Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Reporting from Gaza is necessarily personal

Robert Fisk in the London Independent has pointed out something notable about the current situation in Gaza. Since Alan Johnston of the BBC was kidnapped by Palestinian jihadis several years ago, no "western" journalists have lived permanently there. Israel is keeping out any reporters trying to get in now, which Fisk finds reminiscent of the Russian conquest of Afghanistan in 1980. But as a consequence, any voices the world is hearing now from Gaza belong to Palestinians.

That the Israelis should use an old Soviet tactic to blind the world's vision of war may not be surprising. But the result is that Palestinian voices – as opposed to those of Western reporters – are now dominating the airwaves. The men and women who are under air and artillery attack by the Israelis are now telling their own story on television and radio and in the papers as they have never been able to tell it before, without the artificial "balance", which so much television journalism imposes on live reporting.

One of the Palestinian reporters for Fisk's own paper has told his own story: how he learned his father had been killed. Akrem al-Ghoul had the misfortune to be in the way of the Israeli ground offensive. They hit his house from an F-16 jet (U.S.-supplied).

The phone call came at around 4.20pm on Saturday. A bomb had been dropped on the house at our small farm in northern Gaza. My father was walking from the gate to the farmhouse at the time. ...

It was the closest farm to the northern border with Israel. Ironically, we always thought the biggest danger there was not from Israeli troops, who usually went straight past if they were mounting an incursion, but from stray Hamas rockets aimed at the Israeli towns north of us.

But shortly before sunset on Saturday, as Israeli ground troops and tanks invaded Gaza in the name of shutting down Hamas rocket sites, the peace of that place was shattered and my father's life extinguished at the age of 48. Warplanes and helicopters had swept in, bombing and firing to open up the space for the tanks and ground forces that would follow in the darkness. It was one of those F16 airstrikes that killed my father.

The house was reduced to little more than powder, and of Dad there was nothing much left either. "Just a pile of flesh," my uncle, who found him in the rubble, said later with brutal honesty.

Al-Ghoul was a lawyer and jurist who hated it that Hamas was imposing its version of Islamic law on the Palestinian legal system. His son writes:

My grief carries no desire for revenge, which I know to be always in vain. But, in truth, as a grieving son, I am finding it hard to distinguish between what the Israelis call terrorists and the Israeli pilots and tank crews who are invading Gaza. What is the difference between the pilot who blew my father to pieces and the militant who fires a small rocket? I have no answers but, just as I am to become a father, I have lost my father.

Let's hope the author, Fares Akram, survives the Israeli assault. He is still reporting from Gaza City -- and hoping his nine months pregnant wife doesn't go into labor just now.

For reports from Gaza bloggers, when they have any electricity, try Moments of Gaza and Global Voices.

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