The last time, we traveled together to the Indira Gandhi Park. Nearly a year has passed since then. We traveled to this playground, on the outskirts of Beit Lahiya, with our dedicated Gazan taxi drivers, Munir and Sa'id, to document the killing of kindergarten teacher Najweh Khalif in front of her children by an errant tank shell that missed the kindergarten's minibus by only several meters. We have not been able to return to Gaza since.
The Gaza Strip has been completely closed to Israeli journalists for nearly a year. The Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service decided this because it is dangerous in Gaza. An Israeli journalist can travel to Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, but not to Gaza. An Israeli can travel to Sinai, where it is also said to be dangerous. The West Bank is still open to journalists, where it is dangerous. But a complete blackout has been imposed on Gaza. Only Roni Daniel can still join the invading forces and expose their itchy trigger fingers - as he did in his report on Channel 2 on Thursday - and sing their praises. The place so present in the public consciousness, which dictates the security and diplomatic agenda, has been closed by the Israeli authorities to the Israeli media. Long before it was declared a "hostile entity," Gaza had become a closed territory, without any media coverage or documentation. Such is Israeli freedom of the press.
Anyone who expected such an intolerable reality to stir a protest was proven wrong. In any case, the readers do not want to read about it, the government and army do not want them to know and the journalists are not yearning to tell. There is no real fight for freedom of media coverage (which is also freedom of expression, information and livelihood) - not by the High Court of Justice, the Press Association and Press Council, or the Association of Civil Rights in Israel. This might have been understandable were it only for a limited time - but how long will this continue? Until all Palestinians join Kadima?
This blocking of media coverage for nearly a year has made us fail seriously in fulfilling our role. The media is not providing the service it is supposed to provide.
Even worse, it has surrendered submissively to the prohibitions imposed on it, while blurring the reality. There are only a few reporters who still bother to cover Gaza, often entangling their viewers and readers in falsehood, creating the deception that they have just returned from there. Instead of protesting, they collaborate. It is one thing that consumers do not protest about the lack of this service - even Yes subscribers remain quiet. But journalists?
It is the state's right and obligation to protect its citizens from unnecessary dangers. But it has no right to prevent those with an essential role to fulfill from doing so. The journalists who crossed at Erez in the past crossed at their own personal and professional responsibility, and signed a statement declaring this. Ron Ben-Yishai, one of the boldest in the field, compared his recent trip to Syria to the work of a technician who climbs up high-tension electricity towers. The work is dangerous, but necessary. And no one thinks of preventing the technician from doing this work. Yet Ben-Yishai can travel to Dir al-Zur in Syria, but not to Dir al-Balah in the Gaza Strip, as daring as he may be.
With the exception of Burma, not many places in the world are so closed off. It is true that Israel lets foreign journalists enter Gaza, and this is good, but it is ridiculous when media organizations like Haaretz, which still have an interest in covering what is happening, use foreign sources to tell their readers what is going on there.
But this is not enough. Israelis deserve to read and watch journalism by Israelis. The Italian and Swedish correspondents sent by Haaretz to Gaza are professional journalists, but the Israeli reader deserves to receive Israeli media coverage.
It is hard to know what really motivates Israel to close Gaza in this way. Is it the aspiration, so easy to fulfill, that Gaza will not be exposed here? If, on the other hand, it is an exaggerated concern for our safety, I waive this right. According to our foreign colleagues' reports, it is much safer in Gaza now than it was a year ago, when we still traveled there. Armed gangs no longer roam the streets and Hamas is even willing to protect Israeli journalists. But how will we know if we are not there?
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