Israeli Reporter Amira Hass Forced Out of Gaza by Hamas, Detained by Israeli Police For Entering Gaza Without Permit
Israel has imposed a tightened blockade over its million and a half residents for nearly a month. Last month, award-winning Israeli journalist Amira Hass defied the blockade and entered Gaza on a boat with international peace activists. But on Sunday, Hamas officials told Hass they could no longer guarantee her security and forced her to leave. Hass was briefly detained by Israeli security officials upon re-entering Israel Monday because she did not have a permit for Gaza. Amira Hass joins us on the phone from Ramallah [includes rush transcript].
Amira Hass, correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and one of Israel’s leading journalists. She has spent much of the last decade living in Palestinian communities of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Hamas recently told her to leave Gaza. She joins us on the phone from Ramallah.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the Middle East, to the Gaza strip where Israel has imposed a tightened blockade over its million and a half residents for nearly a month. The Israeli navy blocked a Libyan ship carrying 3,000 tons of food and medical aid from entering Gaza on Monday. It was the first attempt by a foreign government to break the siege of Gaza. Last month award-winning Israeli journalist Amira Hass defied the blockade and entered Gaza on a boat with international peace activists. She reported for Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz from Gaza while being accompanied by Hamas. But on Sunday Hamas officials told Amira Hass they would no longer guarantee her security and asked her to leave. Hass was briefly detained by Israeli security officials upon re-entering Israel Monday because she did not have a permit for Gaza. The Israeli army officially barred its journalists from entering Gaza after the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Amira Hass is a correspondent for Israel’s Ha’aretz. She’s the author of “Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege” .She joins me now on the telephone from Ramallah, the West Bank, where she lives. Welcome to Democracy Now!
AMIRA HASS: Hi Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us what happened to you in Gaza. Why were you kicked out by Hamas.
AMIRA HASS: I don’t know, they just got tired of me, I guess. They insisted from the start to follow me, to escort me 24 hours a day, which of course, did not make my work very easy, but I took it ok. They said there the wanted to avoid any slightest chance that someone might hurt you. All of the sudden Sunday, they told me circumstances has changed—all of the seven on Sunday, the circumstances have changed, there is more tension in the region. And there is also some information that my life might be in danger. As a principle, I do not take such threats or what any security apparatus tell me, whether it is Israeli, whether it is Arafat or Hamas. But they left no option, they were very strict about it. I have some friends in Hamas they tried very hard to put sense into some people, but it was in vain. The only thing we managed was to postpone the decision by- less than one day so I could see friends of mine because the main sense that I have is that Gaza is going to be isolated for so many years and that people won’t be able to leave anywhere, not to the West Bank, not abroad, not for a vacation, for so many years. Who knows when I would see friends again? This was also – apart from the frustration, the professional frustration, that I felt. You know, I had planned to stay three months now in Gaza, there was a much more to do.
AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, describe life in Gaza right now. It is very hard to get information out. In the last few weeks, executives from Associated Press, New York Times, Reuters, CNN, BBC and other news organizations sent a letter to the Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, saying, well criticizing the government’s decision to bar journalists from entering Gaza with Israel virtually sealing it off. Its very hard to get a picture of what is going on inside.
AMIRA HASS: It is even very hard to describe it in 10 minutes or 30 minutes. It is complete isolation, I feel its like a black hole., Everybody, this isolation, this blockade reduces people’s lives in to basic concern. Will there be electricity? Will there be water? Will we find candles in the shop? Is there gas for cooking? People are still offended by the very needs to be preoccupied all the time by those needs. At the same time, there is a lot as always, there is the spirit of defiance that you find among Gazans. And the ability to make humor. So this has has not been lost at all. I actually was upset with some of the reports that only focused on how Palestinians are miserable, Gazans are miserable, completely overlooked the ability to maneuver, and to, the creative abilities of Gazans. So you have, then you have the blockade imposed on Gaza on the part of the Palestinian Authority. They still hope to make a Hamas government collapse by obstructing the regular work of main ministries in Gaza: Education and Health. This is very, this is really nasty. It is a chance for Hamas to employ its own people, but its own people especially in Health, are very much less experienced. There has always been a problem with the health system, there has always been but it is deteriorating very fast.
