Although Israeli military operations have officially come to an end in Gaza, access for journalists has improved only marginally. Despite a December 31 ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court (on the fifth day of military operations) to allow eight journalists to enter Gaza each time the Erez crossing was opened, the government failed to implement the ruling for 18 consecutive days–or in other words, until it declared a unilateral cease-fire.
Excluding journalists that have been embedded with Israeli troops, Israel has granted only eight journalists access into Gaza each day since the cease-fire was declared on January 18 (of those eight, six are chosen through a lottery and two are picked by Israel’s Government Press Office), bringing the total to 24 out of more than 1,000 journalists trying to gain access to Gaza from Israel. On January 16, at least two additional journalists also managed to enter Gaza through the Egyptian-administered Rafah crossing.
On November 6, Israel instituted a ban on the entry of international journalists into Gaza. For more than three weeks of the conflict, the task of getting news out of Gaza to a worldwide audience fell on the shoulders of local Palestinian reporters and less than a handful of foreign reporters who were in the territory before the ban was instated. (More about the blanket ban on foreign journalists, a two-year ban on Israeli journalists, and the conditions that local journalists have had to work under can be found here and here.)
The Israeli government has maintained since early November that restricting the entry of foreign journalists into Gaza is for their own safety. The Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel called the claim “patently ridiculous.” Such an assertion is also belied by Danny Seaman, director of Israel’s Government Press Office, who stated that the presence of foreign media is a “fig leaf” for Hamas and that Israel would not assist in such an effort. In a different statement, he described foreign journalists as “unprofessional” individuals who take “questionable reports at face value without checking [them].” On yet another occasion, he claimed that it was not incumbent upon Israel to grant journalists access into Gaza, and that “they should have been there in the first place.”
In an interview with the BBC, Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom implied that the failure to allow journalists into Gaza was the result of infighting within the FPA, a charge it denies vehemently.
The reasons or rationales for denying trained war correspondents access into Gaza to report the news obfuscate the consequence of the ban: A legitimate news story continues to be underreported. The Israeli government must immediately allow unfettered access for journalists in the Gaza Strip.