Journalists from major news organizations can now travel freely between Gaza and Israel with identification cards issued by Israel’s Government Press Office. The application process for these cards can take up to three months. Without these press cards, entry is difficult; tourists and casual visitors are not allowed into Gaza from the Israeli or the Egyptian sides.
Unaffiliated journalists have been creative in their efforts to enter Gaza. Some have tried their luck entering as volunteers of humanitarian organizations. More daring freelancers have attempted negotiating a special entry permission at the Rafah crossing, or paid smugglers to take them into Gaza through illegal tunnels.
For journalists with Israeli citizenship, however, reporting from Gaza is near impossible. Since the end of 2006, when rampant street fighting broke out between rival Hamas and Fatah factions, Israeli military authorities have banned Israeli journalists from entering the Gaza Strip out of fears for their safety. Swedish journalist Ormestad said that she felt the most unsafe in Gaza during the ensuing winter of 2007, but that the Hamas takeover in June of 2007 “put an end to the anarchy.”
Ha’aretz columnist Amira Hass, an Israeli, lived in Gaza in the mid-1990s and authored Drinking the Sea at Gaza. In November of 2008, Hass traveled to Gaza by boat with a protest group, intending to stay for three months. Hamas placed a twenty-four-hour “escort” on her and expelled her from Gaza after three weeks. When Hass reentered Israel through the Erez checkpoint, she was detained and questioned by Israeli authorities for entering Gaza without a permit from the military commander.
In 2009, shortly after the Gaza war, Hass entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing. She says that she stayed “without disturbance” for five months. Upon her return to Israel, Hass was again detained and questioned by the Israeli authorities. Hass said she was verbally told that, on top of entering Gaza without the military commander’s permit, she had illegally stayed in an enemy state.
Conny Mus, Chairman of the Israeli Foreign Press Association, has pushed for the Israeli government to allow Israeli journalists to report from Gaza.
“Our policy is that every bona fide journalist, whatever nationality he has, should be able to go into Gaza and do his job,” he said. “So far, we didn’t get any positive reaction from the Israeli authorities on this.”
Mus remains concerned about the well-being of Paul Martin, the British journalist arrested by Hamas. While Hamas originally said they would detain Martin for fifteen days, they announced this week that they will hold him for an additional fifteen days. Mus asked Hamas to make clear what law Martin violated or to let him go immediately.
“The only thing that Hamas has told us is that they have an indication that he was spying for Israel….The expectation from Hamas is that sometime next week he will be deported from Gaza and not allowed to come back to Gaza….[My position is that] I think we should wait until we can be able to talk to Paul Martin.”
Meanwhile, other journalists in Gaza continue navigating their delicate relationships with opposing authorities, and hope that Paul Martin’s detention does not signal a new Hamas policy towards the press.