August 22, 2006

Gaza is Out

In my thank-you notes to readers who donated money via PayPal, I said I was planning a trip into Gaza with the IDF. As it turns out, this will not be possible and I can’t do anything about it. I don’t want to get into the specific reasons why this is, but I will say that that it has nothing to do with Israeli censorship of the media. As far as I know, there is no censorship of the media in this country at all. No one has pressured me in any way whatsoever aside from asking me politely (once) not to take pictures of a single front line military site during the war.

Sorry about missing Gaza. I tried. Maybe on my next trip when American journalists aren't being kidnapped. In the meantime, I will try to figure out what’s happening in there from a distance and report what I can.

UPDATE: Just so we're clear here (and I can see from the comments that this is not clear), I am being prevented from going into Gaza against my will. It's for security reasons, not for government media censorship reasons. That's just the way it is, and I cannot control it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 22, 2006 11:19 AM

Now look, just because you're a popular blog writing hero, don't go wandering around where you might get kidnapped. Oh sure, it may seem like a nice vacation, sitting around in the best hovel the Islamic extremists can afford with a lovely hand sewen bag on your head... but think of your readers. We'd be stuck reading one of those lesser bloggers while you were enjoying your amateur filmmaking and extremist hospitality (remember you can't spell hospitality without hospital!).

I just got back from vacation... two weeks in the middle ages and no news. I tell you its a double helping of Michael J Totten and Jon Stewart (the only two honest men in American Journalism) for me this week!

Posted by: Ratatosk at August 22, 2006 01:56 PM

Ratatosk: don't go wandering around where you might get kidnapped

I won't. I can't. I would only have gone with the IDF, and the plug is now pulled on that plan. It is v-e-r-y dangerous for American journalists in Gaza right now. Hamas (or some other murderous bastards who need to die yesterday) are creating a hostile work environment. Not much to be done about it.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 22, 2006 02:06 PM

MJT, it may help getting in touch with IDF soldiers who have been in Gaza, i.e. those in Southern Command. Obviously this will only provide you with the Israeli perspective, but as we have seen lately in mainstream news regarding Lebanon, some soldiers (mostly reserves) are open to criticizing the hierarchy for what they felt was poor strategy. If you present your blog to them, as it is sympathetic to the Israeli situation, they may be even more willing to talk.

Posted by: jjdynomite at August 22, 2006 02:27 PM

You can also talk with people on the ground who live near Gaza; I'm sure the folks in Sderot wouldn't mind discussing how it feels to have random Kassam rockets landing on them every couple of weeks.

I also have some relatives in a kibbutz that is about 5 km from the Gaza border, if you want to contact me (you have my info via paypal) I can put you in touch with them.

Posted by: jjdynomite at August 22, 2006 02:30 PM

So where to next? (I know you might not wanna answer that in public, but I ask anyway)

PS: Speaking of work environments for journalists, I heard a couple of ramblings from lebanese journalists (and a story on the LBC) about journalists being harassed and intimidated, both in the South and in Dahyeh (Beirut's Southern Suburbs).
(I give you one guess as to who the harasser might be).

I haven't seen much about that on the blogs or in the western media. Any info or comments about it, Michael? I'd be interested to read a story about that (even though you're not yourself in Lebanon)

Posted by: bad vilbel at August 22, 2006 02:43 PM

Too bad about Gaza; probably no Hamas West Bank, either?

I've been calling for peace between Israel & Lebanon, too -- I was hoping you would note that since 1948 and Lebanon's war against Israel, they have NOT had peace. Merely an Armistice.

I think Olmert should be mentioning how Lebanon makes it illegal for Leb people to talk with Israeli people. This is important and terrible and underdiscussed by the news.

I sincerely hope, especially for Lebanon's sake, that Israel doesn't lose another war.

I hope for the Palestinians that they learn from Hez how to "win" -- get everything they own bombed -- and decide not to go for that glory.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at August 22, 2006 02:48 PM


I no longer have your information via PayPal. I just cleaned out my cluttered inbox. Can you please email me again? Thanks!

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 22, 2006 02:59 PM

Bad Vilbel,

I read a snippet of Kevin Sites on Yahoo News this morning that describes his getting loudly chased away by a group of Shias, mostly women, only to notice before leaving a 10 yr old boy ready to throw a rock at him. And at another location he was swiped at by an irate SoLeb guy, but luckily only had his camera damaged. That's the only harassing I've read so far, but intuitively there must be numerous more not being reported. Which is rather understandable if the reporter is kinda sorta sympathetic to the Shia situation.

Posted by: allan at August 22, 2006 03:00 PM

Too bad about Gaza; probably no Hamas West Bank, either?

Nope. Not this trip. Palestinian terrorists are hunting American journalists right now. (Do they suck at garnering sympathy from the media or what?)

I will only go in with soldiers, and that isn't happening right now for a variety of bureaucratic and logistical reasons.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 22, 2006 03:04 PM

I should point out that no Israeli threatens or harrasses me in any way shape or form, period, ever. Yet Palestinian terrorists threaten to kidnap and kill me. It's not a big mystery why I sympathize with one side more than the other. Ideology has little to do with it. People who want to kill me aren't my friends. End of story.

An American leftist I know in Beirut had a favorite saying I really appreciate: "I get a lot less liberal when you want to kill me."

