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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Branding foreign journalists "spoiled crybabies" unwilling to make "a little effort" to get into Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, Government Press Office head Danny Seaman denied Sunday there had been any ban on their entry into the Strip during the battle.
Foreign Press Association Chairman Steve Gutkin disputed this, telling the The Jerusalem Post that the association was still pursuing its petition with the High Court of Justice to arrange regular access.
"There was no ban," Seaman declared, "Israel did not want to endanger the lives of the workers at the crossings so we didn't open them, not for humanitarian reasons and not for foreign journalists."
"Those spoiled crybabies just didn't want to put a little effort in [to getting into Gaza]," he said "We never arrested anyone who went in, nor are we running after them now," which proves that it wasn't an actual Israeli policy.
"In hindsight, next time we should make it an actual policy. This week proves it. All of the reporters have been let in and they are accepting everything everyone says at face value. Maybe 3% are calling and asking for an Israeli response, or talking to the IDF spokesman. They are a fig leaf for Hamas.
"Their coverage right now is a disgrace to the profession. Instead of reporting, they are settling scores. Reporting without both sides, without a context is an abuse of the profession," he declared.
Meanwhile, Gutkin, AP bureau chief for Israel and the Palestinian Territories, as well as FPA chair, said the group was still pursuing the court decision.
"There were actually two petitions," he explained, "one for immediate access to Gaza during the operation and one for general access to Gaza even in peacetime."
"The ban began in November, even before the operation," he pointed out. "The ban constituted a severe restriction on information vital to the world."
The fact that they were pursuing a court decision in the matter was also fairly unprecedented and constituted a dramatic step, according to Gutkin.
While AP was able to use its Gaza-based correspondents to provide coverage, Gutkin said he would have sent many more reinforcements to share the burden if he could have.
Gutkin mentioned that correspondents had managed to get into Gaza via Egypt during the latter part of the operation. In addition, the army had allowed some "one day embeds" with the troops, he said.
"We argued that the position was an unjustified refusal when it began during relatively peaceful times," he added.
Israel refused to open any of its crossings to allow foreign journalists into the Strip during the three-week-long operation, leading many broadcasts from international media to begin or end with a mention of the prohibition.
As a result, international viewers and media organizations were forced to rely on local Palestinian stringers, prompting concerns among Israel's supporters about objectivity. Moreover, apparently Al Jazeera received a "boost" in its ratings because of its coverage, according to numbers obtained by the Associated Press (see related story).
However, a week after a fragile cease-fire went into effect, media experts the Post spoke with agreed that the decision had been a good one.
"It was definitely the correct decision. If foreign journalists had been killed, and in such a close quarters urban combat environment that was inevitable, then Israel would have immediately been blamed," Zvi Mazel, former Israeli ambassador to Egypt and now a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) maintained.
"At the very least, the journalists would have interfered with IDF operations in ways which would have put at risk more soldiers' lives," he added.
Mazel was unconcerned about Al Jazeera's apparent boost.
"It is time the world realized that Al Jazeera is not just another neutral news channel. They have a nationalist, Islamist agenda which they have had from their inception. The network is under the oversight of the Islamic Brotherhood. They have an anti-US, anti-Israel agenda. In the Second Lebanon War, they became spokespeople for Hizbullah. Now they were spokespeople for Hamas," he said.
Dr. Yariv Ben-Eliezer, director of Media Studies, The Lauder School of Government, IDC, was even more vociferous in his approval of the ban.
"In Lebanon, they let every journalist have whatever access he wanted and there was chaos, which interfered with the fighting. They changed the concept for this operation.
"I don't think the US took journalists into Grenada, or the British into the Falklands. It is our right to decide not to let them in if we believe it will help the operation," he said.
Neither Mazel nor Ben-Eliezer seemed in the least bit concerned with the negative press Israel has been receiving as reporters moved into Gaza.
Ben-Eliezer attributed the complaints about the ban to a general anti-Semitic attitude in the world.
"There is a tendency in many countries to view the Jews as the beaten, downtrodden ones. If the Jew does the beating, then that is deemed unacceptable. I would rather be accused and alive than be the favorite of the British and the others and be dead," he declared.
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