Prior to the outbreak of the second Intifada two years ago, Israel
was a paradise for journalists: It was possible to film almost
anywhere, people were friendly. During the first Intifada, the
foreign media had no problem operating either in Israel or in the
Palestinian territories. Occasionally, closed military areas were
declared but Israeli cameramen and crews remained able, and
willing, to move around and film on the Palestinian side. (There
were relatively few Palestinian cameramen at that time). Using an
Israeli crew, it was possible to film with IDF soldiers then move
across their lines and film with Palestinians, who were usually
friendly and welcoming. I found myself in a very strange situation
once, stuck under siege with an Israeli crew in a Palestinian
village that was being attacked by settlers, with my cameraman and
the Palestinians conversing in Hebrew.
With the outbreak of the second Intifada, however, everything
changed. The Palestinians made the huge mistake of putting pressure
on Israeli crews and threatening the safety of Israeli journalists.
From that moment, because of the perceived security problem,
Israeli crews stopped filming in the territories.
The lynching of the two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah pushed the
army to decide that no Israeli would be allowed to enter the
autonomous areas without special permission, making it impossible
for Israeli journalists and cameramen to get access to the
Palestinian side of the story. As a result, the foreign press was
forced to use Palestinian and, increasingly, international
cameramen who were able to move around the territories.
A Catch 22 Situation
For members of the foreign press, the worst part of this change in
attitude was the increase in hostility from the Israeli government
and, in particular, from the Government Press Office (GPO). Since
the beginning of 2001, Palestinian photographers, camera crews,
journalists and assistants have not been given GPO cards, which
means they can no longer cross check points or move freely around
As a result of this measure, we are now stuck in a Catch 22
situation: Israelis can't go into the territories, Palestinians
can't move around them, so we have to bring in foreign cameramen
and foreign crews. But, the GPO has decided that foreign crews also
need work permits, which has never previously been the case. These
crews are only allowed a GPO card once they have a work permit, and
no permits have been issued to foreign crews1. After more than a
year of negotiations, it now seems that there will be a change in
official policy and foreign cameramen will finally be issued work
permits and visas.
The general atmosphere created by the sentiment that the foreign
press is the "enemy of Israel", led to some companies and
journalists being individually targeted2. For several months, that
actual slogan was graffiti-ed on the Jerusalem Central Studios
building, where most foreign news operations are based. Israeli
officials repeated this idea in statements published in the popular
Israeli press - soldiers at checkpoints read this and this
influenced their behavior.
Relations between the foreign press and the army have never been
easy, but in the first year of the second Intifada, they
deteriorated to the point where journalists were being shot at.
There are around 50 documented cases of this happening, but so far,
only one or two have been investigated by the Israeli army or by
the Special Branch of the Justice Ministry, and I have yet to hear
of any serious action being taken against soldiers who shot at
foreign or Palestinian journalists. The situation has eased
recently, mainly due to a decrease in levels of tension and overt
violence in the field, but on the whole, it remains serious.
Difficulties in these relations were greatly exacerbated during
Operation Defensive Shield (March-April 2002). The IDF announced
closed military areas all over the West Bank where, theoretically,
no one was allowed to travel. However, a number of journalists
managed to enter Palestinian cities, despite the curfews and
restrictions, and were able to report the Palestinian side of the
story. The other side, the Israeli army, refused the media access
to their operations, leaving the coverage one-sided, by
The explanation for the army's reaction can be found in an event
that took place a few weeks prior to the start of this operation.
An Israeli TV crew had filmed the injuries inflicted on a
Palestinian mother of five by Israeli soldiers in a refugee camp
near Bethlehem. This footage was censored, but Israel's Channel 2
broadcast it anyway and there was an outcry in Israel. The public
wanted to know why pictures that would damage the image of the
Israeli army were being shown on national television. Israel's
defense minister at the time, Binyamin Ben Eliezer, then decided to
stop Israeli film crews covering military operations, and so, for
the first three weeks of Defensive Shield, the only pictures we
were getting of this major event were from the Palestinian side. Of
course we were criticized for being one-sided, but we had only one
side of the story. From a journalistic point of view, covering a
military operation means covering both sides.
Quality of Information
One of the main differences in the relations between the two sides
and the foreign media is the quality and type of information they
provide. When the Palestinians exaggerate or lie, it is apparent
almost immediately. The lie is raw and it is basic. Israel's lies
are much cleverer, more sophisticated. When an Israeli government
official provides information, it seems to come from a think tank
that has decided to offer its own brand of media "spin".
I feel that at France 2 we provide neutral coverage. The
accusations of bias that Israel makes against the foreign press
would come from any country that believes its cause is right, that
it is the good side and the other is bad. It's the same in the US,
the same in France. They believe they are the good side and they
want to be supported. In terms of information delivery in the
second Intifada, there has been no change in Israeli structures -
announcements come through official spokesmen and the GPO. It is
the attitudes that have changed.
