Rassegna Stampa Elezioni Israeliane 2009

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Voices of truth from war zones must be heard

Posted by Alessandro Accorsi su 19 gennaio, 2009

Muhammad Ayish

The National – UAE

As a fragile ceasefire takes effect in Gaza, now is a good time to observe that the civilian population of the impoverished Strip are not the only casualties of the bloody Israeli offensive. They also include the people who keep all of us informed about the human suffering in the war zone.

Four journalists covering the conflict in Gaza have been killed and six others injured (including two working for Abu Dhabi TV) after their offices were hit by Israeli artillery fire and air strikes. The spirits of the media community based in Gaza have received a morale boost from extensive international condemnation of the attacks by groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Press Emblem Campaign (PEC), the International Covenant for the Protection of journalists (ICPJ), the European Union, Unesco, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Doha Center for Media Freedom (DCMF).

However, the critical importance of securing the unimpeded flow of information to a global audience about the humanitarian consequences of the military conflict in Gaza should prompt the international community to work out more enforceable mechanisms for the protection of reporters in war zones. It is indeed heartening to see the IFJ begin an investigation into alleged Israeli targeting of journalists in Gaza, and the DCMF dispatching equipment and supplies to besieged journalists to help them to continue their mission.

Journalists becoming victims of military attacks in the Middle East is not, of course, a new development: it has been one of the sad facets of ongoing confrontations in the region. According to a report by the International Committee for the Protection of Journalists, fire from Israeli forces killed several journalists and injured dozens during the years of intense conflict that followed the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000. In most cases the Israeli army failed to conduct either a thorough investigation or any investigation at all.

On May 2, 2003, for example, an Israeli soldier fatally shot James Miller, a British cameraman in Gaza. In March 2005, Israel’s military prosecutor-general decided against bringing criminal charges, but told Mr Miller’s family that the officer involved, a lieutenant, would face disciplinary measures for violating the rules of engagement and for changing his account of the incident.

On April 15, 2008, Fadel Shana, a Reuters cameraman, was killed on his way to cover a story in Gaza. On December 7 that year, Hamza Shahin, a photographer with the Shehab news agency, died in an Israeli air attack on northern Gaza. In 2003, Al Jazeera’s Baghdad correspondent, Tariq Ayoub, was killed after his office was hit by an American missile in the first days of the US invasion of Iraq. Atwar Bahjat, an Iraqi journalist and reporter for Al Arabiya television, was abducted and murdered in Samarra in February 2006. Her cameraman, Khaled Mahmoud al Falahi, and a technician, Adnan Khairallah, were also killed. In 2007, the highest number of casualties among media workers was in Iraq.

In situations where governments are engaged in military conflict, journalists are subjected to forms of “soft” control, either by banning their entry into areas deemed dangerous, or embedding them among fighting troops. In the case of Gaza, the Israeli government blocked the entry of journalists into the Strip under the pretext of security considerations. During the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Pentagon came up with the notion of embedded journalism, allowing journalists to accompany troops in the war zone – but at a price. Some reporters were reduced to being mere mouthpieces for military spokesmen, as they were stripped of their ability to carry out genuinely independent reporting.

It is clear that for those who seem guided more by their illusory sense of power than by concern for human life, it must be a nightmare to see images of the blood on their hands finding their way into the media sphere. But for those who seek peace and justice around the world, what journalists report from the battlefield serves as a powerful weapon that they can use in their moral struggle to combat aggression and terrorism. Journalists in military conflicts are an issue that will continue to raise concerns, not only about their safety as individuals, but also about the ability of the international community to develop solid and enlightened public opinion on the humanitarian catastrophes brought about by blind belligerence.

More than 60 years ago, the preamble to the Unesco Constitution declared: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” When the independent voices of journalism in Gaza are subject to such deadly suffocation, there is little reason to believe the spirit of peace will ever triumph.

Muhammad Ayish is a professor of communications at the University of Sharjah




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