Some 580 foreign journalists have poured into Israel during the four weeks of Operation Protective Edge, nearly double the number covering the two previous rounds of fighting between Israel and Hamas, Israel’s Government Press Office estimates.
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Nitzan Chen, the director of the GPO, attributed the huge number to the length of the war, as well as to the absence of competing news elsewhere around the globe.
“The fighting has been going on for almost a month, so more and more journalists are coming – some of them to give the foreign reporters already here a break to recover,” he said.
“There’s a lot of interest in what’s happening here, right now as coverage of the World Cup [soccer championship] in Brazil came to an end and the crash of the Malaysian airliner in Ukraine has receded from the public agenda.”
Israel’s two previous rounds of hostilities with Hamas – the 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense in 2012 – drew only about 300 foreign correspondents, Chen estimated.
Cast Lead lasted just over three weeks, but started during the Christmas-New Year’s holiday week when Western media organizations were understaffed, while PiIllar of Defense lasted just one week.
One Tel Aviv-based foreign correspondent, Nicholas Casey of The Wall Street Journal, who spoke to TheMarker from the Gaza Strip, acknowledged that foreign news coverage of the fighting this time was on a different scale to prior rounds. He added that the number of Palestinians killed has also been much larger and interest among overseas consumers of news is high. The most difficult moments he experienced, he said, have involved encounters with Palestinians who have lost loved ones.
Another correspondent for a major media organization, who asked not to be identified, said he believed the coverage was more balanced this time than in the two previous conflicts, with the press reporting casualties on both sides.
If Gaza is getting more attention, he said, that was because the Palestinians have suffered bigger losses and are still perceived as the underdog.
Two thirds of the visiting media teams don’t report from the Israeli side but make their way to Gaza via the Erez crossing, said Chen, whose office handles the border formalities needed to enter Gaza.
He said most of the foreign media represented American television networks. By contrast, an Asian reporter told TheMarker, the media in the Far East were much less interested in the Gaza fighting except as news that might affect their economies – by causing oil prices to rise, for instance.
The GPO is not only responsible for media logistics, but also acts as a spokesman for the government. Last Friday, it inadvertently enjoyed a small victory during a bus tour it arranged for some 50 foreign journalists to Kibbutz Kerem Shalom on the Gaza border. The area came under heavy shelling by Hamas after the suspected abduction in Gaza of Israeli soldier 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin.
“The foreign correspondents were witness to the incident and began broadcasting from there around the world,” Chen said. “They actually saw how Hamas was violating the cease-fire an hour and a half after it went into effect.”