There is another obvious factor at work which corrodes the independence and integrity of reporters who cover the Middle East conflict: fear.
In an account, remarkable for its candidness, of the conditions under which journalists working in Gaza find themselves, George Hale, a correspondent for the Palestinian Arab agency Maan, offers a glimpse into the risks of reporting anything that fails to promote the Hamas line:
Mahmoud Abu Rahma, a Palestinian human rights activist and columnist based in Gaza, was the victim of one of the worst incidents recorded by Mada so far this year. The attack occured after the publication of his latest article calling out the government as well as armed groups for placing civilians at risk of Israeli reprisal attacks. The article also accused the authorities of making arrests based on political affiliation, and failing to respect basic rights. "It is safe to assume that neither the government nor the resistance is willing to step in to protect people who dare to criticize them,” he wrote.Absent coercion, venal interests, and antisemitism, one might find Reuters correspondents reasonably able to write a straight story on the Middle East conflict.
Shortly thereafter, Abu Rahma was accosted in his lobby by masked men who denounced him as a traitor and “disbeliever” while delivering their blows. Days later, armed with knives, the assailants overpowered him outside his Gaza City flat. Abu Rahma says he suffered stab wounds to his thigh and above his knee. They sliced down his back and shoulder before cutting off part of his hand. He escaped alive after blocking his chest with the same laptop that started all this trouble in the first place.
The government claims it is committed to protecting journalists and the broad freedom of speech and press guarantees in Palestine’s basic law. The police, meanwhile, swear they’re hot on the trail of the writer’s attackers. But statements by top leaders tell a different story. Hamas has turned to its official media to incite violence, lambasting Abu Rahma’s publisher, Maan, as a “Zionist propaganda” outfit whose agenda “impugns the resistance” and stirs discord, as official radio put it the week he was stabbed.
While it may disavow the stabbing and other incidents, Hamas cannot deny its contribution to the hateful climate surrounding these attacks. The message to vigilantes is clear: Make these detractors pay, and we won’t come after you. Indeed, the authorities have made no arrests, not for the stabbing or other serious incidents such as the two bombing attempts which targeted Maan’s newsroom in 2011.
The outlet, Palestine’s largest non-partisan TV network, has had a rough few months since becoming the target of a dangerous effort to intimidate its journalists. What began as a petty media campaign has morphed into physical violence; reporters are being threatened, offices set on fire and worse. The authorities have announced no leads nearly a year after staff discovered what appeared to be an improvised explosive device drilled into a wall inside its building. Nor has anyone been arrested for the firebomb attack that torched the same entryway last summer. When I asked my colleague Emad Abu Eid, the bureau chief in Gaza City, if we ought to be surprised by the lack of progress, he just laughed. There was never any need for an investigation, he told me. The latest attack had predictably followed a report which had angered the government more than usual, he recalled. “The next day, we found a big message waiting for us.”