Gaza City was indeed a festival of triumph today as tens of thousands men, women and children gathered in Qatiba Square in anticipation of seeing their released sons and daughters, sisters and brothers. More about that — with pictures — to come soon. As other commentators have mentioned, news coverage has been extremely biased, we (in the West) all know Gilad Shalit’s name, but who can name even one of the 1000+ Palestinians (which include women, Christians, and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship?
So, though not a journalist by trade, I decided I’d interview some Palestinians at the festival to get their impressions. People were very friendly and open, but I did think, “I’m sure a real journalist would do much better.” Anyway, after a several hours in the heat talking to people, taking photos and mingling with the crowd, a few of us decide its time to eat and take a short break. When we enter a restaurant off the square, I see Jeffrey Heller of the Independent with his translators/fixers. It seemed they had been there for awhile. We left, and he was still there. It didn’t look like he was leaving.
American journalists rarely come to Gaza, live in Israel, and often have strong ties to Israel (like Ethan Bronner of the New York Times whose son served and was recently found to have a business relationship with an Israeli PR firm), which, among other things leads to extremely biased coverage. That said, I’m not sure that coming to Gaza and sitting in a cafe the whole time before going back to Jerusalem counts for much. In the end you get articles like Mr. Heller’s — lots of humanizing quotes from Shalit on how he felt, details on his arrest etc., but no quotes from a single Palestinian prisoner on their prison conditions or their hopes for the future.