BBC reporter on covering Gaza

May 15, 2009

BBC Arabic Correspondent, Shahdi Al Kashif, reported from Gaza during the Israeli military attack at the turn of the year. On Wednesday, he talked to a small group of BBC journalists about the challenges he faced. Below I’ve paraphrased a few of the things he said. I’ve reordered some of his remarks.

Reporting from a war zone

"We saw dead people in the streets…children looking for their parents". And in amongst all that "you have to find out exactly what happened". You go to the hospital and to the morgue to try to find out what is happening and why.

When something happens you cannot turn round and go home. You have to go and cover it even if it’s dangerous. There are a lot of rumours in Gaza. You must go and see that people are dead with your own eyes.

Hamas

Hamas are everywhere in Gaza. They are not an army. They are militants. If all of Gaza is a small town, how is it possible to single out and target individual militants? This is why civilians were killed.

Getting information from Hamas during the conflict required diplomacy and negotiating skills. Hamas always wanted to know what the rest of the world thought of them and it was difficult to get Hamas to talk without doing a lot of talking to them.

For the last two years, people have been living in fear of Hamas. Killing in Gaza has been very easy – people have been thrown from buildings and killed in the streets.

The Fatah journalists are followed. In the foreign press, Arabic broadcasters and writers are afraid or decide not to put themselves in trouble. But Hamas don’t follow English reports so closely. 

The question we want to find out is: who is leading Hamas?

Journalists and journalism

During the conflict none of us knew what was going to happen next. Journalists came under attack and all the correspondents were working and sleeping together.

Sometimes we were using one charger to power ten mobile phone batteries and we had to reuse the same video cassettes. 

Family

I was cut off from my family at times but I still had to broadcast stories. On one occasion, the only contact was by a letter hand-delivered by another journalist from my flat to the BBC office. Eventually, my family were evacuated from our flat and slept in the office.