This has been a strange week for providing international news coverage. Once the Israeli attack on Gaza started we immediately contacted our correspondents there to check they are safe, sound, and available. Safe they are not, but Gaza is where they are based and they were keen to make their news known. Our Israel correspondents, in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ashkelon, are all good to go too, but based on our experience we assume they will be in less demand as most broadcasters have regular correspondents in Jerusalem.
To our surprise, many of our clients did not need coverage from Gaza. They either say they were happy covering the story from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, or they booked our correspondents there. This, we see watching the news on multiple channels, is the attitude of most other news organisations.
Israel-Palestine news stories are the most contentious ones in the world. No other conflict produces so many tweets, protests, letters to the editor, outraged social media posts and complaints from high ranking politicians. Traditionally, most of the above were produced by Israel and its supporters claiming anti-Israeli bias, even anti-Semitism. Those have not stopped, but over the last few years Palestinians, Israeli opposition activists and international pro-Palestinian pressure groups are catching up. Their presence in the social media is prominent, but their political influence over decision makers and politicians is still inferior to that of Israel. The White House declaration immediately after the first Israeli bombing, backing “Israel’s right to defend itself” is probably the strongest testimony. The web has been raging and storming since last Tuesday, many tweets are coming out of Gaza and many people read them, but it seems not enough Gaza based journalists are given the opportunity to give them credence or dispel them. When established media complain that social media is taking over, it might want to bear that in mind.
There are many reasons for broadcasters to keep their correspondents on the Israeli side of the high wall that surrounds Gaza. Keeping the correspondents safe is one of them, alongside the fact that political decisions that can stop the heavy bombardment will be taken in Israel. Security concerns got extra weight after Israel has targeted and bombed two media buildings in Gaza City. An Israeli spokesperson boasted after the first attack that “no western journalists were hurt”. Technical concerns also come into account. Phone lines are better in Israel as is the internet connection and the feed-point you use, if you opt for studio reporting, is unlikely to be brought down by a bomb.
Another reason for the Israel focused coverage is the missiles that hit Israel from Gaza cause a few causalities but much distress to Israelis. Israel, no doubt, is a big part of the story. But the immense gap in the number of dead in Gaza (over a hundred according to conservative estimates) and in Israel (three at the moment) and in the fire power on both sides (F-16 bombings vs. rockets), all make Gaza the real war zone in the equation.
Balance is a hard goal to achieve and many ingredients influence it. One of them is the ability of the target audience of a broadcaster to identify with the “protagonists” of the story. Even if most Western media consumers can imagine what it feels like to have a siren go off while you are at the gym, drinking latte in a café, or trying to decide whether to use balsamic vinegar or sesame oil for the salad dressing of a Saturday meal. The fear and upset of people they identify as “people like us” speaks to them, and understandably so. This makes the Israeli story easier for them to absorb. The pictures of whole neighborhoods flattened down by bombings and people rushing their injured or dead babies to hospitals in improvised taxis is a scenario many people in London, California and Paris might be able to imagine themselves in. They may be horrified, but identification and horror are not quite the same thing.
This Friday, after a siren went off in Jerusalem, I called my mother, who lives there. I knew she was physically safe and that the rocket landed outside of town, but I also knew she was home alone. She had lost her arm in the first day of the 1967 war, when the Jordanians were shelling Jerusalem. I feared the alarm might have startled her. I found her watching the comedy show LIVE at the Apollo on BBC Prime. “Oh don’t be silly”, she said. She told me she went to the “protected zone” which is in the stairwell and waited there for a few minutes. But she mainly complained that UK stand up comedians are not what they used to be. She was mainly disturbed by the unbecoming hairdo of one of them.
When I posted this little story on Facebook I received immediately a lot of sympathy and concern for my mother from friends all over the world, and mainly in the UK, where I live. My mother, naturally, reminded them of theirs: stiff upper lipped, business like, dismissive of over-fussing and youthful hair-dos. I wonder how many could “get” a Gazan mother.
