Behold the latest in barbarism. First, let’s establish some facts:
. . . why isn’t the fact that Hamas uses Shifa Hospital as a command post making headlines? In part, it’s because the location is so un-secret that Hamas regularly meets with reporters there. On July 15, for example, William Booth of the Washington Post wrote that the hospital “has become a de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders, who can be seen in the hallways and offices.” Back in 2006, PBS even aired a documentary showing how gunmen roam the halls of the hospital, intimidate the staff, and deny them access to protected locations within the building—where the camera crew was obviously prohibited from filming. Yet the confirmation that Hamas is using Gaza City’s biggest hospital as its de facto headquarters was made in the last sentence of the eighth paragraph of Booth’s story—which would appear to be the kind of rookie mistake that is known in journalistic parlance as “burying the lede.”
But Booth is no rookie—he’s an experienced foreign reporter, which means that he buried the lede on purpose. Why? Well, one reason might be that the “security sources” quoted whenever the location of the Hamas command bunker is mentioned—which, as evidenced by this 2009 article by the excellent and highly experienced foreign correspondent Steven Erlanger of the New York Times, happens every time there’s a war in Gaza—are obviously Israelis, not members of Hamas. It might be hard to believe the Israelis, the simple logic might run, since they obviously have an investment in arguing that Hamas is using hospitals and schools as human shields.
The Israelis are so sure about the location of the Hamas bunker, however, not because they are trying to score propaganda points, or because it has been repeatedly mentioned in passing by Western reporters—but because they built it. Back in 1983, when Israel still ruled Gaza, they built a secure underground operating room and tunnel network beneath Shifa hospital—which is one among several reasons why Israeli security sources are so sure that there is a main Hamas command bunker in or around the large cement basement beneath the area of Building 2 of the Hospital, which reporters are obviously prohibited from entering.
Hamas obviously has no interest in having a photo-layout of one of its command bunkers beneath Shifa Hospital splashed on the front pages of newspapers. After all, such pictures would show that the organization uses the sick and wounded of Gaza as human shields while launching missiles against Israeli civilians. What Hamas wants is for reporters to use very different pictures from Shifa—namely, photos of Palestinians killed and wounded by Israelis, which make Palestinians look like innocent victims of wanton Israeli brutality.
And now for an answer to the question asked in the title of this blog post:
Reporters who bravely or foolishly violate Hamas’ rules [barring mention of Hamas at the hospital–ed.] even on their social media accounts can be seen to repent with such alacrity that it’s not difficult to imagine how scared and dependent they are. Nick Casey of the Wall Street Journal, for example, tweeted that “You have to wonder w the shelling how patients at Shifa hospital feel as Hamas uses it as a safe place to see media.” Casey then quickly deleted his tweet, which didn’t save him from being put on a list of journalists who “lie/fabricate info for Israel” and “must be sued” – a threat which is surely the least of Casey’s fears. Last week, French-Palestinian journalist Radjaa Abu Dagg was summoned to Shifa by Hamas and interrogated. He wrote about the experience of “attempted intimidation” for Liberation—and then quickly had the paper take down the article.
It can hardly be lost on any sane journalist that tempers in combat zones can be short, and that Hamas has used the kidnapping of foreign journalists like Alan Johnson of the BBC to advance its own agenda. The fact that Hamas has closed the border and will not let journalists in or out of Gaza can’t make journalists who being used as de facto human shields by a terrorist organization feel any more eager to offend their hosts.
You would think that media organizations would prove that they are worth their salt by defying Hamas’s threats and reporting on the fact that it has command bunkers underneath Shifa Hospital. You would, alas, be wrong. Instead, media organizations seek to curry Hamas’s favor–in part because failing to do so may well have deadly consequences; Hamas, after all, is not known for tolerating dissenting views–by refusing to reveal to the rest of the world the full scope of Hamas’s atrocities and crimes, and by focusing their outrage on the fact that Israel has decided to defend itself from assault. It is bad enough that there are anti-Semites out there who are never going to be disposed to believe that Israel does anything right. It is even worse that there are people of good will out there who are getting bad information from media organizations because those organizations have allowed Hamas to put the knife to their throats.