Project defies Gaza ‘information blockade’ with stories in five languages

Project defies Gaza ‘information blockade’ with stories in five languages
Videograb from Whispered in Gaza - "My Brother is Gone". (YouTube)
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Updated 18 January 2023

Project defies Gaza ‘information blockade’ with stories in five languages

Project defies Gaza ‘information blockade’ with stories in five languages

LONDON: A project featuring the personal accounts of 25 Gazans living under Hamas rule has attracted media coverage from around the world, all eager to share the stories of the coastal Palestinian strip, where the ruling party keeps the media under tight control.

The US-based Center for Peace Communications on Monday launched its “Whispered in Gaza” project, which sheds light on the climate of fear and repression created by the Hamas movement across the territory it controls.

To protect the speakers’ identities, CPC created a series of animated videos in place of images in the original materials, all of which Arab News has authenticated by viewing the original footage used for drawing the reproductions.

Al Arabiya, CPC’s Arabic presenting partner, said the initiative aims to “help overcome” the “informational blockade” in the Hamas-controlled strip by interviewing a diverse group of 25 individuals living there.

According to Reporters Without Borders, in July 2020, Hamas issued a ban prohibiting journalists from working for Al Arabiya news channel in response to a report about the arrest of several members of the movement for allegedly working for Israel.

Some of the accounts in the videos expressed longing for the days before Hamas seized power in 2007. One woman, Maryam, spoke about growing up singing and dancing the dabke, an Arab folk dance, and how her dreams of making a career out of her talent were hijacked by Hamas, who threatened her brothers with imprisonment if she pursued her ambition.

CPC President Joseph Braude told Al Arabiya that “Whispered in Gaza” provides a constructive challenge to the international discussion of Gazan affairs.

“On the one hand, it challenges those who justify Hamas militancy to choose between supporting Hamas and supporting the Palestinians it oppresses,” he said.

“We hope as well that governments and international bodies striving to help the Palestinian people in Gaza through direct aid to Hamas will consider the substantial evidence of Hamas financial impropriety that emerges from this testimony. At the same time, the series also challenges the many who oppose Hamas to recognize that countless Gazans want a brighter and more peaceful future, and ask what can be done to empower them.”

The Times of Israel, which has partnered with CPC to present the series in English and French, opened one of its two articles on the topic with the quote “I want Gaza to be liberated from the government of Hamas,” which features in the episode “Bring Back the Dabke.”

In reference to the video “My Brother is Gone,” the Jerusalem-based online newspaper wrote that “under Hamas rule, the line between taxation and racketeering is a blurred one,” citing a Palestinian poll which revealed that “73 percent of Palestinians believe Hamas institutions are corrupt.”

Many Gazans, according to Braude, already speak out on social media in an attempt to convey their suffering to the world, but are often pressured by Hamas to remove their posts.

The series was also covered by the London-based independent Iranian newspaper Kayhan Life, which cooperated with CPC to translate the stories into Farsi, making them available to an audience that can relate to the Gazans’ suffering.

The Spanish edition of the project has been presented by Infobae a US-based online newspaper, while the Brazilian free-to-air television network Record TV supported the Portuguese version.

Strike on journalists in Lebanon: Why AFP probe points to an Israeli tank shell

Strike on journalists in Lebanon: Why AFP probe points to an Israeli tank shell
Updated 07 December 2023

Strike on journalists in Lebanon: Why AFP probe points to an Israeli tank shell

Strike on journalists in Lebanon: Why AFP probe points to an Israeli tank shell
  • Two strikes hit the group of journalists in quick succession as they were working near the border village of Alma Al-Shaab

