Documentary offers damning critique of how Western media covered Gaza attack

15 June 2012

120615-sherine-tadros.jpg

In The War Around Us, reporter Sherine Tadros reflects on the roles and responsibilities of journalists during wartime. 

Only two English-language journalists reported from Gaza as it suffered an all-out attack from Israel in late 2008 and early 2009. The War Around Us is a powerful, deeply moving new documentary through the eyes of these two reporters, Ayman Mohyeldin and Sherine Tadros.

Directed by Abdallah Omeish (whose best-known film is Occupation 101), The War Around Us is just 75 minutes long. But that’s enough. Tightly focused and intentionally restricted in its scope and aims, it follows in chronological order the course of the conflict, intercut with post facto interviews with Mohyeldin and Tadros. At the time both were reporting for Al Jazeera English. Mohyeldin was based in Gaza, but Tadros was there on an assignment to cover reactions to the election of US President Barack Obama.

With apparently free access to Al Jazeera footage of the attack, as well as images from the Palestinian news agency Ramattan, the film is extremely graphic and disturbing. Scenes include that of a mother and her two dead children lying side-by-side on a hospital floor; another man screaming with grief as the body of his little girl flops on a blanket; young men lying in the courtyard of a police station hit by Israeli air strikes, each with one hand raised as they say the final prayers of the dying. A victim of the horrific burns inflicted by illegal white phosphorous munitions (made in the US, fired by the Israeli military) lies in a hospital bed; huge pools of blood lie clotting on the steps of a school in Jabaliya refugee camp run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).

Icy fury

Less graphic but equally devastating is the interview footage. Rima, a beautiful and intensely dignified young mother, tells Tadros how her children no longer say they are afraid of dying — they just want to make sure that they die along with her so they’re not left alone. John Ging, then a leading figure in UNRWA, speaks with icy fury as desperately-needed food supplies burn behind him. And 16-year-old Ahmad Samouni’s face writhes in pain as he describes lying for days surrounded by the bodies of his family, waiting for the Israeli army to allow ambulances to fetch him.

Many viewers are perhaps now inured to the kind of violence we regularly see on YouTube and activist media, but to watch news media footage — where cameramen have often risked their lives to chase the most graphic images, and which has been edited and soundtracked for intensity and impact — for over an hour is hard to stomach, even now.

It is, then, something of a relief that the film intercuts the material from the attack on Gaza with extended interviews with Mohyeldin and Tadros. They reflect on the roles and responsibilities of journalists in such a situation, on their “anger” at finding that they were the only mainstream Western journalists reporting from inside Gaza, and on the personal impacts of covering such a horrific story.

“Where was the outrage?”

Mohyeldin, already a seasoned conflict reporter when he was posted to Gaza, is the more political one in his comments. He is patently furious at the Western media for their failure to adequately deliver to their audiences the truth of what he calls in the film “a story of great shame to humanity.” American and British news channels, he says, “neglected the story and then had the audacity to question the only journalists on the ground … they tried to spin it in a way that would marginalize or diminish what was happening.” He condemns the “silence of the international community. Where was the outrage?”

Tadros’s comments are more personal. A newcomer to frontline reporting, she is frank in saying that she will never put herself in that position again. Obviously hugely affected by the mothers and children she interviewed — in their homes and hospital beds — she recounts how, coming home to London after the attacks, she couldn’t hold her one-year-old nephew because she imagined blood seeping through his clothes. She also describes vividly the difficulty of facing death day after day, not from one’s own perspective, but from that of the family, thousands of miles away, who are powerless to help.

Tadros admits that during the attacks, Mohyeldin found her to be a “princess.” But behind-the-scenes footage shows a drained, haggard woman working 19 hours a day, snatching sleep on an office floor, desperate to achieve her role of showing the human impacts of a conflict which much of world was seeing only from Western reports in southern Israel or the insidious lies of Mark Regev and Avital Leibovich, chief mouthpieces for the Israeli government and military.

Specific aim

Ayman Mohyeldin, in a question and answer session following a screening of the film in Amman, acknowledged criticism of the documentary for its focus on two mainstream journalists, rather than telling the story from a Palestinian perspective. Although Mohyeldin has a Palestinian mother, he doesn’t labor this as a claim to authenticity. Instead, he insists that the film has a very specific aim — to speak to Western audiences, to use himself and Tadros, two Western journalists of Arab origin, as a bridge to the sympathies of Western viewers, and to “make people question their own media for not telling [the truth about the attacks].”

Ultimately, The War Around Us is a damning critique — from within the industry — of the Western media’s reporting of Palestine, as well as a powerful tool in the hands of Palestine solidarity campaigners. There is no way to walk away from this film not feeling angry and deeply distressed, but also with a visceral and fundamental grasp on the depth of Israel’s denial of the Palestinian right not only to life and liberty but, in Ayman Mohyeldin’s words, “of the right to aspire.”

