Freedom of the Press is certainly not the reality for journalists in Gaza covering the Hamas – Israeli conflict. Reporters have been given specific guidelines of what they may or may not cover or photograph. Then, Hamas spells out precisely how they are to spin the stories.
In other words, the world is being played by Hamas.
How many photographs have come out of the Gaza strip of Hamas militants or jihadists who have been injured or killed in the war? It is difficult, if not impossible, to find even one. The photos are all of “civilians,” but that is not because no militants have been killed. It is a calculated move by Hamas to gain public sympathy in the propaganda war, a war that is every bit as real as the battle with rockets and gunfire.
This is in keeping with a specific guideline from the Hamas interior ministry, reports the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Investigative journalists are forbidden to do their job and ascertain whether a person killed in Gaza is a civilian or a Hamas militant. All deaths are to be reported as “innocent civilian” deaths:
“Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine, before we talk about his status in jihad or his military rank. Don’t forget to always add ‘innocent civilian’ or ‘innocent citizen’ in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza.”
From the media reports, one would almost believe that only Israeli soldiers have died, and only Palestinian civilians have died. Perhaps the guidelines behind the information that journalists get out clarifies that “things aren’t always what they seem.”
When journalists dare to document things like the firing of rockets by Hamas from civilian areas, they face intimidate and threats by Hamas. Some have had equipment taken away, been bullied, or even been interrogated by Hamas leaders, reports The Times of Israel.
Recently, several journalists have been reportedly facing censorship from Hamas when they attempted to report the facts on the ground.
According to Legal Insurrection, Radjaa Abu Dagga is a French-Palestinian reporter who wrote an article about his experience being interrogated by Hamas at the Shifa Hospital, a site that The Inquisitr previously reported houses a bunker beneath the hospital that is used by Hamas leaders, providing a relatively safe place for the jihadists to meet with journalists. During the interrogation, only yards away from an operating room, Dagga was ordered to stop reporting there and to leave Gaza.
Shortly after the journalist’s article appeared in the French Liberation, it was “unpublished” per Dagga’s request. It is believed that Hamas intimidation is the primary motivation for that request.
Regarding the Shifa Hospital, an Israeli official described to the Times of Israel how journalists are being turned into spin doctors there: “We know that downstairs there is a Hamas command and control center and that Hamas leaders are hiding there. No reporter is allowed to go anywhere downstairs. They’re only allowed to work upstairs to take pictures of casualties, the pictures that Hamas wants them to take.”
According to Tablet Magazine, “What Hamas has done, therefore, is to turn Shifa Hospital into a Hollywood sound-stage filled with real, live war victims who are used to score propaganda points, while the terrorists inside the hospital itself are erased from photographs and news accounts through a combination of pressure and threats, in order to produce the stories that Hamas wants.”
A Wall Street Journal Middle East journalist, Nick Casey, posted a tweet about Hamas using the Shifa Hospital as a shield against Israeli attack, reports CAMERA, complete with photo, on July 21.
The tweet was quickly taken down. The reason? According to a tweet by Legal Insurrection, it was because he was threatened. The tweet contains links to several of those threats.
— Legal Insurrection (@LegInsurrection) July 23, 2014
Another Hamas guideline for media requires that journalists must “[a]void publishing pictures of rockets fired into Israel from [Gaza] city centers. This [would] provide a pretext for attacking residential areas in the Gaza Strip. Do not publish or share photos or video clips showing rocket launching sites or the movement of resistance [forces] in Gaza.”
Indeed, a Google search for such photos yields practically nothing. It is not because it doesn’t happen, but because journalists are forbidden by Hamas to photograph such events.
According to the Times of Israel, there have been a number of confirmed incidents “involving photographers who had taken pictures of Hamas operatives in compromising circumstances — gunmen preparing to shoot rockets from within civilian structures, and/or fighting in civilian clothing — and who were then approached by Hamas men, bullied and had their equipment taken away.”
Another Wall Street Journal journalist, Tamer El-Ghobashy, observed that, from the way the damage was done at the Shifa Hospital, it appeared that it was a “Hamas misfire.” Legal Insurrection posted a screenshot of that tweet:
The information in the journalist’s tweet contradicted the story that Hamas was putting forth, which stated that it was an Israeli rocket that had hit the hospital. The tweet was taken down, and a new one tweeted with a “Hamas-approved” version.
El-Ghobashy has received a lot of flack on his Twitter page for the switch, but he is sticking by this story: “I deleted an earlier tweet because it was speculative. Re-posted without speculation. No conspiracy. Thanks.” Despite his comments, there is tons of speculation, and little belief in the new, sanitized version:
The outer wall of Gaza City’s main hospital was struck. Unclear what the origin of the projectile is. pic.twitter.com/zQvREq0pOv
— Tamer El-Ghobashy (@TamerELG) July 28, 2014
The bullying of media by Hamas does not end at those journalists who are on the ground, and potential targets in harm’s way, in Gaza. The Hamas interior ministry has a threat for anyone running a Facebook page as well:
“To the administrators of news pages on Facebook: Do not publish close-ups of masked men with heavy weapons, so that your page will not be shut down [by Facebook] on the claim that you are inciting violence. In your coverage, be sure that you say: ‘The locally manufactured shells fired by the resistance are a natural response to the Israeli occupation that deliberately fires rockets against civilians in the West Bank and Gaza.'”
Hamas appears to place no value for the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press, tenants that many people still hold dear. Perhaps enough truth will get past the Hamas propaganda war and reach journalists around the world who still believe that it is their responsibility to speak truth.