PARIS: An investigation by Agence France-Presse into the strike in southern Lebanon on October 13 that killed a Reuters journalist and injured six others, including two from AFP, points to a tank shell only used by the Israeli army in this high-tension border region.
Two strikes hit the group of journalists in quick succession as they were working near the border village of Alma Al-Shaab in an area that sees the Israeli army and armed Lebanese and Palestinian groups engaged in near-daily clashes.
Issam Abdallah, 37, was killed instantly. The other journalists present — two other Reuters journalists, two from Al Jazeera, and two from AFP — were all injured. AFP photographer Christina Assi, 28, was seriously wounded, later had a leg amputated and is still in hospital.
AFP jointly conducted a seven-week investigation with Airwars, an NGO that investigates attacks on civilians in conflict situations, based on evidence gathered from expert munitions analysis, satellite images, witness testimonies and video recordings filmed before and during the attack.
Its evidence points to an 120-mm fin-stabilized Israeli-made tank round, which is only used by the Israeli army in the high-tension border region.
The probe indicates that the strikes came from the southeast near the Israeli village of Jordeikh where Israeli tanks were operating. The nature of the strikes and lack of military activity in the vicinity of the journalists, combined with Israeli aerial surveillance resources, indicate it was a deliberate and targeted attack.
These findings are supported by separate investigations conducted by rights groups Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International.
HRW concluded that the strikes were “apparently deliberate attacks on civilians, which is a war crime” and which “should be prosecuted or may be prosecuted for war crimes.” Amnesty said the incident was “likely a direct attack on civilians that must be investigated as a war crime.”
An Israeli military spokesman said after the strike: “We are very sorry for the journalist’s death,” adding that Israel was “looking into” the incident, without taking responsibility.
“AFP has been very clear that we will take all judicial avenues that we deem relevant and possible to ensure that we can get justice for Christina and Issam,” said AFP Global News Director Phil Chetwynd.

Two successive strikes hit the group of journalists at 18:02 as they were positioned above Alma Al-Shaab, a village located around a kilometer from the “Blue Line,” the UN-monitored demarcation line between Lebanon and Israel.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah and local branches of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad had been exchanging fire with Israel on a near-daily basis across the border since Gaza-based Hamas fighters carried out their attacks on October 7.
More than 110 people have been killed on the Lebanese side, mostly Hezbollah fighters, as well as more than a dozen civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israel says six of its soldiers have been killed.
The seven journalists were at the scene for around an hour before they were hit, positioned on the top of a small hill which offered a wide vantage point to film the Israeli bombardments that had intensified that afternoon.
The Israeli army has confirmed that it was carrying out artillery attacks in response to an infiltration attempt.
Al Jazeera journalists Carmen Joukhadar and Elie Brakhya were first on the scene, followed by AFP’s Dylan Collins and Christina Assi, and Reuters correspondents Issam Abdallah, Thaer Al-Sudani and Maher Nazeh.
All were equipped with helmets and bulletproof vests marked “Press” and were standing behind cameras placed prominently on tripods, as shown in a video shot by AFP’s Assi on her phone and posted to her Instagram shortly after 17:00.
“I was live to report the Israeli bombardment, and I had just said that there was no rocket fire from the Lebanese side. We were all on a hill in an open-air area, without any rockets or military sites near us. There was nothing near us,” Al Jazeera’s Joukhadar said.

The first strike hit at 18:02. It killed Abdallah instantly and seriously wounded Assi. On the video footage, she is heard screaming: “What happened? What happened? I can’t feel my legs.”
“We had spent about an hour filming a distant pillar of smoke to our south, and some limited Israeli shelling along hilltops to our southeast. Just before 6 p.m. we turned our cameras toward the west and suddenly we were hit. It came out of nowhere,” said Collins.
“We were in an exposed area, all of us wearing our helmets, our vests, just doing our job... and we were maintaining a safe distance from the front line,” said Assi. “Suddenly, everything became white... and I lost sensation in my legs, and I started crying for help.”
Collins attempted to provide her with first aid, but 37 seconds later, a second explosion occurred, hitting the Al Jazeera car located a few meters away. Collins, who had been attempting to place tourniquets on Assi’s legs, was wounded.
All the witnesses at the scene insist there was no military activity or artillery fire in their immediate proximity.
The Al Jazeera vehicle hit by the second strike was destroyed by fire. The body of Abdallah, who was directly hit by the first strike, was thrown into a field on the other side of a stone wall near which he had been standing.
A large munition fragment was filmed close to Abdallah’s body immediately after the strike. The day after, a local resident, who did not wish to be named, recovered the fragment and took photos of the scene.
AFP and Airwars had them analyzed by six weapons experts, including former British army officers and experienced conflict zone investigators.
All agree that it was part of a 120-mm fin-stabilized tank shell, typically used by the Israeli army on its Merkava tanks. No other military group or organization in the region uses this type of munition, the analysts said.
“This is the remnants of a tank round, clearly from a Merkava tank,” said one of the experts, Chris Cobb-Smith, a security consultant and former British army artillery officer.
“It’s quite obvious to me because you can see the grooves on the round itself, which indicates it comes from the fin-stabilized family of munitions. When fired, some fins spring out of the back of the round [to] stabilize it in flight, which makes it much more accurate and increases its range,” added Cobb-Smith, who has experience with this type of munition, including with fragments found during the 2008 and 2012 wars in Gaza.

