The current fighting in Gaza is dominating the headlines but journalists are not being allowed in to report. This AP article shows how Israel is trying to keep control over the flow of news, while at the same time attempting to allow some reportage. The result has been the Western media massed on the border with reporters trying to update viewers or readers from outside of Gaza.
This is pretty typical of much war reporting. It is rare that the person on the ground actually has anything like a complete or balanced picture. Modern wars are asymmetric and almost impossible to ‘cover’ in a conventional editorial sense. Military organisations know that the propaganda war is as important as the territorial conflict. This is especially true of the Middle East.
However, information and pictures are getting out. Channel 4 News had a compelling film of Norwegian doctors dealing with a rising tide of casualties in appaling hospital conditions.
Aljazeera has people on the ground and is pumping out information through blogs and Twitter as well as its English and Arabic channels. The BBC has at least one producer in Gaza and extensive eye-witness accounts Online. Shocking images are already flooding on to Flickr.
There has been at least one crude hoax story on the blogosphere but that was rapidly rooted out. According to Global Voices there is an interesting cyber-battle on Facebook alleging that Israeli intelligence has attempted to sabotage pro-Palestinian Groups. Some Facebook users also claim their posts have been censored. If you want to join a wiki-style online debate about the policy issues, try Debategraph’s Gaza ‘forum’.
Overall, the impression is that Israeli attempts to manage the story have back-fired. The narrative of innocent Palestinians beseiged by the mighty and merciless Israeli military has dominated TV screens.
Perhaps if more hacks had got in they might have been able to ask more searching questions about whether Hamas was using civilians as human shields and why it was shelling Israeli villages.
Linja Eleijat’s blog has very thorough analysis of US newspaper coverage here.
There is a pressing need to raise the quality of the coverage on Gaza from its present partial perceptions and problematic presentations fraught with
a selective vision. Here are a few examples to illustrate the gaping holes
that prevent media audiences in getting a complete and comprehensive picture.
By 5th January or Day Ten of the conflict, Israeli sources claimed conducting 1000 raids on Gaza. Now the intensity and impact of strikes of this magnitude remain unclear and incomplete. Urban Gaza has a population of approximately 410,000 in the inner city and 1.4 million people in the metropolitan area. One waits to see when the details of the strikes on Gaza publicly available such as those aired by the Israeli Army Radio are brought to public’s attention. One example is how Jerusalem Post shared details of what happened on the first day of operation : On 27 December at 11:30 a.m., more than 50 Israeli Air Force fighter jets and attack helicopters swept into Gazan airspace and dropped more than 100 bombs on 50 targets. The planes reported “alpha hits,” IAF lingo for direct hits on the targets, which included Hamas headquarters and offices. Thirty minutes later, a second wave of 60 jets and helicopters struck at 60 targets.
Consider this quote concerning the severity of Israel’s ongoing strikes on Gaza? According to Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent “Israel’s opening salvo is not merely another surgical operation or pinpoint strike. This is the harshest IDF assault on Gaza since the territory was captured during the Six-Day War in 1967.”
There seems to be clear inconsistencies regarding the voices from Israel that are often heard on news channels vis-a-vis those which await adequate attention.
It seems that some media sources oversubscribe a few well known spokespersons of Israel who mostly cycle and recycle known arguements and hence offer little or no new perspective. On the contrary other credible voices coming out of Israel are under-represented if not overlooked. I reproduce some selections from primarily Israeli sources to illustrate the need to get opinins from across the board.
What were the considerations as the earlier truce was about to expire? According to the Israeli press, Yuval Diskin, the current head of the Israeli security service Shin Bet, “told the Israeli cabinet [on 23 December] that Hamas is interested in continuing the truce, but wants to improve its terms.” Diskin explained that Hamas was requesting two things: an end to the blockade, and an Israeli ceasefire on the West Bank. The cabinet – high with election fever and eager to appear tough – rejected these terms.
Has there been enough discussion as to what aims were under consideration when the hostilities broke out? Gilbert Kahn, a Kean University political scientist, quoted in the NY Jewish Weekly, said once the truce deadline passed,”Israel was determined to do several things.
First they wanted to maximize the good will and support they expected from Bush administration. Secondly, they wanted to maximize the likelihood that the incoming administration would continue to display a strong sensitivity to the need for Israeli leaders to defend their citizens in the south, while at the same time setting a positive tone for their relationship with the new administration.”
David Horovit reminds Jerusalem Post’s readers that Israeli Premier Ehud “Olmert has relentlessly insisted that he was the man best placed to oversee the rehabilitation from 2006 – from a war mismanaged by an inexperienced prime minister, a defense minister (Amir Peretz) who was entirely unqualified for the job, and a chief of staff (Dan Halutz) who placed exaggerated confidence in the air force’s capacity for destroying carefully protected underground infrastructure and a highly mobile Hizbullah fighting force” in Lebanon.
Has there been enogh discussion as to who can be considered a responsibe party to restore peace? The sound of Gaza burning should be drowned out by the words of the Israeli writer Larry Derfner. He says: “Israel’s war with Gaza has to be the most one-sided on earth… If the point is to end it, or at least begin to end it, the ball is not in Hamas’s court – it is in ours.”