On the Palestinian side, in contrast, their whole administration
has been shattered. Palestinian press cards now have no meaning.
Most of the cities are under partial or total occupation. The
Palestinian political scene has also been shattered, the
organizations and the administration don't work anymore.
Logistically, it's difficult to work there because of the Israeli
checkpoints, but the people are friendly. The only civilians the
foreign media has problems with in the West Bank and Gaza are the
settlers, who are very aggressive towards the press, and the
foreign press in particular, because they perceive there is bias
In terms of regional coverage of the conflict, the Palestinian
press, given that it is a patriotic press, is almost totally
uninteresting. It has no real news or serious analysis. The Israeli
press, with the exception of a few reporters, is also patriotic,
but in a much more subtle way. The center left daily Haaretz has
several journalists who still cover events in the territories and
it regularly runs stories about the repression of the Intifada.
This is very important as these stories simply don't appear
anywhere else. On Israeli TV, a few courageous reporters make the
effort to show what the Israeli public does not want to see.
One of the most outstanding events of the second Intifada is the
footage of Mohammad Al Durrah's death3. There are still some
right-wing Jewish organizations that claim the video was staged,
that the child was killed by Palestinians, or that he is still
alive. The army says he was killed in crossfire. Despite these
claims, no one has ever officially requested France 2's cooperation
in an inquiry. No Israeli authority has asked us to cooperate to
try to find out how and why this child was killed. All they do is
make unsubstantiated accusations, which are used as propaganda. If
this picture, which has become such a symbol of the Intifada, is
false, then the whole thing is false. Many members of Jewish
communities, in France and probably elsewhere, believe this is the
case; they can't accept that this could have happened.
Winning the Media War
A media war means spin, lying and propaganda. I don't believe there
is any way to "win a media war" and I am opposed to this basic
idea. The media is here to cover the war being waged by the two
sides. The "winner" will be the more credible party, the one who
told the truth. Lies always come out, whether it is days, weeks,
months or years later. One of the reasons for the misinformation
coming from the Palestinians is their current lack of organization.
The administration in Ramallah often has great difficulty getting
information from the field or from its own people. The same is true
of the Israeli army. Journalists have been given false information
about events supposedly taking place where they are actually
standing. For the first several months of the Intifada this
happened frequently, especially concerning clashes in Ramallah -
the press would laugh and show each other the messages coming
through on their beepers.
The Road Ahead
After more than 30 years reporting from here, there seems little
reason to feel optimistic about the future. Everything is related
to generations: the Palestinian generations of '48 and '67 started
adopting pragmatic attitudes towards Israel at the end of the '80s.
I believe there will be another shift in attitudes now, but it
won't be a positive one. Children from the West Bank have lost two
years of schooling and every Palestinian family has been hurt in
one way or another: Someone was killed, arrested, wounded or they
lost their business. In Gaza, there are Palestinians who haven't
had a shekel in their pocket for weeks. This is the generation that
wants to fight, that wants revenge.
There are two elements in the Middle East that the West must take
into account. The first is Islam - even the most educated
Palestinian, schooled at the best universities in the West, will be
ready to fight if the mosque is threatened. The basic symbols of
Islam are sacrosanct. The second element is vengeance. This is an
area of the world where, very often, personal conflicts are not
resolved in tribunals or courts. People take revenge. If someone is
killed in a clan family, then another member will take revenge. I
believe that is the reason this Intifada deteriorated so quickly
into a bloody armed struggle with suicide bombers. As long as there
is no basic change on the ground - one that provides security to
both sides, gives hope to the Palestinians and offers them the
possibility to lead normal lives - there will be no chance of an
agreement. The Israelis feel the same as the Palestinians; the
majority wants peace on their terms. The Israeli Left and the peace
camp were deeply shocked, terrified even, by the suicide bombs,
which for them symbolized the ultimate hatred towards Israel and
A French diplomat asked me how this situation could be altered, and
the only way I can see is through international intervention. If it
becomes important enough, that will happen.
1 Over the past two years, several foreign journalists have been
expelled, or refused entry into Israel, including Odeh and Bassam
Azawi from Abu Dhabi Television.
2 In an interview with Kol Hair magazine, October 11, 2002, Danny
Seaman, head of the Government Press Office, directly criticized
coverage by ABC News' Gillian Findlay, the Guardian's Suzanne
Goldenberg and reporters from the Washington Post and the Toronto
Star, insinuating that his objections had led to them being
transferred to posts outside Israel. The journalists and their
companies denied these allegations.
3 A France 2 cameraman shot footage of 12 year-old Mohammad hiding
behind his father during a shoot-out between armed Palestinians and
the Israeli army near the settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip.
Mohammad was shot and killed by the IDF during the