Independent investigations by HRW and Amnesty International also pointed to the use of a 120-mm tank shell of Israeli origin.
The Lebanese judiciary is in possession of other fragments from the scene and has opened an investigation to determine the exact circumstances of the strike.
It has yet to release its conclusions. However, a judicial source and two Lebanese military sources told AFP they had established that Israeli tank fire was responsible for the first strike, without giving further details.
The investigation identified at least two Israeli positions from which shells were being fired that afternoon. According to experts who spoke to AFP and Airwars, the most likely source of the strike that hit the journalists was a position to the southeast, near the Israeli village of Jordeikh.
At the time of the strikes, the journalists had their cameras pointed southwest, toward a base near the Israeli town of Hanita and their footage does not capture the projectile that struck them.
They were hit from the side — not from the front — as indicated by the orientation of the debris from the wall near Abdallah, which spread from east to west over around 10 meters.
Earlier footage indicates an Israeli position near Jordeikh. Around 45 minutes earlier, the AFP camera was pointing in this direction and caught the sound of at least one shot, followed by a plume of smoke rising from this location.
Satellite images from that morning and the following day, seen by AFP, show the presence of vehicles with the same dimensions as a Merkava tank very close to Jordeikh.

The experts agree that the two strikes occurred 37 seconds apart, landing only four or five meters from each other, excluding the possibility of an accidental attack. The experts believe the strikes were deliberately aimed at the same target.
“Anyone who suggests this was an accident or mistake would have a lot of convincing to do,” said a former European military officer who has worked for decades on munitions analysis.
“One round clearly hit the cameraman directly, and the second round hit their vehicle... So I think we can discard the [idea] that this is in any way a random shot, or an unlucky shot,” added Cobb-Smith. “In my assessment those individuals were targeted.”
The investigation sought to establish whether the journalists could have been mistaken for fighters belonging to one of the armed groups active in the region.
Expert Cobb-Smith said this was unlikely given “the sophistication and the capabilities of the surveillance assets of the Israeli army.”
The journalists “were not operating in a military style,” he added. “They were standing out in the open, they had cameras on tripods, they were operating overtly, so one has to question why they were engaged by an armament of this capability.”
Amnesty’s investigation found the journalists had taken all necessary precautions to identify themselves.
“The Israeli military either knew or should have known that the seven individuals were journalists, and yet they still targeted them not once but twice, and therefore Amnesty is saying this is likely a direct attack on civilians and must be investigated as a war crime,” Aya Majzoub, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for the Middle East, told AFP.

The AFP investigation was unable to determine which military unit was involved or what level of command gave the order to shoot. The investigation did not speculate on any possible motivations which could have led the Israeli army to deliberately target a group of journalists.
Several similar incidents have taken place in the region in recent weeks as journalists broadcast live footage of clashes with Israel.
On October 9, a strike fell a few meters from an Al Jazeera team in Marwahin, another border town in southern Lebanon.
A journalist from the Qatari channel was injured on November 13 by Israeli fire while he and other correspondents were covering the bombardments in southern Lebanon, near cars marked “Press,” according to Lebanese state media, a local mayor and the journalists themselves.
And on November 21, two journalists from the pro-Iranian channel Al Mayadeen were killed along with a civilian in Israeli strikes on southern Lebanon, according to official Lebanese media.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati expressed his “strong condemnation” of the incident, saying Israel’s “aim is to silence the media who expose its crimes and its attacks.”
Al Jazeera said it “strongly condemns” what it called the “deliberate targeting of journalists in southern Lebanon by Israeli forces.”
The channel urged the International Criminal Court to “hold Israel and its military accountable for these heinous crimes.”
A spokesperson for Reuters said it was “shocking that a group of clearly identified journalists could be hit by fire in this way.”
The news agency reiterated its appeal to the Israelis to conduct their own probe. “It has been nearly two months since we called for them to investigate, and we have heard nothing since.”
“About as many journalists have died in the past two months as were killed in the entire 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan,” said AFP’s Chetwynd.
“We cannot allow such a culture of impunity to develop and it is absolutely essential that we rally as an industry to ensure that something is done about this.”
As of December 6, the Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 63 journalists and media workers had been killed since the start of the war on October 7.

