Media delegation visits Gaza: Israel should be held accountable for its actions



 
A delegation of reporters from eight countries were allowed into Gaza on January 22. MENASSAT's Olfat Haddad talked to some of these journalists who uniformly expressed shock at the level of destruction in Gaza.
 
By OLFAT HADDAD
 
AP gaza coverage
Delegation of journalists listen to testimonies of people in Gaza. © Getty Images

GAZA, January 23, 2009 (MENASSAT) — A media delegation made up of representatives from eight countries arrived in Gaza on January 22 following an invitation by the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate.

The delegation went to Gaza to support Palestinian journalists for their work during the 23-day Israeli offensive, despite indiscriminate attacks on media workers. 

Four Palestinian journalists were killed during Operation Cast Lead,  with dozens of other media workers injured. Media buildings like Al Quds TV were deliberately targeted during the bombing. 

Foreign journalists were unilaterally banned from entering the Strip by the Israeli army during the offensive, and news agencies were forced to rely on international journalists who had entered Gaza before the media ban, or on local Gazan journalists, to provide eyewitness coverage.

The Arab and international media delegation arrived through the Egypt-Gaza Rafah border crossing after coordinating with a number of official parties on the Egyptian and Israeli side. 

The journalists, coming from Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, France, Norway, Italy, Greece and Ireland, were received by Sakher Abu Al-Aoun, a member of the host organization, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate.

Destruction left journalists speechless

The tour began with a visit to the house of Bassel Faraj—a freelance cameraman for Algerian TV who was killed on the first day of the Israeli attacks, when warplanes bombed the Ministry of Prisoners in Tal al-Hawa.

Three of Faraj's colleagues, who were also injured in the attack, welcomed the visiting journalists into their homes and presented them with a testimony of the events on the day Faraj was killed. 

Al-Aoun spoke to MENASSAT about the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate's initiative to host the reporters.

"This visit aims to look at the impact of the Israeli violations on the media and on journalists. We want to collect the evidence of Israel's crimes from live testimony, which we will use to file a lawsuit against Israel for violating the freedom of the media during the war."

The group also visited the destroyed Al-Aqsa TV building in the Naser region, as well as Burj al-Shourouk, an area shelled by artillery where eight Arab and international media offices are located. Ayman al-Rizzi, a cameraman for Abu Dhabi Channel, was injured in this attack. 

The delegation was also taken to see demolished homes in the Al-Tawan neighborhood in northern Gaza.

"The members were speechless from the destruction and scene of atrocities they witnessed," Al-Aoun said.

He is also planning on taking them to visit the surviving members of the Al-Samouneh family, who lost more than 30 members during an Israeli ground incursion in the Hay Al-Zeitoun area in southern Gaza.

Journalists salute Palestinian media workers

Makram Mohammad Ahmad, who was part of the delegation and is the head of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate, praised the uniform bravery of Palestinian journalists during the war, especially since stories have begun to emerge of Israeli sniper and artillery attacks against Palestinian journalists. Ahmad said the Israeli ban on foreign journalists entering Gaza put all of the pressure on local media.

Aidan White, Secretary General of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), who was also part of the delegation, described the latest events in Gaza as "a tragedy."

"We came here today to show our support to the Palestinian journalists and thank them for the role they played during the war on Gaza," White said. "The Palestinian journalists made great efforts throughout the war. They presented countless stories and investigative reports—all with objectivity."

White stressed the importance of separating politics and journalism. 

"We respect the politicians and the political system, but there is a difference between practicing politics and journalism. Journalism and media are independent and we continue on working to have this independence," he said.

He also promised to work towards holding Israel accountable for its targeting of media workers in Gaza. 

"We will work on trying Israel for breaking international law. I will ask for a fair international investigation in order to protect journalists in Gaza and hold Israel responsible for all of its actions."