All this makes it all the more important to have correspondents on the ground in Gaza and to give airtime to those freelancers who are already there. The constant stream of aerial shots of exploding houses in Gaza with commentary in the background does not deliver the same human picture that a correspondent on the ground can deliver.
When teaching and studying “media” we all know that the balance of a story depends not only on good intentions, but on things that often may seem technical: camera angle, geographic distance of the reporter from the subject of coverage, cultural identity of the players involved. The current attack on Gaza takes those lessons from the lecture room to the bleeding alleys of reality. We might as well try and implement those lessons.
Our reporters are available: In Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem, in Ashkelon; And yes, in Gaza.
For more stories visit: http://grnlive.net/blog/
Day 1: Wednesday, 14 November 2012
- Israeli warplanes bomb targets in and around Gaza
- Top Hamas military commander Ahmed Al-Jaabari assassinated
- Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi calls Israel’s attacks “unacceptable”
- Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh urges Egypt to provide more aid to the Palestinians
- Iran condemns offensive as “organised terrorism”
- Cairo condemns offensive and recalls its ambassador from Israel
- In Lebanon, Iranian-backed Shi’ite militia Hezbollah calls Israel’s strikes “criminal aggression”
- U.N. Security Council holds emergency meeting late Wednesday night: calls for halt to violence, but no action taken
Day 2: Thurs. 15 Nov.
- Hamas rocket kills 3 Israelis about 25 km north of Gaza, marking the first Israeli blood shed
- Palestinian death toll rises to 13: Al-Jaabari, 6 Hamas fighters, and 6 civilians
- Israeli army says 156 targets have been hit in Gaza and 135 rockets have struck Israel since midnight
- At Jaabari’s funeral, guns fired to celebrate Israeli deaths
- Hamas says Jaabari assassination will “open the gates of hell”
- Israel warns Hamas all its men are targets
- Hamas calls on Egypt to halt the “barbaric” assault
- The Palestinian Authority repeats call on U.N. to take action against Israeli strikes
- U.S. condemns Hamas for its refusal to stop violence and recognise Israel
- U.N. diplomats say U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon will visit Israel and Egypt next week
- Thursday evening, 2 Gaza missiles crash near Tel Aviv in the first such attack in 20 years
Day 3: Fri. 16 Nov.
- Conflict escalates: 21 Palestinians (8 militants, 13 civilians) and 3 Israelis dead
- U.S. calls on Hamas acquaintances, including Turkey and Egypt, to press for ceasefire
- Egypt’s Prime Minister Hisham Kandil visits Gaza to show support for Palestinians and to call for a truce deal
- Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agrees to “cease all offensive operations” during Kandil’s visit on the condition that Hamas holds its fire; the ceasefire does not last
- Spokesman for Israel’s military says it has received the green light to call in up to 3,000 reserve troops
- Israel begins drafting 16,000 reserve troops
- President Mursi continues to denounce Israeli strikes, but faces pressure from Washington, which gives Egypt $1.3 billion a year in U.S. military aid
- European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton calls for rocket attacks by Hamas to end and for Israel to follow suit
- Hamas fire a rocket towards Jerusalem; it explodes in the West Bank
- Late Fri. night Israel’s cabinet authorizes mobilization of up to 75,000 reserve troops
Day 4: Sat. 17 Nov.
- Health Ministry officials in Gaza say 382 people have been injured: 245 adults and 137 children
- U.N. health agency appeals for USD 10 billion from donors for drugs and supplies for Gaza hospitals
- Israeli aircraft bomb Hamas government buildings, including prime minister’s office
- Palestinian militants fire a rocket at Tel Aviv for third straight day; rocket destroyed by Iron Dome battery, one of Israel’s missile defense shields
- Reports say Iron Dome has intercepted 245 rockets from Gaza in 3 days
- Tunisia’s foreign minister travels to Gaza to show Arab solidarity
- U.S. President Barack Obama calls President Mursi to commend Egypt’s efforts in defusing Gaza violence
- Deal toll for Palestinians hits 41: nearly half civilians, including 8 children and 1 pregnant woman
Day 5: Sun. 18 Nov.
