The situation involving Israel, the Palestinian people, war-torn Gaza and the West Bank seems to change by the hour, and so does the way that so many people feel about it. That was really driven home in a diary by Associated Press journalist Fares Akram, who is from Gaza and wrote this weekend about what it’s like to cover a never-ending conflict that has claimed the life of his father and five other family members, and which saw an Israeli bomb slam into his family’s farm on Friday. He said his work was his only refuge.
“The Associated Press office is the only place in Gaza City I feel somewhat safe,” Akram wrote. “The Israeli military has the coordinates of the high-rise, so it’s less likely a bomb will bring it crashing down.” But even that last sliver of faith proved illusory.
At the same time the AP journalist was posting his essay, the Israeli Defense Force was on the phone telling the news organization, its neighbors from the Al-Jazeera network, and other residents to leave that high-rise immediately. The IDF claimed its enemy Hamas had a presence in the building (something the AP had never observed despite careful vetting) and gave the journalists less than an hour to evacuate. Soon, three missiles struck the 12-story al-Jalaa Building where the AP had been located for some 15 years, reducing it to a pile of rubble in seconds.
“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” the AP’s president and CEO Gary Pruitt said after its offices were destroyed — which, frankly, looked like the whole point of the attack. I was struck on Saturday by how the episode paralleled — albeit in much worse fashion — the decline in press freedom here in the United States, where efforts to cover oppressive policing against the George Floyd protests saw a steep spike in violence toward journalists as well as arrests. It heightened a broader sense that, for all the notable differences between the war-torn Middle East and America’s crises, there are also dangerous parallels — from overly militarized responses to deep structural flaws in our democracies.
Despite the efforts to hinder news coverage, what we know about the escalating violence in the region over the last week is still horrifying. As the AP offices were being destroyed, an Israeli bomb strike at a Palestinian refugee camp killed eight children and two mothers — part of a death toll among Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere that has risen to 145 people, including 41 children. Rocket attacks from Hamas are blamed for seven Israeli civilian deaths, including a 5-year-old. The human tragedy was best captured by a video of a 10-year-old Palestinian girl. “I’m only 10,” she says, tearfully. “I can’t even deal with this anymore.”
The cycle of violence is on one hand numbingly familiar — stretching all the way back to the Nakba in 1948, meaning that most of us have witnessed this our entire lives — and yet this time it also felt different. The reckless escalations and human rights violations of Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Israeli government seems to have crossed a line that had once prevented many Americans from speaking out against a longtime ally in the Middle East. Here in Philadelphia and a score of other U.S. cities, thousands took to the streets to wave Palestinian flags and denounce the bombing of Gaza — with many of the protesters drawing parallels to the racial and cultural oppression they marched against in 2020 after Floyd’s murder in Minneapoli