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Reporting the war from Gaza: Two takeaways

With the media turning all its attention to Gaza, two important conclusions can be drawn about the role of social media, and censorship by Hamas and Israel during times of war.

By Abeer Ayyoub

1. How social media broke the siege

Regardless of whether the Israeli operations of 2008, 2012 and 2014 may feel the same for residents of Gaza, anyone following the news, and specifically social media, can see the profound differences. Perhaps it is because social media activists were more active in 2012 than in 2008. During this last assault on Gaza, however, we saw social media play a major role in spreading the news from Gaza to the rest of the world.

The younger generation is using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram more frequently, and has begun translating and disseminating breaking news in different languages.

I am no exception. As a journalist who must go out into the field for her reporting, I am always either taking and publishing photos of every place I go, or posting the latest news that I hear from friends or local radio stations. No matter what, these days I give priority to social media, as it has begun to eclipse mainstream media outlets.

My sister, Fatin, who speaks Hebrew well, never thought of using Twitter before I pushed her to. Gradually she began tweeting in Hebrew, but was followed only by users in Israel. She gave up fairly quickly after being attacked by Israelis for her updates.

A member of the media holds his arm after being injured from a live bullet while covering Palestinian clashes with Israeli army, following a protest supporters by Hamas  against the Israeli attack on Gaza,on July 25, 2014, in the DCO checkpoint near Ramallah, West Bank.

A member of the media holds his arm after being injured from a live bullet while covering Palestinian clashes with the Israeli army following a protest supporting Hamas against the Israeli attack on Gaza, on July 25, 2014, in the DCO checkpoint near Ramallah, West Bank.

I cannot deny that comments from Israelis who are misled about what happens in Gaza stress me out, especially when they attack me for doing nothing more than providing news updates. Enduring this part of the conflict is no different from enduring non-stop violence for nearly a month.

Social media has given people outside of Gaza the opportunity to place themselves in the shoes of those posting their own experiences and stories – those same people who are uploading photos of their demolished homes or describing how their loved ones were killed. This made it much easier on people who have wanted to follow what was taking place on the ground. On the other hand, it put pressure on Israel and Hamas, as nearly everything that occurred was documented by social media activists.

2. On censorship and human shields

With the large number of foreign journalists coming in and out of Gaza, claims of Hamas oppression against members of the press – including death threats – should they not report according to the directives of the organization have emerged. As a local journalist covering the Israeli offensive on Gaza, it is my duty to shed light on reality, which doesn’t necessarily mean defending Hamas.

Before the war, the Hamas government had put more restrictions on journalists entering Gaza for work. However, after the beginning of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, it eased the passage for many of them. I have seen the work of foreign journalists whose entry into the Strip was facilitated by the Hamas government; they had access to different sites and were able to cover many aspects of the war without any government interference – this was also due to the fact that many Hamas members were forced into hiding during the military assault.

The main obstacle for the journalists was the closure of government offices, including the press office, in the wake of the Israeli offensive. Visas to Gaza were even canceled due to the large number of foreign journalists entering the Strip, and no statements were issued by the Gaza Media Office regarding what could or could not be reported.

An Israeli soldiers arguing with media staff after soldiers shot a journalist with a live bullet during clashes of Palestinian supporters of Hamas with Israeli army forces, following a protest against the Israeli attack on Gaza at the DCO checkpoint near Ramallah, West Bank, July 25, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

An Israeli soldiers arguing with media staff after soldiers shot a journalist with a live bullet during clashes of Palestinian supporters of Hamas with Israeli army forces, following a protest against the Israeli attack on Gaza at the DCO checkpoint near Ramallah, West Bank, July 25, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

Local press informed the foreign journalists that tweeting about the locations of rocket launches was a sensitive topic, despite the fact that the government never forbade them from doing so. I didn’t find evidence of militants threatening foreign press, purely because militants were never even seen walking around.

There is a larger context vis-à-vis censorship and legitimacy. Every state has the right to restrict its press due to security concerns – this is a widely known fact. Israel is the first to censor journalists, both foreign and local. So why is it that they understand security concerns in other countries, but not in Gaza?

This is similar to the double standard regarding civilian targets. How is it that homes, schools and mosques in Gaza are fair game for the Israeli military, while Israel keeps its military bases in the heart of its large cities?

Abeer Ayyoub, 26, studied English literature at the Islamic University of Gaza. She is a journalist who covered the last war on Gaza and has recently covered various internal issues. She has written pieces online in English for Al Jazeera, Haaretz, Al Monitor and other publications. Follow her on Twitter: @AbeerAyyoub.

Related:
Propoganda wars: Searching for a narrative in Operation Protective Edge
There is no war of images, only occupation
Israel’s social media campaign: The first war lost on Twitter?

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    COMMENTS

    1. Whiplash

      “Local press informed the foreign journalists that tweeting about the locations of rocket launches was a sensitive topic”

      I am sure it is sensitive. Hamas early on in the conflict published a directive to its people to lie about the conflict and not to give information about Hamas causalities or the place of their missile launchers.

      Hamas is a terrorist organization, like Boko Haram or Isis, and reporters should not take into account if this is sensitive information or not.

      Hamas is firing rockets out of schools, homes and hospitals. These are war crimes. Hamas denies it is doing so, while some foreign journalists, after they left Gaza, have provided photographic proof of their war crimes. An French and Indian news crews not only showed terrorists setting up a rocket firing station next to an UN building, a hotel and residential apartment blocks and firing rockets from those locations, they showed children playing on the rocket launchers after.

