Honest journalism from Gaza about Hamas’ tactics has been difficult to come by. Anti-Israeli media bias may have something to do with this. But threats by Hamas against honest journalists are probably a bigger factor.
Consider the case of Italian journalist Gabriele Barbati. On Tuesday, he tweeted that the deaths of Palestinian children on a playground caused by rocket fire were the result of a misfired Hamas rocket. “Misfired rocket killed children in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris,” Barbati wrote.
Significantly, Barbati tweeted this only after he had left Gaza. In the same tweet he wrote, “Out of Gaza far from Hamas retaliation.”
Reporters wishing to remain in Gaza play it differently. The Wall Street Journal’s Middle East Correspondent Tamer El-Ghobashy tweeted a photo of the damage at the Shati playground with a caption that supported Barbati’s version of the attack: “An outside wall on the campus of Gaza’s main hospital was hit by a strike. Low level damage suggest Hamas misfire.”
El-Ghobashy claimed that he changed the caption because the first one was speculative. But El-Ghobashy’s Wall Street Journal colleague Nick Casey had similarly deleted a photo showing Hamas officials in Shifa hospital. Have the WSJ’s journalists suddenly been afflicted by an inability to meet whatever journalistic standards may apply to tweets? Or are they being intimidated into changing them?
Here’s a clue. It was in the same Shifia hospital that Hamas interrogated French-Palestinian journalist Radjaa Abu Dagga and threatened to throw him out of Gaza.
Liberation — the left-wing French newspaper — reported this incident and included a description of Hamas fighters, dressed in civilian clothing with guns hidden under their shirts, gathered a few meters from the emergency room. But Liberation later deleted the article at Abu Dagga’s request.
Here’s another clue. Reporters Without Borders has confirmed to Liberation that many journalists have reported being threatened by Hamas. And pro-Hamas journalists have themselves reported, gleefully, that correspondent Harry Fear of RT was told to leave Gaza after he tweeted about Hamas rockets being fired into Israel from near his hotel.
But leaving Gaza is not always an option for journalists. Last week, Sophia Jones of the Huffington Post tweeted: “The Israeli side of the border with Gaza was briefly open today, but Hamas did not let journalists leave Gaza.”
The choice for journalists may amount to this: tell the truth about Hamas and be forced to leave Gaza or toe Hamas’ line and be forced to stay.
Barbati made the right call. The reporting of those who play it the other way becomes inherently suspect.