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1 Jan, 2009 13:33

Israeli army tells foreign journos to blog off

The Israeli Supreme Court is pushing the country's government to allow limited access to the conflict zone for the international media.

Russian war correspondent Sergei Grankin has reported from Iraq, Kosovo and West Bank, but right now he can’t get into Gaza – and it’s not because he’s afraid to go there.

Since Monday journalists have been unable to film these tanks on the Gaza-Israel border, as the area has been declared a closed military zone.

Sergei has been discussing with his editor what to do. Each day he goes to the border but is stopped by the Israeli army who say it’s for his own protection.

“All the pictures that are coming out of Gaza are being filmed by Hamas’ people, or people under the control of Hamas. Many of the pictures have been censored, like sometimes when the Israeli army shoots and dozens of people are left dead. The only pictures we see are pictures of dead children. If there were independent journalists inside, maybe they’d be criticising the Israeli operation, but at least they’d be giving a different side about what is happening,” Grankin says.

“Hamas is targeting the crossings very heavily. Up until six-seven weeks ago journalists went in and out of Gaza. This is something relatively new because of the heavy mortar shelling on the crossings,” clarified Major Avital Leibovich, head of the Israeli Army’s Foreign Press Division.

“I think this is the reaction of people who want to hide something. The less this tragedy is filmed, the more chances there are for the Israeli army to continue its operation. It’s my decision if I’m ready to risk my life or not, to bring this story to my viewers. It’s not their business to deal with this.” Grankin objects.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army has created its own YouTube channel, with an entire department dedicated to blogging on the internet. At the end of the day who wins the war in Gaza will depend as much on what is said here – in cyberspace – as to what happens on the ground.

British idea

The relationship between war and media has been discussed ever since the first word was penned, but when TV cameras were able to beam live pictures of the horrors of war into people’s homes, the rules of the game changed forever.

It was the British army during the Falklands war that decided for the first time to isolate a war zone from the camera lenses.

The British High Command claimed this was one of the reasons of their fast victory, but it took Israelis nearly a quarter of a century to learn the same lesson

“In the second Lebanese war we had a problem with many journalists walking around the forces and many times we found ourselves in an impossible situation as an army while the journalist was describing this infantry brigade behind me is now entering Lebanon from this position. This we cannot allow operationally, of course,” Leibovich says.

“You cannot blame the failure of that war on the media. An unsuccessful operation is made by an army and not journalists. The Israeli government is supposed to be smart enough to give journalists the feeling they are free to work, but at the end of the day they say what we want them to say. So when for example we allow them to shoot hundreds of tanks standing near the border, it’s because we want the other side to get the message that we have a strong force on the border and we are coming inside,” former Israel General Shaul Givoli says.