 West Bank Palestinian journalists and the deaths of more than 100 in Gaza?

To redeem this terrible injustice to the worldwide journalism profession, the corporate media must rise to the occasion and insist on the public’s right to hear first-hand from their own reporters, who should be allowed into Gaza and shielded from the indiscriminate Israeli attacks. Short of that, every report must include the simple but powerful qualifier that the Israeli authorities are preventing international reporters from entering Gaza.

  • Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and a director of Community Media Network. X: @daoudkuttab
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