Hass calls explusion from Gaza 'bogus' and 'irrational'

While journalists across the world have been putting pressure on Israel to lift a three-weeks-old ban on foreign media entering the Gaza Strip, the Hamas authorities in Gaza have kicked out Amira Hass, the only Israeli reporter who was able to report from the besieged territory. MENASSAT reached Hass at her home in Ramallah.
Amira Hass – interviewing and getting interviewed. (From the documentary film Between The Lines.)

GAZA, December 3, 2008 (MENASSAT)—On Sunday, the Hamas security forces  ordered Amira Hass, the only Israeli journalist to report from Gaza, invoking only "security reasons." Hass, 52, an award-winning journalist with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, entered the Gaza Strip last month on a boat with international peace activists who are defying Israel's economic blockade of Gaza.

Hass, who is known for being one of the few Israeli journalis to report from the Palestinian side of the conflict, expressed anger at her expulsion.

"I was surprised by the decision of the Interior Ministry of Hamas, which forced me to leave Gaza immediately without providing me with a valid reason," Hass told  MENASSAT from her home in Ramallah in the West Bank.

Hass was given twenty hours to leave Gaza, which she did on Monday. Upon entering Israel through the Beit Hanoun/Erez crossing, Hass was immediately detained by Israeli security officials. The Gaza Strip has been off limits to Israeli nationals ever since the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and Hass did not have an Israeli permit for Gaza.

It is not the first time Hass has been kicked out of Gaza.

"This happened to me before in 1995 while President Arafat was still alive. Then too the official explanation that was given was 'security reasons.' However, the authorities eventually retracted their decision. That didn't happen in this case. When I turned to my friends in Hamas, they couldn't help me and I was compelled to leave."

Hass considers the vague security reasons to be "bogus" and "irrational," and believes that if they are going to force her to leave Gaza, it should at least be for a good reason. 

Ihab al-Ghossayn, a spokesman for the Hamas Interior Ministry, told MENASSAT that "the decision to force Hass out of Gaza stemmed from security concerns regarding her life."

"We feared that some unknown persons would kidnap or attack her, and we don't want to carry the responsibility if such an event occurs, for she is an Israeli journalist," al-Ghossayn said. "We gave Hass some time to leave Gaza.  She stayed for twenty-two days, which is more than enough time for her to accomplish any mission she came to here to do."

But Hass objects to this reasoning, saying that she initially told Hamas she would be staying in Gaza for three months, and that the time she spent there was too short for the sort of work she wanted to produce. 

Hass was not surprised at her being detained by the Israeli security forces on her way out of Gaza.
"The authorities at the checkpoint stopped me for six hours to interrogate me about what I was doing in Gaza," she said. "I was expecting this interrogation since I violated an Israeli decision and came into Gaza from the sea and then left through the Erez checkpoint. But my newspaper supported me in this matter, and I was able to cross easily."

During her stay in Gaza, Hass says she noticed a more stable security situation, but she is unsure if this is because of the fear people have of the Hamas government or because of Hamas' capacity to impose itself on the ground.

"I think they fear Hamas," she said.
The journalist said she met with many officials in Hamas, including one of the top leaders, Mahmoud al-Zahar, but her request to meet with PM Ismail Haniya was met with refusal—agin due to security reasons.

Hass criticized the activities of Hamas' Interior Ministry in Gaza, which didn't allow her to walk around freely in Gaza unless she was accompanied by members of the Hamas police.

"It doesn't make sense to do my job in a jeep with bodyguards. Everybody knew that I am an Israeli journalist and where I was going, and this bothered me," she said. "I felt that many of the citizens wanted to talk to the press, but they may fear punishment if they speak against Hamas."

When asked if her well-known compassion for the Palestinian people affects her writing, Hass answered, "My compassion is one thing and my journalistic work is another. I can't mix them, because I am a journalist and should be impartial. My role as a journalist is one of integrity and I show reality without any confusion or ambiguity, especially since I work for an Israeli newspaper.”

She said, "I love Gaza a lot. That's why I always visited. In 1993, after the signature of the Oslo Accords, I stayed in Gaza until the end of 1996." (She wrote a book abouther experience, called I wrote a book about the experience, called "Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege.")

Hass described the Hamas officials she met as strong and proud. She also said that they do whatever they want in the Strip, mentioning Hamas' refusal to let some 3,000 Hajj pilgrims out of Gaza, who had obtained Saudi visas though the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

In her article for Haaretz, Hass did not mince her words.

"What Israel has never dared to do—certainly not to this extent—is being done by a Palestinian government for which Islam is the basis of its platform..." Hass wrote.

She also accused Hamas leaders of being inflexible, as opposed to the previous Fatah government, citing the example of the decision Arafat took to retract the decision forcing her out of Gaza in 1995.

As for her vision for the future of Gaza, she says, "The situation in Gaza is very difficult. After the internal conflict that I consider a scandal, three parties came into power: Hamas, Fatah and Israel, which all want to isolate Gaza. Hamas is contributing to this isolation by trying to build a state in the Strip without admitting it."

  + Watch or listen to Amira Hass on Democracy Now.