      When the Indian news crew went to examine the firing spot, they were warned away by local people who were well aware of what Hamas was doing.

      Yet the majority of journalists in Gaza ignore what Hamas did in building up its arsenal and where they operate.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Goldmarx

      “This is similar to the double standard regarding civilian targets. How is it that homes, schools and mosques in Gaza are fair game for the Israeli military, while Israel keeps its military bases in the heart of its large cities?”

      An excellent question. Israel is a much more spacious country than Gaza, yet chooses to put legitimate military targets amidst civilians. Eli Valley reminds us that the IDF Central Command is in the vicinity of a Tel Aviv hospital.

      Reply to Comment
      • JohnW

        Any military installation anywhere be it in Israel, America, Gaza or anywhere else is a legitimate target in war.

        What are military installations? Any place where munitions are stored, or which accommodates control and command centres or places where fighters shoot from.

        So what is your point Goldie? That Hamas have been avoiding Israeli central command as a target? Or even the nearby hospital?

        Of course they have not. They just did not succeed in hitting any of it. But not for want of trying. However, if we would listen to the likes of you and lift the blockade, Hamas would be able to acquire much more advanced weapon systems and they would be able to hit those targets. And that’s exactly what you would like to see Goldie.

        Oh … you are such a Zionist Goldie (NOT!) … with Zionists like you, we don’t need enemies.

        Reply to Comment
        • Goldmarx

          “So what is your point Goldie?”

          That it is hypocritical to accuse Hamas of using Palestinians as human shields when Israel uses Israelis as human shields.

          Reply to Comment
          • JohnW

            “That it is hypocritical to accuse Hamas of using Palestinians as human shields when Israel uses Israelis as human shields.”

            There is nothing hypocritical about stating facts. Whether it is about Hamas or Israel, Goldie.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Pedro X

      The answer is that most Israel bases are located outside of population centers. Israel is currently building a large base in the Negev well away from Urban populations.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Dennis Pielack

      Miss Ayyoub,s Two takeaways are revealing to the other side, the other side of the social media, the more mature side outside looking in. Her article is an apology for the impotency of Hamas to succeed against Israel militarily, and she explains why: “this was also due to the fact that many of the Hamas members were forced into hiding during the military assault.” and, “I didn’t find evidence of military threatening the foreign press, purely because militants were never even seen walking around.” Essentially, Hamas left the civilians out in the streets where they stashed rockets and munitions, while they took cover in their hiding places like cowards after provoking return fire by Israel. The Palestinian people picked leaders that do not think of them as equal human beings, but rather as an expendable resource, propaganda for their cause. Hamas and the Palestinian people must take responsibility for their own stupidity, like wasting children labor to build millions of dollars worth tunnels from cement designated for schools and hospitals that Israel destroyed in 28 days.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Goldmarx

      It would be easier to inspect your link if the page were in English. Just sayin’…

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Such a shame you had never heard about on-line translation services, such as Google Translate.

        Reply to Comment
      • JohnW

        “It would be easier to inspect your link if the page were in English. Just sayin’…”

        You mean you don’t even speak Hebrew? A Zionist like you, Goldie, and you seem to know all about us. You want to tell us what’s good for us?

        I have a better idea. Why don’t you just mind your own business? Go pick another conflict where you can display your self righteousness. Syria, Iraq, Lybia, Ukraine, Sudan. So much more suffering in those places. So many more people dying there but you pick Gaza? Why, Goldie? Because here the Jews fight Arabs who try to end our existence? That’s why it is more important than many more people are killed in wars which Arabs fight other Arabs?

        Reply to Comment
    6. Goldmarx

      You take my money, bitch, I damn well am going to tell you what’s good for you.

      This would be a far different conversation if no US taxpayer dollars were going to Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • JohnW

        “This would be a far different conversation if no US taxpayer dollars were going to Israel.”

        Spoken like the good Zionist you are Goldie?

        Why don’t you admit that you are a liar. You are no Zionist are you Goldie? Go on admit it, the truth will set you free.

        Reply to Comment
    7. Goldmarx

      You did not address the point I raised – instead you resort to your usual grab-bag of insults and invective that typifies a troll.

      Reply to Comment
      • JohnW

        And your language was not insulting? Let me quote what you said:

        “You take my money, bitch,”

        Nor did you address MY point. My point was that you have been lying about being a Zionist.

        How about admitting that you are not a Zionist? How do I know?

        1. You fall over backwards defending Israel’s enemy Hamas.

        2. You display nothing but hatred towards Israel.

        To prove point 2. Let me quote you again:

        “This would be a far different conversation if no US taxpayer dollars were going to Israel.”

        As if a Zionist’s top priority would be to stop US aid to Israel but not to:

        – Egypt
        – Afghanistan
        – Iraq
        – Jordan
        – Pakistan
        – etc

        What a Zionist you are Goldie. I’ll say it again. You are a liar!

        Reply to Comment
    8. JohnW

      Not only are you a liar Goldie, but you are a stupid liar.

      Like all liars, you stumble and contradict yourself.

      1. First you claimed that Bibi wants Hamas to exist because Hamas gives him an excuse not to agree to a peace deal.

      2. Then you claimed that in 2007, Israel and the USA were involved in a conspiracy to help the PLO to get rid of Hamas.

      One can only laugh and wait to see what kind of spin you come up with to talk your way out of this contradiction.

      Wink, wink.

      Reply to Comment