Near Nahal Oz, Israel — The Israeli “all-out war” on Gaza has entered its fourth day leaving more than 363 dead and 1,800 wounded. Israeli troop movements on the Gaza border point to an imminent ground battle in the upcoming few days. On Monday, the Israeli military declared the Gaza border, where tanks, artillery and troops are massing for a possible ground offensive, a closed military zone.
Reporters are being barred by Israel from going into Gaza to cover the carnage. Many have been relegated to reporting from behind Israel’s declared military zone, some report from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and rely on phone dispatches by stringers in the Gaza Strip. The best television coverage I’ve seen so far comes from Al Jazeera; the most provocative comes from Hezbollah’s Al Manar. The Israeli coverage on IBA TV and Ch 10 reminds me of FOX News during the Iraq War with a focus on military strategies, graphics and interviews, with Israeli government spokesmen and generals.
At Beit Agron, the Israeli Government Press Office has not yet issued my “visiting journalist credentials.” I went there in person three days ago, thinking they would be processed and delivered to me the same day. As I waited, a steady stream of international reporters applied for and received theirs. The press office liaison hands a British journalist his credentials and smiles, “don’t forget to report that we were first attacked by Qassam rockets; they’re hitting us we’re not hitting them.” The office wall is adorned with rockets fired by Hamas on the Israeli town of Sderot. A Korean journalist poses in front of them and does a “stand-up.” The polite but evasive liaison keeps making excuses for the delay in issuing my press card. He keeps uncovering additional material that is missing in order to complete my application. He finally tells me that he won’t have an answer for me until the next day… I won’t bore you with the details, but I am Palestinian American.
I’ve been zigzagging my way between Israel and the West Bank to avoid IDF checkpoints. When we enter the Palestinian territories where emotions ran high, my Palestinian driver almost has a fit when he finds out that my cameraman is an Israeli. The Israeli strikes on Gaza are being broadcast in grisly detail almost continually on Arab satellite networks. In Bethlehem, an angry mob attacks the fortified Rachel Tomb Compound with stones and set tires on fire, but they are quickly dispersed by the Palestinian Authority riot police. Most West Bank towns have demonstrations and riots, and the Palestinian Authority forces keep them under control while Israeli soldiers watch and fire tear gas from a distance.
“Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) is a Zionist dog,” screams a demonstrator in Hebron.
Many demonstrators are angry with Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas. They are blaming him of collusion with Israel. They are also angry with Egypt for not opening Rafah’s border crossing to let in desperately needed medical supplies and food, which have been all but depleted by the ongoing siege on Gaza.
Two miles away from the Gaza border is the Israeli soldiers’ staging area, and foreign journalists gather in anticipation as if it is minutes before the start of the Super Bowl or the start of the Olympics. No one talks about the death and destruction that will follow. IDF spokesmen keep saying that a ground force invasion was a distinct possibility but had not yet been decided upon. As I write helicopters hover overhead, their sound reminds me of a scene from Apocalypse Now.
Jamal Dajani produces the Mosaic Intelligence Report on Link TV