Despite Court Order, Journalists Barred From Gaza

Members of the media report along the Israeli-Gaza border in Israel on Wednesday. i i

Members of the media report along the Israeli-Gaza border on Wednesday. Spencer Platt/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Members of the media report along the Israeli-Gaza border in Israel on Wednesday.

Members of the media report along the Israeli-Gaza border on Wednesday.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
A cameraman and a reporter work on the Gaza border. i i

Journalists report on the violence between Israel and Hamas from the border on Wednesday. They remain banned from Gaza, despite protests that they be allowed into the region. Spencer Platt/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Spencer Platt/Getty Images
A cameraman and a reporter work on the Gaza border.

Journalists report on the violence between Israel and Hamas from the border on Wednesday. They remain banned from Gaza, despite protests that they be allowed into the region.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Journalists for American media outlets who are covering the armed conflict in the Gaza strip are doing so from a distance, because Israeli authorities won't let them in.

"In my experience of covering conflict and violence in Gaza — which I've done since 2001 — there has never been a period like this in which international journalists were prevented from entering and from covering events inside Gaza even during major military operations by the Israeli military," says Jo Floto, deputy editor for the Middle Eastern bureaus of the BBC.

"It's the nature of broadcast news that we want our correspondents to report what they see," Floto says. "That is the essence of broadcast journalism. And we're incapable of doing that."

That's made it hard for reporters to determine precisely what has happened, for example, after Israeli missiles struck schools in Gaza over the past few days. Scores of refugees who were seeking shelter there were reportedly killed, and the video footage coming out of the area has been heart-rending. A top U.N. official in Gaza has called for an independent investigation to determine whether a war crime occurred.

But to find out what really happened, foreign journalists say, news organizations need to be able to send people to nearby morgues to view the bodies and to hospitals to interview survivors. Western media outlets, including the BBC, NPR and others, are relying on Palestinian stringers who are fearful for the safety of themselves and their families during the conflict. Editors are appreciative, but they say it's not the same as having their own journalists there as well.

"It's very difficult to be able to do more than pretend we're telling the real story of the events there," says Roy Gutman, foreign editor for the 31 papers in the McClatchy newspaper chain.

Israel has a strong tradition of a free press, but starting in November, authorities began cutting off the ability of journalists to enter Gaza through the Erez crossing at the north, citing safety concerns. There has been steady rocket and mortar fire from Gaza aimed at Israeli civilian targets at and near the border.

"This is a very precarious situation, and the minute the conditions in the passages are such that people can enter and exit, journalists obviously will be the first to enjoy that safety," says Jonathan Peled, the chief press aide to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.

But that doesn't quite seem to be the case. Israel has in fact allowed humanitarian aid and United Nations officials into Gaza — as recently as during a three-hour cease-fire Wednesday — but again, no journalists. That's despite a ruling last week by the Israeli Supreme Court requiring that a small pool of international reporters be allowed into Gaza. NPR News is part of the press association and it, too, has protested the restrictions.

But despite the legal win, groups of journalists have been turned away every day. Peled says the Israeli invasion of Gaza over the weekend undermined the Supreme Court ruling.

"That was before the ground operation began, and obviously the situation at the moment is such that the passages are in harm's way," said Peled. "Therefore, as I said, nobody is entering Gaza, including journalists."

Peled notes that Egypt is not allowing journalists to enter Gaza from the territory's southern border, either. Yet there may be another cause to the restrictions: Israeli officials have long complained that Palestinian activists and terrorist groups manipulate foreign journalists by claiming Israeli atrocities.

But journalists say they need to seek the facts for themselves. McClatchy's Gutman says it is possible some of that mortar and rocket fire from Gaza was launched from sites near schools or hospitals, as a way of drawing Israeli bombs.

"I think we're missing a lot — of not just the human story but the real story — of what is going on in Gaza," Gutman says.

News executives acknowledged the very real danger of reporting from Gaza, from both the military crossfire and the threat of kidnapping there. But journalists say they should have the right to assess that danger — along with everything else in Gaza — for themselves, and for the public.

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