The same is true of the education system it is really heartbreaking to see how it is not only the blockade and the siege, which as you remember started in 1991 and not just four months ago, it is an ongoing process from Israeli policy. But the Ramallah authorities and Palestinian authorities add to it, add to it pressure. This is very, people are- it doesn’t weaken Hamas, the contrary, people say, ok, so Hamas is one of us. We are all targeted by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
And the third point is that Hamas is not unhappy with the isolation right now because it enables it to establish its own regime in this small part of the world. It is a kind of independence from Israeli—a strange as it may sound—far away from Israeli control. There are attacks, there are military attacks, but inside, it is much more free from Israeli interference than the West Bank. So they can experiment their Islamic rule there, even though they say all the time this is not their goal. In practice, this is what is happening. So what is happening is that you have this miserable enclave with people who are imprisoned in it for so long and who are yearning for the world to open for them. For studies, for [unintelligible], for books, you know, it is difficult to send books to Gaza. It is almost impossible. Olmert has placed some few thousands of books at Erez waiting to bring into one of its libraries. And it cannot because of Israeli restrictions. So, but somehow, the three parties, the three powers concerned, unequal as they are, participate in this growing isolation of Gaza.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you, Amira Hass, let me ask you, in the protests of the news organizations to being banned from Gaza, an Israeli defense ministry spokesperson said that there were displeased with international media coverage because it “inflated Palestinian suffering and did not make clear that Israel’s measures are in response to Palestinian violence”.
AMIRA HASS: Yes. Should I comment?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
AMIRA HASS: Israeli officials have the talent always to reverse everything. I mean, it is to occupation that starts. That is the first thing. Israeli policies of occupation, which are the beginning. And then everything is the response, the Palestinian response. Whether it is clever or not is a different question. It is really amazing—I mean, this has ever been given as a reason to prevent journalists from entering Gaza. I mean, it seems there really passing their own borders or red lines. They used to say there was a danger to your life, but now they’re even there to intervene in the content of your report. And besides, it is not true. I think the world knows much more about the Israeli city which suffers from attacks of Palestinian rockets then they know the names like Sderot, Beni Suhayla, Abbasan al Sagheera, where people, localities in Gaza which have almost daily incursions’. So, these names are not known in the world. So its not even true what he claims.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask about the statement of the lame-duck Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, recently said to the surprise of many that he felt that Israel should withdraw from the territories. I wanted to get to you his exact quote. He said that “We are gravely concerned about the prolonged and unprecedented denial of access in the Gaza for the international media." he also talked about—
AMIRA HASS: Olmert?
AMY GOODMAN: He said, that Israel should withdraw from nearly all territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war in return for peace with the Palestinians and Syria, I am saying what no previous Israeli leader has ever said: we should withdraw from almost all of the territories, including in East Jerusalem and in the Golan Heights. Well he still is Prime Minister.
AMIRA HASS: Well, I mean, this is ridiculous- if you are why don’t you do it, now? Where were you five months ago, or a year ago. It’s probably not new thinking. So you could say great, he’s been influenced a bit and got sense. It is useless. I do not know what made him say that, but it is totally useless if you don’t—if it is not your policy, if its only words.
AMY GOODMAN: Why can’t he? Even as a lame-duck Prime Minister, why can’t he enforce it, why can’t he move in that direction since he’s already said this?
AMIRA HASS: He created this monster of the settlements, settlers who oppose any such idea and they created this tradition that you do not touch the settlers when the object to any legal action against them. Of course he could not even start it in the few months the he has or the one month he has til he has to leave. This is not realistic right now. The question is, where did he start to change his mind? Where did he think that return to 67 is the only solution. So does he want to gain some popularity, since he has lost so much because of all the scandals, popularity among certain echelons—I do not know. It is a riddle. But of course he cannot do it, not only that because right now Israeli society is profiting directly from the occupation, more than ever before.
This one of the achievements of the Oslo agreements, and the Oslo process, that the settlements could extend direct economical company—economical companies that are directly connected to the settlements and to the occupied territories, has grown. More Israelis see the settlements as an natural phenomenon. And also, in, in the popular mind, Palestinians have a state. It does not matter it has no sovereignty, no land or water or borders. But in the mind of the Israelis, Palestinians have the state because they’re in control of the administrative affairs. So..
AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass—
AMIRA HASS: If he wanted now, he could not. The general sentiment in Israel is very since the whole occupation is something normal.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. I want to thank you for being with us. Are you going to court on Thursday, in an Israeli court?
AMIRA HASS: Its only procedural, because I was released on bail. I was arrested and Ha’aretz worked hard so I would not be sent to jail for one night. So now, we have to discuss the terms of my release. And then they say they might charge me with breaking the military commanders order.
AMY GOODMAN: We will keep people posted. Amira Hass, correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, she’s talking to us from Ramallah, from her home in the West Bank. She was kicked out of Gaza. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. The quote before, “We’re gravely concerned about the prolonged and unprecedented denial of access to the Gaza strip for the international media” was from the news executives complaining to the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. This is Democracy Now! back in a minute..