Journalists should be allowed in and out of Gaza: media rights group

Journalists should be allowed in and out of Gaza: media rights group
Updated 07 December 2023

Journalists should be allowed in and out of Gaza: media rights group

Journalists should be allowed in and out of Gaza: media rights group
  • Reporters Without Borders calls for the Rafah crossing to be opened ‘so that journalists can finally come and go on both sides of the border’

PARIS: Media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged Israeli and Egyptian authorities on Thursday to allow journalists to move freely across the Gaza Strip’s southern border crossing into Egypt.
The Rafah crossing was shut after Israel declared war on Hamas militants in Gaza following the deadliest attack in its history on October 7.
While it has intermittently opened in recent weeks, only people whose names were on approved lists have been allowed out.
In a statement, RSF called for the Rafah crossing to be opened “so that journalists can finally come and go on both sides of the border.”
Palestinian journalists who, like other civilians in Gaza, have had to flee their homes in the north of the Gaza Strip “are now being told by Israel to assemble at the border with Egypt, with no possibility of crossing,” RSF said.
“Conversely, international reporters are prevented from entering.”
The Rafah crossing is controlled by Hamas and Egypt, though RSF says Israel monitors all activities at the southern border.
Gaza’s only other official border crossing, which links the besieged territory to Israel, has also been shut.
“In two months of war, not a single reporter has been authorized to enter the Gaza Strip via Rafah, which clearly undermines the media’s ability to cover the conflict,” RSF said.
Israel also “bombed this border gate four times at the start of the war,” it added.
According to RSF, 58 journalists have been killed in Gaza by Israeli strikes, 14 of them in the line of duty.
Israel launched its assault on Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, after the October 7 attacks killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli authorities, and saw some 240 people taken hostage.
According to the Hamas government, the war has killed more than 16,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children.

Al Jazeera says 22 relatives of Gaza correspondent killed by Israeli shelling

Al Jazeera says 22 relatives of Gaza correspondent killed by Israeli shelling
Updated 07 December 2023

Al Jazeera says 22 relatives of Gaza correspondent killed by Israeli shelling

Al Jazeera says 22 relatives of Gaza correspondent killed by Israeli shelling
  • The victims included 17 other members of his extended family

CAIRO: Qatar-based Al Jazeera Media Network said an Israeli bombardment on Wednesday killed 22 relatives of its Gaza correspondent Moamen Al-Sharafi and condemned the operation.
“The horrific event unfolded today at Jabalia Camp, where Moamen’s family sought refuge, leading to the killing of his father, mother, three siblings and his children,” the network said in a statement.
The journalist, who was elsewhere during the bombardment, later appeared live on Al Jazeera. The victims included 17 other members of his extended family.
The network said it “will pursue all legal steps to holding accountable all those responsible for this crime.”
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military. Jabalia is in the northern Gaza Strip.
On Oct. 25, an Israeli raid killed several family members of Wael Dahdouh, another Al Jazeera correspondent in Gaza.


Controversial music video criticizes Iran’s leadership

Controversial music video criticizes Iran’s leadership
Updated 06 December 2023

Controversial music video criticizes Iran’s leadership

Controversial music video criticizes Iran’s leadership
  • Sasy Mannequin accuses country’s officials of hypocrisy
  • Popularity highlights growing generational divide, says writer

LONDON: A satirical music video lampooning Iran’s leaders has gone viral on the internet, igniting a nationwide debate.

The teaser of the video, expected to be fully released by exiled Los Angeles-based singer Sasy Mannequin in the coming days, has attracted tens of millions of views in Iran, where it has been banned.

Mannequin’s video, “Leila’s Brothers,” which is named after the 2022 Cannes-selected banned Iranian film, satirizes a children’s program on Iran’s state television and sharply criticizes Iranian officials and their primary propaganda outlet, state TV, for their perceived hypocrisy.

The video, which has become an instant sensation in the country, has circulated widely on Soroush, the government-sponsored social media platform established to counter the “cultural onslaught” from foreign platforms.

It has triggered an immediate response from censors and clerical judges who, on Dec. 3, issued an arrest order for Farhad Moradi, the managing director of the homegrown social network.

Iran International reported on Tuesday that Moradi had been released earlier in the week on bail.

