Gaza: Reporting a never-ending story

MENASSAT's Gaza correspondent writes about the difficulty of reporting a seemingly never-ending story of death and destruction, especially when the journalist herself is just another character in the story.
Gaza bloodbath 2008. © AIC photo archive
Gaza 2008. © AIC

GAZA CITY, Mar. 4, 2008 (MENASSAT) – So you sit down at your desk in your news office in Gaza.

Only a few hours ago, you were a witness to atrocities committed in your city like so many times before.

You witnessed the bombings and the air strikes.

You guessed at the location of the strikes and the number of casualties.

Now you have to convey this horrific story to the readers.

So where do you start?

In poor and war-torn Gaza, reporting the story is as conflicted as the conflict itself, as news and truth are easily lost amid the uninterrupted killing and the attempts from various sides to control the sources and the stories coming out of these sources.

It is not easy being a journalist in this bloody strip, an area that doesn't exceed 360 sq. km. yet is home to more than 1.5 million people.

Everybody was prepared for last Wednesday's attack by the Israeli forces but no one expected the huge number of dead and injured.

The Israeli raids started with nighttime strikes on the institutions and headquarters of Hamas in Gaza.

The media is reporting continuous raids with growing numbers of casualties.

The main sources are the Gaza hospitals and local radios still broadcasting on the FM frequency; the Hamas politicians are in hiding for fear of being targeted after Israeli commanders announced that no Hamas militant would be safe – from Haniya to the lowest ranking member of the al-Qassam faction.

The journalist tries to gather whatever news is available, however contradictory, and to find a balance between the different sources so that they don't clash.

But the avalanche of information, combined with the screaming of the people, throws you into a chaos. Fighting this chaos is like fighting a sea which has rebelled against the earth and is trying to drown it under a sea of water.

As a journalist you are not an outsider to this story; you are an integral part of it.

Suddenly, you find yourself without electricity or water.

Life stops and with it all means of communication.

Non-stop raids.

The sky breathes death and destruction.

But you have to gather your strength and your thoughts because you have to report the story and give expression to the destruction and the suffering.

So you control your grief and you prepare yourself to go out into the early hours of another bloody Gaza morning.

You need to get to the place of the bombings in order to witness the massacre and the ensuing silence for yourself.

But suddenly all of Gaza's problems stand in the way between you and the story.

You call for a taxi.

But the taxi driver won't come, either because he doesn't have gas or because he is afraid to travel over roads where any moving object is a potential target.

After a great deal of convincing, the driver ultimately agrees to take you to the crime scene.

By then, having listened to his endless complaints and fears has instilled in yourself a feeling bordering on certainty that you too will soon become one of the victims.

You set off for the crime scene with Israeli planes roaring overhead, praying that the pilots will not mistake your taxi for a vehicle transporting weapons or wanted militants.

These are scary, violent moments that you can only justify by telling yourself that every risk you take, every moment of fear you go through, is worth it in order to get to the scene and witness the death and destruction that has been thrust on the poor, devastated Gazans once again.

Then the story begins with the survivors, and the description of death starts for the thousandth time.

Of course, there were children sleeping across the street from the house that was bombed.

Of course, the children across the street paid the price.

One lost her eye, while five-year old Mohamad was killed outright next to his father who suffered serious injuries.

The small fortune that took a lifetime to build is lost in the rubble; it will never be rebuilt now because there are no jobs in Gaza.

You carry on your way to witness another chapter of the story; this one is about Abed Rabou and his family who live in Jabalia in northern Gaza.

The father of a martyr relates his story.

"They shot my son and they left him bleeding for hours before my eyes. His mother and I were screaming for them to let us save him. But they wouldn't allow it. There were more than forty of us trapped in a house. We could see death closing in on our boy until it finished him. We looked at him agonizing before our eyes for hours."

As the grief starts getting to you, and you feel like you can't possible hear anymore, an 80-year old woman approaches.

She is crying over the loss of everything she has; the death of her children and the destruction of her house.

She demands to know why.

No one has an answer for her.

Suddenly, your realize that you are unable to move or hear.

You want to leave this place where the stories never end, and they always tell of disaster.

On the way back to your office, you ask about the places where electricity is still running and you aim for them.

Finally you sit down to write the story.

So where do you start?

Do you start with the fear of the children? The mother who lost her family and her house? The old woman whose suffering was written all over her face?

Eventually, you throw yourself into writing for the thousandth time about the suffering of people who have lost everything.

Your biggest fear at this point is that you will not be able to properly express the misery of the people you are writing about because you're one of them – just another character in the unending story of death and destruction in Gaza.

But in the end you pull yourself together – as always.

You overcome your own pain and you bring to the world once more the daily suffering of your people.