Gaza: Stories from the front lines

February 9th, 2009 | Posted in Palestine

Interview with Maureen Clare Murphy, editor for Electronic Intifada, by Stefan Christoff.

    Photo: Matthew Cassel. Bombarded Palestinian home in Gaza.

As world attention turned to the latest Israeli military bombardment of the Gaza Strip, Israel barred international media outlets and correspondents access to Gaza. As Israel controls all entry and exit points into Gaza – land, sea and air – Israel as an occupying power possesses the power to cut-off the Palestinian reality from the international press.

Press freedom in Gaza became severely restricted in Gaza as Israel moved to control global media coverage from Gaza. Despite a decision from the Israeli Supreme Court admits the latest conflict to allow the international media into Gaza to report on the impacts of Israeli air strikes on Palestinians, the ban on international press in Gaza remained.

Given mainstream media coverage on the war in Gaza, from major outlets like CNN or BBC, failed to deliver a comprehensive picture on the war increasingly people around the globe turned to on-line independent media outlets to view the Palestinian side of the story.

Independent media projects focused on Palestine have been central in providing critical information and independent voices from occupied Palestine seldom heard in the mainstream media landscape, Palestinian stories that have assisted in sparking the growing Palestinian solidarity movement internationally.

Electronic Initfada is a widely read on-line publication which publishes news, commentary, analysis, and reference materials about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict from a Palestinian perspective. Maureen Clare Murphy is the managing editor of Electronic Intifada and spoke with Tadamon! for a live interview on CKUT radio in Montreal concerning the conduct of corporate and independent media during the war in Gaza.

Stefan Christoff: Electronic Intifada has become a key on-line independent media project featuring voices from occupied Palestine, widely read around the world during the latest war in Gaza. Wondering your thoughts on some of the major gaps in mainstream media coverage in North America on the latest Israeli attack on Gaza?

Maureen Clare Murphy: As usual there were many major gaps in coverage. One key issue is that Israel barred foreign journalists from entering Gaza, as Israel did everything it could to control the images coming out of Gaza. Only the Arab satellite channels had an actual presence in the Gaza Strip, since their reporters are based in Gaza full time.

International corporate media generally station their reporters in Tel Aviv, around a two hour drive from Gaza and a one hour drive from the West Bank.

However when Israel closes the borders into Palestinian territory the international reporters are denied access to Palestinian areas. Journalists are then shuttled to places in Israel like Sderot which certainly isn’t a place to tell the Palestinian side of the story.

A bias becomes inherent when a foreign correspondent is living in Israeli society and views Palestinian society only as a place to go to on a day long field trip.

Foreign journalists never told the story of the Gaza Strip during the latest attack; the Palestinian side of the story can only be based on listening to Palestinian experiences directly and transmit those experiences in their reporting. Instead reporters were disproportionately spending time in Sderot, Israel waiting for the occasional rocket to be fired so they would have a mildly spectacular event to report on.

Aside from these specifics the mainstream media provides no context to hikes in violence, reporting on events almost as if each individual round of violence happens in a vacuum that has no historical context.

Also the corporate media never mentions the role of the U.S. which provides the bombs and F-16s to Israel, which are then used against Palestinian civilians. [Given this lack of context] there is no way for the average U.S., British or Canadian news consumer to make sense on what is happening and make an informed opinion about events in the region.

Stefan Christoff: As the editor of Electronic Intifada can you outline some of the important points of historical context that were missing both in recent media coverage, specifically could you address the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip since 2007 when Israel declared Gaza a ‘hostile entity’, blocking the land, air and sea access to the territory.

Maureen Clare Murphy: To start on this point let’s refer to FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, who did a survey earlier in January of major evening T.V. network news stories in the U.S. This report found that only two broadcasts even mentioned international law.

Also this report from FAIR outlines that according to a search on the terms, “international law”, “humanitarian law”, “war crimes”, and “laws of war” in the Lexis Nexis database of U.S. newspaper stories on Israel and Gaza, during the first week of the Israeli bombardment on Gaza, there was only one reference to any of these legal concepts and that was in an op-ed by an Israeli Embassy spokes person who critiqued Hamas.

