As Israel embarks on an openly declared war against "terrorist
infrastructure" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it is making it
difficult for the world to know what the Palestinians or the
Israelis are doing.
For the fourth straight day, the city of Ramallah, which troops
took over Friday, was closed off yesterday by Israeli authorities,
who cite not only concerns about journalists' safety, but also a
need for image management.
"In America's war in Afghanistan, none of us saw even one
civilian killed," says Arye Mekel, a foreign ministry spokesman.
"Can we imagine that no one was killed? The bottom line is this. You
only saw remote pictures."
Journalists are also being thwarted on the Palestinian side. In
Bethlehem yesterday, gunmen confiscated film from Reuters television
after they had dragged a suspected collaborator through the streets
and then shot him dead in a car park. "We will hold you personally
responsible if these pictures appear," they said.
The difficulties come as the 18-month Israeli-Palestinian
confrontation moves to a climax with daily Palestinian bombing
attacks in Israel and the call-up of Israeli reservists for a major
During this decisive period, strictures on the media, as well as
mounting danger faced by journalists, promise to significantly
curtail the flow of information for shaping opinion and making
policy decisions. And, according to Aviv Lavie, who writes a media
column for the daily Ha'aretz, the strictures have moral
implications. "When a city is occupied, horrible things happen,"
Lavie says. "The Israeli and world media need to be there in order
to document what is going on."
Two journalists were shot in Ramallah over the weekend, Anthony
Shadid of the Boston Globe and Carlos Handal of Nile Television,
becoming the latest in more than 40 casualties among journalists,
most of them attributed to Israeli fire, since the start of the
Israeli-Palestinian confrontation in September 2000. There has been
one fatality, Italian photographer Raffaelli Ciriello, shot by
Israeli troops in Amari Refugee Camp last month. On Saturday,
soldiers took over a six-story building in Ramallah housing the
offices of Reuters and other foreign and Arab media.
Foreign journalists are also feeling the impact of new Israeli
curbs on their Palestinian stringers, relied upon heavily by the
correspondents for translation, news gathering, and even personal
safety in Palestinian areas. Several veteran Palestinian journalists
have been refused renewal of their press cards, thus preventing them
from getting past the army checkpoints.
"The increasing hardship in getting accreditation for the
Palestinian journalists and the extremely dangerous circumstances
you can find yourself in all have the effect of intimidating people
and deterring them from doing their jobs," says Graham Usher, who
covers the occupied territories for British and American
publications. The director of Israel's Government Press Office,
Daniel Seaman, says that cards of some Palestinian journalists were
not renewed for "security reasons." A new credential that would
enable some of the Palestinian journalists to get through
checkpoints is being devised, but "we have no reason to hurry," he
"The question is whether these Palestinian employees of the
foreign press are providing nonbiased objective coverage of events,
or deliberately distorting the truth to serve the Palestinian
cause," Seaman says. …