Guest Post (Mark Lavie): The State Of “Journalism” In Gaza
Veteran foreign correspondent turned critic (Sound like me? Not this time) Richard Behar writes here about the latest acquisition of The Associated Press. He’s the New York Times reporter in Gaza. Behar writes that the reporter is known for posting and adulating a photo of Yasser Arafat on his Facebook page, among other failings — evidence, he believes, that the AP is laughing at its critics, including me.
Behar also criticizes the NYT for conflating this reporter’s allegiances with the fact that another reporter for the paper, an Israeli, has a son serving in the Israeli military.
First of all, it’s time to stop all this “gotcha” nonsense. Reporters need to be judged by their work, not by what else they do, and certainly not what their kids do. I served in the Israeli military reserves until age 51, and sometimes both my kids and I were on active duty together. Back then no one cared, as long as I was doing my work professionally. I guess I was, because I received a prestigious award for it in 1994.
From my experience, there’s something more sinister going on here. When looking for a Palestinian reporter to cover Gaza, there’s not a lot of choice. To stay alive and in business, they all have to walk a narrow line between doing their jobs and staying out of a Palestinian prison — or worse. Not only are reporters threatened — so are their wives and kids. The NYT reporter replaces Ibrahim Barzak, who recently uprooted himself to Malaysia. Ibrahim was a second-generation AP stringer in Gaza. By age 30 he had a heart condition more appropriate to us over-60s. He was under constant threat and pressure from whoever was running Gaza to get his reporting in line with the demands of the rulers. Frequently he asked us to take his bylines off stories and change the dateline to Jerusalem.
Ibrahim is a wonderful, warm person who was dedicated to reporting and journalism, taking after his late father, Hikmet. He was twisted into a nervous wreck by the conflicting demands of his profession and the place where he lived. When I wrote this article about intimidation in the Palestinian areas, I did not name Ibrahim, because he had not yet gone public with his decision to leave Gaza, his home, carefully explaining that he did not want his children to grow up hating Israel.
News from, this region is skewed by many factors. The main ones are the Western mindset that equates right with weakness, favoring the underdogs whatever they do; and the distortions that arise from the fact that journalists in Israel have free access to practically everything and no one tries to intimidate them, while that is decidedly not the case anywhere else in the region.
So the problems that Richard Behar points out here are the symptoms, not the disease.
Mark Lavie is a foreign correspondent, living and working in the Middle East since 1972 as a radio news broadcaster, print writer and editor, and news analyst. Based most of the time in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and traveling around the region, he moved to Cairo full time in 2011, in time for the main events of Arab Spring. He shares his experiences through his book, Broken Spring.