Access to Gaza vital if there is to be accountability

Access to Gaza vital if there is to be accountability

Access to Gaza vital if there is to be accountability
Children walk past as Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli strike on a house, in Rafah, April 21, 2024. (Reuters)
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The outside world is not meant to witness what Israel is doing in Gaza. Israel has done everything in its considerable power over the last six months to restrict and even deny access for any internationals to Gaza. This includes journalists, diplomats, humanitarian actors, doctors, lawyers and human rights groups. Israeli officials do not want the story of Gaza to get out. It raises the question as to what Israel wants to hide.
International journalists cannot enter Gaza, except for a few who have gone in embedded with the Israeli army to be shown what Tel Aviv wanted to show. Many senior reporters have publicly demanded access. Western powers have done little or nothing to back their calls.
Journalists did bear witness to earlier Israeli wars on Gaza, but the authorities have learned their lesson. Internationals with cameras are dangerous. Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s international editor, was clear: “Not being on the scene makes reporting much harder. In war reporting, nothing beats using your own eyes and ears.”
For all its extraordinary efforts at war propaganda, the one thing that Israel has always found hard to brush off are the images of hellish destruction their armed forces leave in their wake. This has been an issue in all of Israel’s wars since the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. But never before has Israel put so much effort into controlling or denying the telling of the story.
Journalists are storytellers. Whether one likes or not, international audiences tend to believe their own respected journalists, perhaps more than Palestinian ones who may be deemed biased, even though they are mostly highly professional and brave. Israel has stymied their access to the outside world, using everything from cutting off internet and telephone access to what has clearly become a targeted campaign to kill journalists. Of course, the record of Western journalists in telling the story fairly is often questionable, but it would be drastically improved if they could be on the spot.
In the first five months after Oct. 7, Israel killed at least 103 Palestinian journalists in Gaza. Yes, reporters tend to head to dangerous areas to cover a story, but this is an extraordinarily high number. The international media should use and trust them more. This patronizing attitude was exemplified by CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour when she claimed there were no journalists on the ground in Gaza.
Israel has targeted international media in the past. In 2021, it bombed the Al-Jalaa tower in Gaza City that hosted the offices of Al Jazeera and the Associated Press.
International humanitarian actors can barely access Gaza. Visas are impossible to get, despite international pressure. UNRWA has been an explicit target of Israeli officials. A leaked Israeli Foreign Ministry plan in December described a three-point plan to get UNRWA out of Gaza, including a smear campaign designed to deprive it of funding. Inside Gaza, aid convoys to the north, where the worst levels of famine have kicked in, are barely allowed. Convoys bring back bodies for some form of burial in the south. Brave doctors have entered Gaza as part of emergency medical teams. One UN worker told me it is incredible how many British doctors are there.
Israel in January bombed a safe house for humanitarians. It was supposed to be deconflicted, meaning Israel had been formally informed that humanitarians were there. The killing of seven international aid workers on April 1 may have added greater international pressure on Israel, but it also forced World Central Kitchen to cease its operations in Gaza. Fewer internationals, less aid — job done. 

Israeli officials do not want the story of Gaza to get out. It raises the question as to what Israel wants to hide.

Chris Doyle

Those doctors who do leave Gaza and tell the stories of what they witnessed are targeted for aggressive smears. Israel’s allies can be willing collaborators, most notoriously Germany. The German authorities have just forcibly closed a conference on Palestine in Berlin and deported a British-Palestinian doctor who was to give testimony of what he experienced inside the Al-Shifa and Al-Ahli hospitals. The official German suppression of a Palestinian narrative has been extraordinary and certainly adds validity to the case Nicaragua is bringing against Berlin at the International Court of Justice for complicity in what the court has determined may plausibly constitute genocide.
In terms of human rights actors, Israel denied access to Gaza to Karim Khan, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. This court is a threat as it can issue arrest warrants for individuals for war crimes. It is astonishing the prosecutor has been so inactive, but political pressure and the denial of access has worked for Israel.
Israel has not been able to cut off the flow of evidence of its crimes to the outside world. Videos are plentiful in any conflict nowadays. To counter this, Israel has used a combination of distraction, disinformation and outright lies. At times, major outlets have been able to rebut Israeli claims about atrocities, as CNN has done regarding the so-called flour massacre in February. Its findings directly contradicted Israel’s account of how 118 Palestinians were killed when trying to access lifesaving aid from a convoy. Israel will not release the drone footage that might provide clearer evidence of what happened.
More effective investigations would have been possible with proper access. The UN says there have been two dozen attacks on Palestinians awaiting aid in the last three months. Access is needed for such investigations.
Israel does not want any investigation into its destruction of Al-Shifa Hospital. Remember the advanced graphics purporting to show that there was a Hamas command and control center under the hospital? This was the flimsy justification for bombing the hospital. No such command bunker was ever found. Nobody mentions that massive lie now. It has served its purposes, as Al-Shifa lies in ruins.
Another massive Israeli lie was that it was not blocking aid into Gaza, despite officially declaring a total siege on Oct. 9. That dangerous myth was at least one that could be easily disproved without access into the Strip. It has even antagonized Israel’s closest allies, who do not like being lied to. Israel has promised US President Joe Biden that it will open up the border crossings and Ashdod port, but this still has not happened.
If Israel has nothing to hide, greater access to Gaza for internationals, including journalists, aid workers and human rights groups, is essential. Diplomats should also be permitted to assess the situation first-hand.
When will Israel grant access? If it does, will it be to all outlets or only those it believes will grant it favorable coverage?
Full and independent investigations must be facilitated. One of the orders of the International Court of Justice in January was that evidence of genocide must be preserved, not destroyed. Only independent parties can do that effectively and in a manner that might satisfy the court.
Part of ensuring that this is the last war on Gaza is accountability. To bring that about, access is vital. The world must not shut its eyes to the horrors of Gaza. It must open them, inhale the full scale of the atrocities and hold those responsible accountable.

Chris Doyle is director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding in London.
X: @Doylech

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