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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Gaza 'not safe' for reporters

The next time you see a report originating out of the Gaza Strip, look at the byline, and think twice over whether you should trust it. Reporters without Borders issued a report this week that says that the Gaza Strip is not a safe place for reporters to be. Unfortunately, they blame the Israelis for that as much as they blame the 'Palestinians' themselves.
The Gaza Strip has become the scene of especially violent inter-Palestinian clashes this year. The tension between Hamas, the ruling Islamic party that won the elections at the start of the year, and Fatah, President Mahmoud Abbas’ party, has led to a political stalemate that has paralysed Palestinian institutions. The split within the government has inevitably had repercussions on the street, and journalists are no longer safe.

Representatives of all the Palestinian factions and the Israeli army profess a desire to respect press freedom and the work of journalists, but the statistics belie their claims. This year alone, the Israeli army attacked or threatened 16 journalists and wrecked the premises of three news media, while Palestinian militants caused damage to seven news media by setting them on fire or smashing equipment, and attacked at least four journalists. Six foreign journalists have also been kidnapped by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Reporters Without Borders believes that the safety of journalists will never be taken seriously until the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli army decide to apply the law by bringing those responsible for crimes against journalists to justice. Systematic investigations must be carried out, the findings must be published and those found guilty must be punished.

Reporters Without Borders also proposes the creation of a distinctive sign so that journalists can be more easily identified. The organisation is normally opposed to the use of signs that could mark journalists out as targets. Identifying oneself as a journalist in Iraq or Afghanistan significantly increases the risks to which one is exposed. But in some cases it could provide additional protection in the Palestinian Territories, where journalists face a regular and professional army.

Reporters Without Borders therefore proposes to rapidly bring together Palestinian and Israeli journalists, politicians from both camps and Israeli military officials to discuss this question and find a solution that would reduce the risks to which journalists working in the Palestinian territories are exposed.

It is also vital that all Palestinian factions should quickly agree on a joint statement calling for both local and foreign journalists to be respected. The opening-up of the state-owned media - the news agency WAFA and the radio and TV broadcaster PBC - to all Palestinians regardless of their political affiliation are also essential conditions for improving press freedom.
Can anyone recall the last time they saw a byline that was not Arab coming out of the Gaza Strip? Unfortunately, mainstream media journalists have become combatants in this war by blatantly taking the 'Palestinian' side. Two examples of this are the Muhammed al-Dura affair and the Gaza Beach explosion this past summer. Because of that, I don't buy into any of the stories of things that the IDF has supposedly done to journalists.

You want more proof? They ranked 168 countries on the freedom of their media in 2006. Israel ranked number 50. I thought that was ridiculous until I saw that we were ranked ahead of the United States, which was ranked 53. That says it all.

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