However, according to the London-based Farsi channel, critics of the singer’s hit song have called for the closure of the platform, with some urging Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to have the singer arrested, and one wanting him targeted by Iranian intelligence agencies.

Aired on Radio Javan, a US-based, MTV-style channel that broadcasts Persian music around the clock, the full original audio song of the video can be found on YouTube, along with the teaser clip.

Widely known as Sasy, the singer is no stranger to controversy. Despite regime censorship, schoolchildren across Iran sing and dance to his songs, and young Iranians frequently play them, defying the ban.

One of his previous videos, “Gentleman,” provoked anger in Iranian officials, leading to the dismissal of several teachers after it was revealed that students enthusiastically danced and sang to the catchy melody during school events.

Farhad Farzad, the editor of Rouydad24 website in Tehran, attributed the video’s popularity to its “color, rhythm, and sex appeal,” elements absent in Iran’s entertainment industry, particularly on state TV.

Behrouz Turani, a British-Iranian writer and journalist, said: “Sasy’s simple songs often become controversial in Iran only because what viewers see and hear in them are in sharp contrast to the extremely conservative and traditional modes of behavior approved by the fundamentalist Islamic Republic.”

He added that this incident is not isolated but symptomatic of the growing divide between Iran’s elderly clerics and the Generation Z subculture, which is both “prevalent and simultaneously strange to traditional minds.”

He said: “This is the generation that was behind the 2022 Woman, Life, Freedom protests; a generation that has refused to accept the Islamic Republic’s propaganda and insists that nothing is sacred.”

Washington Post journalists plan 24-hour strike amid prolonged contract talks

Washington Post journalists plan 24-hour strike amid prolonged contract talks
Updated 06 December 2023

Washington Post journalists plan 24-hour strike amid prolonged contract talks

Washington Post journalists plan 24-hour strike amid prolonged contract talks
  • Walkout represents major work stoppage since 1976
  • Newspaper is also trying to reduce workforce by 10 percent

LONDON: Unionized journalists at The Washington Post said they would stage a 24-hour strike on Thursday to protest staff cuts and what they call management’s failure to bargain in good faith in contract talks that have stretched on for 18 months.
The planned one-day walkout would mark the first general work stoppage at the Post since the bitter, 20-week pressmen’s strike of 1975-76, when Katharine Graham was publisher, according to union officials.
The latest labor clash comes a little more than a month after William Lewis, former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, was named chief executive and publisher of the Post as the venerable Washington daily newspaper was projecting a year-end loss of $100 million. Lewis is due to take charge on Jan. 2, 2024.
The Post is one of many news outlets struggling to devise a sustainable business model in the decades since the Internet upended the economics of journalism and digital advertising rates plummeted.
Executives at the Post, which is owned by billionaire founder Jeff Bezos, said at the time of the Lewis announcement that they were offering voluntary buyouts across the company in a bid to reduce employee headcount by about 10 percent and shrink the size of the newsroom to about 940 journalists.
The Washington-Baltimore News Guild, which represents more than 1,000 editorial, advertising and other non-news staff at the Post, said mismanagement by the previous publisher led to nearly 40 layoffs last year — half from the newsroom — and the company was now seeking to cut another 240 jobs through buyouts.
Representatives for the newspaper’s management did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the labor dispute.
According to the union, management has threatened to impose more layoffs if too few staffers accept voluntary severance packages.
“That means fewer Post employees making the critical journalism that keeps our communities informed and holds our public officials accountable,” the Guild said in an online statement.
Moreover, after 18 months of contract negotiations, “the company is refusing to pay us what we’re worth or bargain in good faith,” the union said on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “So on Dec. 7, we’re walking off the job for 24 hours.”
A Guild-produced online video features numerous Post journalists, including chief Ukraine correspondent Siobhan O’Grady, pledging to strike and urging readers to “respect our picket line by avoiding Washington Post journalism” during the walkout.
They assert the company’s wage proposals would fail to keep pace with inflation or with the pay of competitors.
The minute-long video ends with the refrain, “because we’re worth more, worth more than our bosses are offering.”
Of the 1,000-plus Post employees covered under the News Guild’s contract, more than 700 are dues-paying members of the union, while nearly 750 staffers have pledged to observe the walkout, Sarah Kaplan, chief guild steward at the newspaper, said on Tuesday.
“The paper will suffer for a day, and that’s not something we take lightly,” she said, adding that the strike is intended to send the message that “cutting and disinvesting in employees is not a path to success.”