For details of future screenings of The War Around Us, see http://thewararoundus.com.

Sarah Irving is a freelance writer. She worked with the International Solidarity Movement in the occupied West Bank in 2001-02 and with Olive Co-op, promoting fair trade Palestinian products and solidarity visits, in 2004-06. She is the author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine and co-author, with Sharyn Lock, of Gaza: Beneath the Bombs.

Comments

People ofter forget and it's good to remind that Vittorio Arrigoni (Italy) and Alberto Arce (Spain) were also reporting daily from Gaza for different media during the entire Cast Lead operation. They were also riding the Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances in order to document the situation and to try deter or reduce in a way the chances for the ambulances to be targeted by Israeli fire.

Will this film be coming otu in DVD as I doubt it will be screened in Tunisia anytime soon? I followed Ayman and Sherine constantly during the war on Gaza and greatly admired their work and their courage. I am really looking forward to seeing the film.

According to Mohyeldin and to the film's website, DVDs should be out by the end of this year.

I find this avoidance by the media also in Ireland, a country generally known to be pro Palestinian. I follow the Gaza situation only through internet postings - but rarely see anything on the Irish media - but some quality newspapers here occasionally refer to the Ships to Gaza campaign, only because of the Irish participants, perhaps? It's not just our own history of occupation that drives my interest; things were never this bad - but this is not just injustice; this is inhumanity. Israel has lost any right to be considered a civilized nation by its actions.

I watched the movie and i really respect what ayman and sherine went through in order to give us this chance 2 get a glimpse of what happened in gaza since the media AND MOST of the people only care about watching/covering football seasons ! Apparently a rubber ball is worth much more these days than hundreds of lives of innocent civilians ! And our common of policy of "I don't care coz that's thousands of miles away" is the reason to allow such massacres 2 happen 2 those innocent people ! The siege on gaza was only "a daily cup of tea" 2 the zionist bastards ! If u go through history u would probably through up of all the sick and savage massacres that not only people in gaza went through but also all palestanian in general , take the Sabra and chattiela massacre for example , thousands of palestanian REFUGEES were butchered in less than 48 hrs !!! Just talkin about it makes me feel sick , raged and sad at the same time due 2 all the silence !!! The world might get angry if they saw a small puppy being tortured on u-tube , and u would have 30 million viewers 2 that video with millions of angry comments ! But the life of a Palestinian child is not even worth the coverage !!! Isreal Breaks ALL kinds of international laws and yet no one even care !
However if a palestanian or even african or afghani or somali person holds a gun 2 protect his family he immediatly would be considered a Terrorist !? Could some plz tell me WHAT THE HECK are US troops doin in Afghanistan ?! Or Iraq !? Its on the other side of the freakin planet ! What я they doin there !? Its not their ground , not their issues so why sending innocent US troops to middle in ''some1 else's" business so they get killed for a " mission of spreading peace" or what ever ? If they really care for peace they wouldn't sell the phosphorus weapons 2 the Zionist , right ? Or they would send troops 2 palestine in order 2 free it from those cannibals , right !?
But I have 2 give it 2 all the few rare ones including honest journalists like ayman and sherine for putting their lives at risk to spread the real crimes of the savage zionist country , without such people I would say humanity is doomed .
From the bottom of my heart , Thank u Sherine u were so natural and urself , despite the fact that u wouldn't go back 2 cover such events , I totally understand what u been through , but that should even motivate u more 2 help those people In any possible way , since u я one of the representatives to the voice of freedom as a journalist .
And thank u Ayman , ur efforts я remarkable , I hope u keep on spreadin real stories of what really happens in palestine !
It was an honor to watch ur documentary , thank u and all the people who have helped 2 publish this story Including u Sarah :)

Maintain your rage Farah !
Keep your humanity .
One day - it is happening slowly,now - the world will say " Enough Israel, Enough."

I don't see how one can say there were only two English-language journalists there during the conflict. All the wire agencies have bureaus there staffed with local journos reporting in English for print, photos & television who did an outstanding job showing what was taking place. On top of that a number of western journalists made it in via Rafah to report on the situation.

The fact that the international media did not put in much effort to get the true story about what was happening in the Gaza strip most certainly a hypocrtical act...its undismissable

Israelis fear the truth about their nation. Americans are too complacant and are only interested in sound bites of news. The USA Congress has been bought off by pro-Israel lobbyist campaign contributions. As a result the news on Gaza is controlled by monied interests that choose to support Israel.

Speaking of Ayman,what's going on with him at NBC. Not only is he not reporting on the Egyptian Presidential election,he's not even tweeting about it. Couple that with Richard Engel's Ikhwanophobic coverage of the election for the network,it makes one wonder.