Hamas shows reporters its iron fist
Its rare decision to put this on the record raises an intriguing question
A remarkable story has been published by the Associated Press.
It reveals that, shortly after Sunday evening’s ceasefire between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Israel Defence Forces in Gaza, Hamas — which rules Gaza but had chosen to sit out that conflict — issued a set of instructions for journalists there. AP reports:
Palestinians who work with foreign journalists were first informed of the new rules earlier this week in messages sent by the Hamas-run Interior Ministry. They were ordered not to report on Gazans killed by misfired Palestinian rockets or the military capabilities of Palestinian armed groups, and were told to blame Israel for the recent escalation.
After protests by the Foreign Press Association, which represents international media in Israel, the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria and in Gaza, Hamas rescinded the instruction. The AP story goes on:
The FPA said in a statement that “such a move would have constituted a severe, unacceptable and unjustifiable restriction on the freedom of the press, as well as the safety of our colleagues in Gaza”. Salama Marouf, director of the government media office in Gaza, confirmed the reversal. “There are no restrictions,” he said. “We welcome all foreign journalists and media into Gaza and we call on them to come.”
But rescinding the instruction hardly draws the sting. People in the west may not realise this, but journalists in Gaza only ever report what Hamas wants them to say. Gazan “stringers,” the local reporters upon whom western journalists rely to bring them information about what’s going on, conduct interviews with Gaza’s residents and act as western journalists’ guides and interpreters, know all too well that if they ever report what Hamas doesn’t want them to report they will be denied access or even that their lives will be in danger.
This institutionalised repression of Gaza’s journalists was a factor behind a toxic claim made by the Palestinians about the IDF’s operation in Gaza last weekend, called Breaking Dawn, that was aimed at neutralising the PIJ.
According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, 46 Palestinians were killed during Breaking Dawn, among them 15 children and four women. When the Palestinians claimed that these children were being killed by Israel’s air-strikes, citing four who had been killed in Gaza’s Jabaliya district, Israel rapidly and effectively pushed back.
It produced footage that went viral of a PIJ missile fired at Israel but falling short in that very area, while the Israel Air Force had not conducted any strikes there for several hours.
As a result, western media outlets stopped uncritically parroting Palestinian claims that Israel had caused the children’s deaths and started reporting the Israeli counter-claim, eventually conceding that some PIJ rockets had indeed fallen short into Gaza and probably caused Gazan casualties. Israel now says that at least 12 of the 15 children were killed by PIJ’s own rockets falling short.
As has been amply demonstrated, the malice of the western media towards Israel knows no bounds. But these journalists generally speak no Arabic; and no Palestinian would have told them about the missiles falling short because Hamas rules Gaza’s journalists with an iron fist. They will report nothing that conflicts with the Hamas narrative.
And so, as the AP story noted, even though the new rules were officially withdrawn — probably because Hamas got cold feet about going on the record — they could still have a chilling effect on any critical coverage because they indicated how Hamas actually expects journalists to behave.
What is intriguing, however, is this. Not only did these new rules go much further than existing Hamas restrictions, but for the first time Hamas had seen fit to set them out in a public document. The Interior Ministry distributed a written copy of the rules to Palestinians applying for entry permits on behalf of foreign media outlets, with instructions to communicate them to the foreign journalists in their “own local way”.
They appeared aimed at imposing the Islamic militant group’s narrative on media coverage of the conflict by implicitly threatening Palestinian reporters and translators who live under its heavy-handed rule... Hamas, which seized power in Gaza in 2007 from rival Palestinian forces, requires all visiting reporters to have a local sponsor — usually a Palestinian journalist or translator hired by the news outlet.
Under the now rescinded restrictions, sponsors were told they must accompany the journalists during their reporting and will be held responsible for what they produce. The sponsors were warned that they must “demonstrate national spirit, defend the Palestinian narrative and reject the foreigner’s bias to the Israeli narrative”.
They would have also been required to inform Hamas of “any suspicious behaviour or illogical questions” outside the scope of journalistic work, and to submit a full report to Hamas of what the journalists did in Gaza, in addition to links to all published works.
The guidelines appeared to suggest that writing about forbidden topics like the rocket misfires — or about the media guidelines themselves — could have led to the revocation of local sponsorship. For a Palestinian journalist in Gaza, that would have meant the loss of vital income in a blockaded territory where unemployment hovers around 50 per cent.
So why had Hamas decided to tighten these rules and to publish them? The most likely reason — missed of course by western journalists — is that the PIJ missiles falling short and killing Palestinians was actually a big story in Gaza itself.
This tweet says it all:
As a result of the ensuing furore caused by this Telegram item, the Gazan journalist came under pressure to delete what he had written. But the facts were out there. And he was reporting what Gazans were witnessing with their own eyes.
Two days ago AP, which said its own reporting confirmed Israel’s assessment that close to one-third of the Palestinians who died last weekend may have been killed by errant PIJ rockets, reported:
No one in Gaza with direct knowledge of the explosions in question was willing to speak about them publicly. But live TV footage showed militant rockets falling short in densely packed residential neighbourhoods. And AP visits to the sites of two explosions that killed a total of 12 people lent support to suspicions they were caused by rockets that went off course.
The Israelis say that more innocent people in Gaza were killed last weekend by failed PIJ rockets than by Israeli airstrikes. The Jerusalem Post reports:
The Palestinians, however, reported a total of 35 deaths of whom 26 were innocent bystanders. Of the 26, 11 were killed in Israeli airstrikes, and 15 were killed by Islamic Jihad rockets that failed to clear Gaza.
This might explain the rare interview that was broadcast on Israel’s Channel 12 TV news on Monday, in which a woman in Gaza said public support for the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror groups was fading. Times of Israel reports:
Speaking in English and on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals from Hamas, which rules the [Gaza] Strip, the woman said there has been a change in public sentiment. “The view, the perspective, the thought of Gaza people has changed completely. In the previous wars, they were with the resistance, with Hamas and Jihad, but now people are calling for the stop of war,” she said.“The only one who gets demolished and [are] losing is the people of Gaza, not the leaders,” she said.
Straws in the wind, maybe. But just possibly, the Palestinian people themselves —terrorised by their rulers and indoctrinated from the cradle in hatred of Israel and the Jews — might be beginning to grasp that the people responsible for their misery, year in, year out, are not the Israelis but the Palestinians’ own leaders themselves.
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