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Monday, March 16, 2009

The following piece appeared originally in Maariv Hebrew here. Many thanks to Centrist for the exclusive translation. Lorenzo Cremonesi was the Italian journalist who ventured to Gaza during the war, made something of a pest of himself with the IDF, but had Hamas even less grateful for what he ended up reporting. As with his previous reporting, this piece about Cremonesi is well worth reading.

If Only You Had Been There:
A foreign correspondent's story of Gaza

Written by: Nadav Eyal (for Israel's daily newpaper "Maariv")

Lorenzo Cremonesi, who writes for the Italian daily paper Corriere della Sera, can easily be mistaken for someone suffering from a secret death wish. He is not one to steer clear of any deadly war he wants to cover, with his typical Italian eagerness. His paper sends him on special missions and Cremonesi dives into the conflict with some zest, to bring out the story.

This week he arrived at Tel Aviv University, to take part in a conference about media coverage of the war in Gaza. Unlike most of the journalists present in the room, Cremonsi was actually in Gaza during the war. He gained access into the Strip in defiance of Israel's policy. The story he told, published in part in Israel, is quite remarkable.

"I got to the other side of the border where ambulances were waiting," he recounts, "Ambulances in Gaza function like a cab service during war. I took an ambulance and started driving from one hospital to another. In order for you to understand what I uncovered, let me just tell you that at one hospital they informed me that I was in luck; that today there arrived some casualties."

Cremonsi's story, which was published in Corriere della Sera during the war, included quotes from doctors serving in Gaza hospitals, who estimated that the number of Palestinian casualties was dramatically lower than what had been published. "I am familiar with war zones very well," said Cremonesi to the other journalists, "I looked for the dead, the wounded. They were hard to find. I saw empty hospital beds."

He related a few astonishing stories. For example, how residents in the town of Al-hawa were furious with Hamas forces; these, at the height of the war with Israel, were more interested in finding the police deputy-commissioner - who was suspected of being a Fatah man - and torturing him. "Among other things," Cremonesi noted matter-of-factly, "they took out his eye."

Cremonesi related his story in connection with Israel's formal policy during the war to disallow foreign correspondents from entering Gaza. Cremonesi thought it was a stupid decision that interfered with the flow of information and eventually harmed Israel's interests. He had come into direct contact with Hamas tactics, he said, because he was present there, unlike his colleagues who did not succeed in getting into the area. Among other things he told about how Hamas fighters forced an ambulance driver to surrender his uniform to them, and about Palestinians who were enraged that Hamas had turned their neighbourhood into Qassam launching base.

"At one point I arrived at Beit- Lahya" the Italian journalist recalled. "I wanted to get into the neighbourhood, but was stopped at the entrance by a bunch of Hamas people. They refused me passage. I found out they were clearing out the corpses of slain Hamas fighters from the ditches and did not want any media coverage of this evacuation."

"After the rest of the journalists entered the strip," he said, "I found they were angry with me. They asked me; why are you serving the Israelis? What bothered them was not the quality of the information I provided. I felt that their anger and need to emphasize Palestinian suffering, were fueled by the fact that they had been prevented from entering. I have no doubt that if Israel had facilitated the entry of foreign journalists into Gaza, they would have reported the exact same stories I have. But Israel did restrict them and it was a terrible mistake."

1 Comment

It may have been a mistake for Israel to have restricted the entry of journalists into Gaza, but I doubt that this action caused the hostility of journalists. They would have been anti-Israeli in any case.

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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