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January 6th, 2009
11:59 PM ET

Covering the conflict - and the message control

Palestinian Qassam rockets are fired by Hamas militants inside the Gaza Strip towards the Israeli town of Sderot on Tuesday, as seen from Israel's border with the Palestinian territory.

Palestinian Qassam rockets are fired by Hamas militants inside the Gaza Strip towards the Israeli town of Sderot on Tuesday, as seen from Israel's border with the Palestinian territory.

Program Note: Watch Anderson report LIVE from Israel tonight on AC360° tonight at 10pm ET.

Anderson Cooper

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.

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Filed under: Anderson Cooper • Crisis in Gaza
soundoff (203 Responses)
  1. Adeline

    I heard on a French news channel (France 24) that inspite of a Isreali Supreme Court ruling in favor of allowing the intl press into Gaza, they still cannot get in.

    Also, one of their reporters has managed to somehow get into Gaza.
    He is Middle Eastern himself, that may be why he was able to "blend in" , I am not sure as they don't give any explanation on how he managed to get in.

    Anyway, in case anyone is interested, that reporter showed footage of families fleeing their homes and they are very panicked and screaming at the top of their lungs: "None of us will surive". They are also screaming that: " There are BURNED BODIES everywhere on the streets and that DOGS ARE EATING THEM" and "We tripped on burned bodies, children bodies"

    People being scared is an understatement. Women and children are crying, they are saying that "Isreal has destroyed us".

    January 8, 2009 at 11:45 am |
  2. jorge

    i believe, according to an article in an Spanish newspaper, the goverments should not support Israel to attack Gaza. i can imagine how hard should it be for journalist to cover all the news in this countries, i really would like to be a covering some of this wars. i like the program in this far away places. i woul like to cover this with pictures. Yes, i want to cover this side in real pictures.

    January 7, 2009 at 11:38 pm |
  3. ron

    I would like to bring up a painful memory: Do we remember September 11, 2001? Was there provocation by the US to bring on the terror acts of that day? I doubt it. Some cultures, though, are so immersed in violent behavior that we cannot understand it. Those cultures ARE different from ours, and their "reasons" for attacking and killing other people are incomprehensible to us. Does Hamas have a valid reason for firing rockets into Israel, on civilian targets, or for wanting the complete and utter destruction of Israel? I think the answer is cultural in nature. After constant provocation by Hamas – forcing a million Israelis to live in constant uncertainty (will my child be killed in school today from a Hamas rocket? Will my house be damaged today?) the Israelis are saying "enough". Hamas is playing the victim, when in fact they are the perpetrators of this conflict. THANK YOU FOR A GREAT ARTICLE!

    January 6, 2009 at 7:47 pm |
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