Friday, January 16, 2009

Gaza - Media in the firing line

The media have become the latest victim in the continuing conflict

After 20 days of violence more than 1,000 have died and over 5,000 have been injured in what some have called war crimes by Israel. But Tzipi Livni, Israel’s Foreign Minister, has defended the operation and was evasive when questioned if the bombardment would end soon.

Three Israeli civilians have died in the last three weeks and 10 army personnel have been killed. Rockets fired by Hamas continue to be fired into Israeli territory despite the military onslaught aimed at degrading the militant organisation’s weaponry. But the retaliation wrought by Israel has been called “disproportionate”. The damage to Gaza is widespread and not confined to military targets. Whether intentionally or otherwise, dozens of civilian buildings have been destroyed. A television centre has been hit and at least three hospitals have been severely damaged. Several United Nations buildings have been directly and indirectly struck by Israeli bombs and there are accusations of Israel using white phosphorus and depleted uranium [al-Jazeera / CNN / CNN].

There have been predictable condemnations from countries like Iran. However the apparent deliberate targeting of a UN compound, where Israel says three Hamas militants were hiding, has created widespread concern. Although Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert apologised to UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, the air strike sparked anger from UN officials on the ground. The strike destroyed food, fuel and medical supplies, much needed humanitarian aid as the crisis continues. Judy Clark UNRWA told the few reporters that are on the ground that the damage was severe and called on Israel to stop the bombing. “We have lost all our food and medicine from this fire” she said.
International media have been barred from entering Gaza and those that are on the ground run the risk of being caught up in the violence themselves. New York Times reporter Taghreed El Khodary said at least three journalists were injured when the TV centre was struck including one employed by Sky News. Four journalists have so far died according to al-Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros who broadcast a report from the stricken media centre belonging to Ramattan TV. An Abu Dhabi TV journalist and a Reuters cameraman were injured in the blast that shook the Al-Shurouq Tower shortly after an Israeli army spokesman had contacted the Reuters news agency’s Jerusalem bureau to verify the location of its Gaza bureau. Reporters Sans Frontières have called on the Israeli military to explain how the 16 storey media centre was struck by the IDF.

Despite the risks CNN’s Ben Wedeman has managed to get into the Gaza strip through the Egyptian border. Reporting via telephone from a region shrouded in darkness he said that there was no running water and that electricity had also been cut. But most western reporters remain stuck on the Israeli-Gaza border, though Sky have managed to secure two trips into Gaza with the IDF. Their reports are however censored by the Israeli Defence Force and certain scenes such as the filming of destroyed houses were prevented by their military guides.

Last week the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for an immediate end to hostilities. But both sides have ignored the call and there is no end in sight despite calls from the international community. At the UN several nations directly criticised Israel. But Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev described the statements as “deceitful”. She asked why there was no condemnation of the Katusha rockets being fired into Israel and the funding of Hamas by countries like Iran.

The conflict has not only brought criticism from politicians. Around the world there have been growing numbers of protests and calls for a boycott of Israeli products. Even bin Laden returned with a new tape release calling for a jihad [al-Jazeera]. Israel may have a right to defend itself but it will have a new war to fight in the months to come as it attempts to defend its image abroad.

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