Foreign reporters furious over Gaza ban

Journalists cite lack of formal notice on decision; Defense Ministry denies banning int'l reporters.

karni 248 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
karni 248
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Foreign journalists are furious that the Defense Ministry's closure of Gaza Strip crossings has barred them from entering. They were given no formal notice of the ban. Instead, reporters found out the hard way last week, either by phone or at the Erez crossing to northern Gaza, that they could not get into the Strip, according to Conny Mus, a reporter for the Dutch television station RTL. "This morning we called and they [border crossing officials] said you can come in one hour," said Mus, who headed down with a television crew fully expecting to spend the day working in Gaza. "They put our names on a list and we waited for five hours at the border," said Mus. Only then was their request denied. The ministry said no order had been issued to keep journalists as such from going to Gaza. "There is no decision not to allow journalists in," said Peter Lerner, the spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. Last Wednesday, in response to the renewal of Gazan rocket attacks, a decision was reached to allow entry only on the basis of humanitarian concerns, he said. Since journalists did not fit that category, they had not been let in, he said. In the two years since Hamas took over Gaza, Israeli journalists have been denied entry to the Strip, but except for brief periods, foreign journalists have been free to move in and out of the area, despite flare-ups of violence and the kidnapping of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston. Occasionally they had problems, but a ban had never lasted this long, said Mus. Foreign Press Association chairman Steven Gutkin said journalists had called him with complaints since last Thursday. Since then, he said, the association had appealed to the government to allow access, with no success. "We consider it a serious problem for freedom of the press. We think that journalists have to be placed in a special category. A blanket ban on people going into Gaza should not apply to journalists," Gutkin said. "We serve as the window for the world into Gaza," he said. "We are hoping that this is not the start of a policy of banning journalists from Gaza. We would like to point out that when times are tough, and when things heat up, it is important for journalists to be able to enter." Mus said he could only conclude that "the State of Israel does not want objective observers to come in and tell the world what is going on there." As he waited at the border on Wednesday, Mus said he saw that diplomats were also turned away. Given that Gaza was not under the jurisdiction of the State of Israel, its government should not have a say in the matter, he said. Lerner said it seemed to him that the media was filled with stories and photographs from Gaza, showing that the closure of the border had not impacted coverage. Mus responded by staying the ban had simply changed the nature of the coverage. Israel had in the past criticized the foreign press for relying too heavily on Palestinians in Gaza for their information, and now they were forcing those same outlets to do exactly that, he said. "Now the total reporting is in the hands of the Palestinians. We want to be there to observe it with our own eyes," he said.