So there is no legal context provided to Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip. For those who have even a rudimentary understanding to international humanitarian law which refers to the laws of war, you will know that international humanitarian specifically prohibits collective punishment, which is exactly what Israel has been doing in the blockade on Gaza, through sealing the borders, making it impossible for even the most basic materials to enter Gaza. Food, medicine and other basic materials needed for a basic but dignified life are not being allowed into the Gaza Strip and haven’t been for two years now.

Even before Hamas was elected by Palestinians living under occupation in 2006, the borders to Gaza were only open intermittently. Gaza’s sealed borders are not only a response to Hamas being elected, [as] these types of movement restrictions or policies of collective punishment have been in place for a long time now.

Stefan Christoff: Could you offer your reflections on your work as an editor for Electronic Intifada, you published multiple reports directly from Gaza during the recent war; from international activists, human rights workers, Palestinian journalists. At a time when there was little international corporate media working on the ground in Gaza could you convey the common sentiments expressed in those very important pieces published on Electronic Intifada from the front-lines?

Maureen Clare Murphy: Really want to honour the Palestinians in Gaza who write for us regularly, we have one reporter particularly, Rami Almeghari who has been tirelessly reporting on the story in Gaza, long before this latest massacre.

Remember publishing a story from Almeghari on Christmas, just two days prior to the attack on Gaza, a personal story from a writer who usually writes more strait forward reporting. Almeghari told his own story in the article as a journalist who had a struggle to be able to find bread for his family and what that meant as a parent, not to be able to easily find sustenance for your children.

Electronic Intifada doesn’t only pay attention to Gaza only when the bombs are being dropped, we have writers in Gaza, who are from Gaza, who are there all the time telling their stories. So as a publication we really didn’t have to struggle to find writers who could convey the situation in Gaza during the latest attack.

In fact the corporate media was often turning to us requesting to re-publish our articles, or be able to speak with our correspondents in Gaza, so they could fill-in their gaps in coverage. Our writers were able to overcome the attempts by Israel to control the messages and information that was getting out about this war. Our writers in Gaza outlined the human stories from Gaza that you couldn’t find in the corporate media.

People in Gaza have names, have aspirations for the future, and our coverage conveyed how the latest war impacted them. It is much more possible to understand a situation once you begin to know the human stories behind the headlines.

Clearly Electronic Intifada wasn’t the only media doing this role, also Democracy Now! was doing an excellent job reporting on Gaza. One interview comes to mind, an interview with a young Palestinian man living in the U.S. who had a brother that was shot 18 times and left to bleed to death for 20 hours because the nearby Israeli soldiers refused to let an ambulance access the area. Such stories convey the human cost of the situation in Palestine.

Stefan Christoff: Just one day after the unilateral ceasefire was declared by Israel, the Electronic Intifada published a piece called “Ceasefire broken from day one”, given this article and your constant communication with people on the ground in Gaza can you give us a sense about the current situation in Gaza.

Maureen Clare Murphy: Now there is a sense that the situation before December 27th, when Israel began the shelling, was an acceptable status quo, while clearly it is not. Anyone who really has a good understanding about the situation in Gaza isn’t optimistic about this unilateral ceasefire being maintained in the long term.

You still have a boycott of the democratically elected Hamas government, you still have the siege which means that construction materials to rebuild the tens-of-thousands of houses and the civilian infrastructure that was destroyed is not being allowed to enter Gaza.

Today children in Gaza are being sent to schools that have been bombed out, while students do not even have basic school supplies due to the blockade. Life in Gaza has not become normal just because Israel declared a ceasefire. It is going to be years that the impact of the twenty-two days of bombing is going to impact Gaza.

* Maureen Clare Murphy is the Managing Editor of the Electronic Intifada.

* Stefan Christoff is a community organizer and journalist based in Montreal, this interview was broadcast on CKUT radio in Montreal and transcribed for publication on Tadamon!.

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