- Palestinian militants fire over 100 rockets into Israel
- Israel begins to attack homes of activists in Hamas, causing spike in civilian casualties
- Over a dozen homes of Hamas commanders or families linked to Hamas struck
- Israel strikes 2 high-rise buildings housing media outlets
- Israeli officials express readiness of ground invasion of Gaza
- British Foreign Secretary William Hague says Hamas “bears principal responsibility” for initiating violence, but warns of Israeli escalation
- Death toll for Palestinians reaches 73, 37 of which are civilians
Day 6: Mon. 19 Nov.
- Israeli strike on a Gaza media center kills Islamic Jihad top militant leader
- Israel bombards remains of former national security compound in Gaza City
- Russia urges end to conflict
- Egyptian-mediated truce talks between Palestinians and Israelis ongoing, but Hamas says it will not yield to Israeli conditions
- Hamas says Israel must make first move on ceasefire
- Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal calls on Egypt to support Palestinians
- Report says 1,350 targets in Gaza Strip have been struck since operation began last Wed.
- Gaza death toll rises to 94; more than half non-combatants
- Israeli death toll remains at 3
Day 7: Tues. 20 Nov.
- 6 die in Israeli air strike on two cars in Gaza, bringing Palestinian death toll to over 120
- Palestinian militants fire rocket toward Jerusalem
- An airstrike kills senior Hamas militant
- Israeli warplanes drop leaflets on Gaza neighborhoods telling people to evacuate their homes
- Prime Minister Netanyahu says Israel wants long-term, diplomatic solution but will escalate military campaign if necessary
- President Mursi predicts an imminent end to violence
- Turkey’s foreign minister travels to Gaza on a truce mission
- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton heads to Israel
- U.S. blocks a U.N. Security Council statement condemning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict because it “failed to address the root cause”
- Israeli aircraft continue strikes overnight, hitting smuggling tunnels in southern Gaza Strip
Day 8: Wed. 21 Nov.
- Thousands of Israeli ground troops and tanks still positioned at border
- Al Jazeera, Associated Press and other media organisations in Gaza City damaged by Israeli strikes
- Explosion hits public bus in Tel Aviv, causing at least 10 casualties
- Secretary of State Clinton speaks in Jerusalem, where she calls for a truce
- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah
- Pope Benedict XVI says “hatred and violence are not the solution to the problem”
- U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband call for ceasefire
- In Cairo, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamal Amr and Secretary of State Clinton announce that a ceasefire agreement has been reached
- Over 130 Palestinians and 5 Israelis dead
Day 9: Thurs. 22 Nov.
- Spokeswoman says no Israeli air strikes have been carried out since 9pm local time Wed.
- 3 rockets are fired from Gaza after ceasefire deadline, but Israel ignores this
- At least 152 Palestinians and 6 Israelis have been killed
- Egypt receives assurances from both sides that Gaza ceasefire will be upheld under the following conditions:
Israel ends all land, air and sea strikes on Gaza; Gaza terminates all hostilities against Israel; within 24 hours, Gaza Strip crossings must be opened to allow free movement of people and goods; Egypt must follow up if there is a deal breach
- U.S. President Barack Obama thanks President Mursi for “his personal leadership” in negotiating the ceasefire
- President Obama tells Prime Minister Netanyahu the U.S. will increase efforts to help end smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza
- Final death count for past 8 days of fighting is 166 Palestinians and 6 Israelis
Day 10: Fri. 23 Nov.
- Israeli forces arrest 28 Palestinians in West Bank early Fri. morning
- Gaza crowds surge Israel’s border fence with Hamas-ruled territory in Southern Gaza
- After only 2 days of ceasefire, Israeli soldier shoots dead Palestinian near fence
- At least 19 other Palestinians wounded in this shooting incident
- Hamas says it will raise the issue with Egyptian mediators
- Maagar Mohot poll shows 49% of Israelis think government should have continued military offensive