Do these numbers mean anything?

Those are the statistics. Where are the stories behind the statistics?

There's a decided lack of footage from the war zone. Israel wants it that way-the BBC reports that "Israel has been aiming for total air supremacy in more than one way in Gaza - it wants to dominate the airwaves of the news organisations with its own narrative. The Israeli military and the government press office have got round a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court that a pool, or controlled group, of media be allowed in by saying that it is too dangerous."

Media access to Gaza is a critical fulcrum in the shifting war for public perception. It's all too easy to hear only one side of the argument - even for journalists who are seeking balance. It is critical that independent observers-- including journalists-- be given access to Gaza. Yesterday.

Here's a short list of headlines from the past 24 hours regarding media access:
Israel's Losing Media Strategy
Israel media on defensive over Gaza war coverage
Media frustration over Gaza ban grows
Israel Explains Gaza Media Restrictions

Why Israel is denying access...

Despite the December 31st ruling by Israel's own High Court that permits journalists to enter Gaza in groups of 12, the borders remain closed. Perhaps they want to avoid more difficult questions like those posed by Alex Thomson from Channel 4 news (London), who, on January 8th confronted Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister, regarding allegations that Israel knowingly blocked the Red Cross from accessing sites, including Zeitun, where shelling by the IDF left 30 dead.

But a conversation between a journalist and an unnamed Israeli official offers an interesting perspective on this media tug-of-war. Rachel Maddow spoke with Richard Engel (who has been reporting on the war in Gaza from outside Gaza)... Watch the original footage starting at 4:10 on MSNBC:

RM: Richard, one of the major factors that affects how the international community views the what's happening in Gaza is how much access we have to information, how many images, we get how close reporters can get... it's important to note that you are not inside Gaza, that you are on the Israeli border close to Gaza. Have you heard anything about whether or not Israel will live the restrictions on allowing foreign journalists into Gaza?

RE: Every single day, reporters have been petitioning to the Israeli government to ask for access ... one Israeli official had an interesting explanation of this. He said that right now, Israel doesn't' want foreign journalists or journalists in general inside the Gaza strip, reporting about the humanitarian situation in there, reporting about the military activities--partly for tactical reasons... they don't want anyone giving away battle details which is understandable--but mostly to try and manage the image and the Israelis have timed this out. This official told me that he expects this operation, while negotiations are taking place, will last several more days and that after that, reporters would eventually be allowed in, but at that stage Israel is assuming the United States will mostly be focused on all of the coverage around the inauguration and that viewers simply wont' care at that point.

Perhaps Israel can be persuaded to open the borders to journalists and human rights observers before Obama's swearing in on the 20th? It's worth a try.

What can YOU DO?

Contact the State Department today
The Arab American Institute calls on the State Department to urge the Israeli government to act immediately and allow reporters into Gaza in accordance with the Israeli High Court Ruling of December 2008. We've set up an Action Alert on our website with a draft letter that you can quickly and easily send to the State Department. Send your letter today, and send the link to your friends and colleagues, urging them to do the same.

What can you do with your children?

Send a message of support to Gaza's Children.

This morning, my five year old son and I were walking to school when he suddenly stopped and asked me, "Is there a war in Arabia?" I looked at him, embarking on a new day without a care, and thought of all the images we here at AAI have forced ourselves to view, images of children in very dire circumstances. My eyes filled with tears for the children of Gaza.

If you, too, are at a loss to explain this war to your children, if your heart goes out to the families trapped in the Gaza Strip, there is one small thing you can do. Write the children of Gaza a letter:
ANERA works with thousands of young children in Gaza every day. Our Milk for Preschoolers program reaches more than 20,000 preschoolers, providing fortified milk and biscuits to help fight malnutrition. The Palestinian Womens' Union and Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children, both in Gaza, participate in ANERA's scholarship program. And our psychosocial work in community centers helps children cope with traumas brought on by violence and years of deep poverty.

Together, with ANERA staff and partners, we will get messages to Gaza's children that people all over the world care about them. Select messages will be posted at soon.
Click here to write a letter to the children of Gaza.

Media watchdog barks...
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) posted its report on the abysmal job the media is doing in holding Israel up to the standards of international law. This report is worth reading in its entirety, but we'll pull the introduction:

U.S. corporate media coverage of the Israeli military attacks that have reportedly killed over 900--many of them civilians--since December 27 has overwhelmingly failed to mention that indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets are illegal under international humanitarian law.

Israel's recent aerial attacks on Gazan infrastructure, including a TV station, police stations, a mosque, a university and even a U.N. school, have been widely reported. Yet despite the fact that attacks on civilian infrastructure, including police stations, are illegal (Human Rights Watch, 12/31/08), questions of legality are almost entirely off the table in the U.S. media.

Without fair and accurate reporting, ignorance breeds contempt.
Ignorance and fear of The Other is winning this war, and when the shrapnel settles, everyone will be able to count themselves among the losers. The Bush administration's constant stoking of America's fear of terrorism, combined with the Israeli media strategy linking their attack on Gaza to the 'global war on terror' makes it difficult for Americans to recognize the humanitarian crisis that exists. All Palestinians have become terrorists. How else to explain this?
Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) at a rally on Tuesday: "To misquote Shakespeare, something is rotten in Gaza and now it's time to take out the trash."

During a large, pro-Palestinian rally in Times Square in New York on Monday, a small, fringe group of pro-Israel demonstrators were caught on camera with their ignorance hanging out:
Right in front of the stage, a man held a banner reading, "Islam Is A Death Cult." Rally attendees described the people of Gaza to me as a "cancer," called for Israel to "wipe them all out," insisting, "They are forcing us to kill their children in order to defend our own children." A young woman told me, "Those who die are suffering God's wrath." "They are not distinguishing between civilians and military, so why should we?" said a member of the ... messianic Orthodox Jewish Chabad-Lubavitch group that flocked to the rally.
And a sampling of recent headlines from around the globe indicates that hatred -- which is not the provenance of any one party -- is on the rise:

France 'hit by anti-Semitic attacks since Gaza'
U.K. anti-Semitism 'surge' since Gaza attack
Report: Israeli racism against Arabs "at an all-time high

Tonight's final word comes from a resident of Sderot...
Nomika Zion writes from Sderot, one of the south Israel areas besieged by rockets in past years, rockets whose psychological toll is well documented in Western media. And yet, loss of her freedom of speech is more fearful to her than the rockets.

I am afraid of the Qassam rockets. Since the current war started I have hardly dared to go beyond the bounds of our street. But I am much more afraid of the inflammatory and monolithic public and media discourse that is impossible to penetrate. It scares me when a friend from the "Other Voice" is verbally attacked by other residents of Sderot while being interviewed and expressing a critical opinion about the war, and afterwards gets anonymous phone calls and is afraid to return to his car for fear that something will happen to him. It scares me that the other voice is such a small one and that it's so hard to express it from here. I am prepared to pay the price of isolation but not the price of fear.

I am frightened that, underneath the Orwellian smokescreen of words and the pictures of [Palestinian] children's' bodies that are especially blurred for us on TV as a public service, we are losing the human ability to see the other side, to feel, to be horrified, to show empathy.... It is a fragile democracy where you have to weigh every word with care, or else.

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About Christina Zola

Christina is currently Director of Communications at the Arab American institute. She posts for b5 media and spearheads the Yalla Vote initiative. Christina has extensive background in communications, journalism, and Marketing.

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