Program Note: Watch Anderson report LIVE from Israel tonight on AC360° tonight at 10pm ET.
I spent the morning with Israeli police, looking at a collection of Hamas rockets that have landed in Ashkelon over the past month. They have shelves full of handmade Qassam rockets, and the larger more effective factory made Grad rockets. Both are loaded with fuel and shrapnel, designed to spray hot metal and ball bearings upon impact. It’s a wonder more Israelis haven’t been killed.
Israel is targeting hidden weapon caches as well as the underground tunnels Hamas uses to get more rockets and supplies, but after a week of Israeli bombings and four days of a ground assault, the Hamas rockets keep coming. Today a small child was slightly injured in one Israeli town. Since this current crisis began, four Israelis have been killed by incoming rockets.
In Gaza, more than 600 Palestinians have been killed so far, and medical sources estimate more than 100 of them are women and children. Details on an Israeli tank strike near a UN school are still emerging at this hour, but the UN says at least 30 people were killed at the school where many Palestinians had sought shelter. Many of the dead are children. Israel says it’s investigating, but also says initial reports indicate mortars were fired from the facility. It is a public relations blow to Israel, at a time when international pressure is building for some kind of ceasefire to be reached.
It is an odd routine, covering this conflict. On a hilltop overlooking Gaza, dozens of journalists gather each day, training their lenses on a battle they can barely see. It’s not how we would choose to cover the conflict, but the Israeli government won't allow reporters to cross into Gaza, so this is as close as most of us can get.
Even access to Israeli soldiers has been cut off. In 2006 in the fight against Hezbollah, reporters were allowed to broadcast from Israeli artillery positions. I even embedded with an Israel army unit on a mission into southern Lebanon. This time around, however, Israel is not permitting any access like that.
I talked with an Israeli government spokesman who said they felt that there was too much media exposure during the fight against Hezbollah, and that it interfered with military operations. One other Israeli reservist said to me that they were hoping to avoid pictures of Israeli artillery firing into Gaza, followed by pictures of wounded children. It is a military campaign, but it’s also a public relations war.
The problem is that in not allowing international journalists into Gaza, Israel is guaranteeing that the only pictures from the Palestinian side are the ones Hamas wants the world to see. Press control by Hamas is heavy-handed. Hamas controls who reports from there and where they can go. While pictures of wounded children being brought to hospital are clearly encouraged, we rarely see images of Hamas fighters, or their rockets being fired into Israel.
I saw this kind of manipulation first hand in Hezbollah-controlled Beirut in 2006. One day my crew and I found ourselves with other reporters being shepherded around by Hezbollah personnel. When we pointed our cameras at them they would prevent us from taping them, and several times tried to take our videotapes. They even arranged for empty ambulances to turn on their sirens and drive past us several times so they could take pictures. I made sure in my story to show exactly what Hezbollah was trying to do, but I don’t think many of the other reporters did, and the pictures of those ambulances made it seem like they were once again heading out to pick up wounded civilians.
I am not saying that civilians weren’t killed in Beirut in 2006. Many were, and just as many are being killed right now in Gaza. The situation on the ground, according to the UN, is deteriorating rapidly. The pictures of wounded children, and dead children are sickening, and they are all too real. But without independent, international journalists who are free to ask questions and point their cameras wherever they want, getting the full picture about what is happening on each side of the border is not possible. In trying to shape public opinion, both sides know the importance of pictures, and in different ways, for different reasons, both sides want to shape the story those pictures reveal.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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