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 22, 2006 03:09 PM


I was not referring to random angry people glaring at journalists in the thick of the action. (I read Kevin Sites' piece too).

There was a story on the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. newscast last night (in arabic) about systematic harassment of journalists by Hezbollah in Dahieh and the South. I assume we're talking about journalists being threatened, asked not to take pictures, and having certain areas being off-limits, things of that nature.

In fact, during the same newscast, someone asked the President of Lebanon (Emile Lahoud) during his joint press conference with the Emir of Qatar about these "difficulties" journalists were having. Needless to say, Lahoud launched on some completly ridiculous tirade about how freedom of speech was protected in a democracy like Lebanon and blah blah blah... :)

Posted by: bad vilbel at August 22, 2006 03:10 PM

Bad Vilbel,

A member of Hezbollah, Hussein Naboulsi, threatened to kill me when I lived in Lebanon. That very same guy was shown on TV leading Anderson Cooper around by the nose in the Dahiyeh.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 22, 2006 03:13 PM


I remember your story about that event, and the open letter that ensued on your blog.

What a joke those guys are. "Sleek media" my ass...

Posted by: bad vilbel at August 22, 2006 03:24 PM

All right. I've think you've become overly paranoid since that Hizballah threat.

It's dangerous to visit the West Bank and Gaza, of course, but thousands of Westerners have done it, and will continue to do it without fear of getting kidnapped. Of course,the possibility of something happening exists, but there's an element of risk involved in any sort of foreign reporting. Journalists in Iraq are taking far more of a risk than you would in Gaza, and especially in the West Bank.

You're exagerrating the dangers posed by the bad guys in the region. That Hizballah guy implicity threatened to do something, but it's quite a stretch to say he threatened to kill you. It's pretty obvious he was mad and wanted to scare you, and he apparently suceeded. Yes, he's part of a terrorist group that does pose a danger, but the danger is minimal compared to the danger some other groups pose to journalists (e.g., in Iraq).

I don't think you'd be taking an unacceptable risk in visiting Gaza or the West Bank. Certainly, the benefits outweigh the risks if you want to look at it that way.

Posted by: Dan at August 22, 2006 03:33 PM


In case you are not aware, 2 Fox journalists were kidnapped in Gaza last week. I think Michael has every reason to wanna stay out of there right now.

The benefits outweigh the risks? What benefits exactly? :)

Posted by: bad vilbel at August 22, 2006 03:38 PM

Seriously, Dan, did you read the August 14, 2006 Time Magazine cover story "Life In Hell" about Iraq? Most journalists stay within the Green Zone, and the writer only travelled more freely because he was South Asian (Hindu) and blended in. Jill Carroll didn't blend in. Since the Israeli pull-out last summer, there is no Green Zone in Gaza. It is a de facto war zone.

MJT may be able to enter the West Bank, and I've just put him in touch with some contacts that might help him do so. MJT, you can reply to me directly and we'll figure out the next steps.

Posted by: jjdynomite at August 22, 2006 03:50 PM

It doe's seem that Dan is pretty free in being willing to place MT in jeopardy. Trusting any fanatical Islam group such as Hamas, Hezbo or others would be a bit extreme.

Very nice to see that MT is "Cautionally Skeptical" about what is, and what is not, feasible.


Posted by: Ron Snyder at August 22, 2006 04:36 PM

Dan appears to be pretty free in being willing to place MT in jeopardy. Trusting any fanatical Islam group such as Hamas, Hezbo or others would be a bit extreme under ordinary (not sure what that really means though) conditions; current times are anything but.

Very nice to see that MT is "Cautionally Skeptical" about what is, and what is not, feasible.

One event I am looking for is MT to have an hour-long interview with Brian Lamb on CSPAN!


Posted by: Ron Snyder at August 22, 2006 04:39 PM

If MSM reporters complete with all kinds of network support and safety escorts are getting picked off, what on earth do you think is going to stop these bastards for grabbing MJT? They DO know who he is, they HAVE threatened him before, and they DON'T have any qualms about looking bad in the media, clearly. Big talk Pooh-poohing MJT’s very logical reasons for not setting himself up for a kidnapping. He is there, you (presumably) are not. He also is there on his own dime and merit, not some big media outlet, so he has much to lose besides the little matter of his LIFE if he is grabbed. No big bucks to leverage for release. Lets see you go into Gaza and report. Then your comments will carry a bit more weight.

Keep up the good work Michael, and come home safe!

Posted by: Lindsey at August 22, 2006 04:58 PM

The point is not that it could be dangerous. Reporting from conflict zones is dangerous. The point is that there's little point creating "dispatches" from completely safe places - anyone can do that.

Sure, you can go to a town near Gaza and get peoples' opinions on terrorist attacks against them. What sort of insight would you gain from this? Yup, they hate terrorists all right. Do they like rockets? Nope.

Great material...

The best strategy is to go in, and be careful. It's not too hard for a westerner to blend in the area. The only danger is being mistaken for an Israeli - but ironically, in the worst areas (e.g., refugee camps) you'll be safest because nobody will imagine that an Israeli would come there.

I'm not trying to encourage anyone to risk their lives. The fact is that it's not as dangerous as you think. The Israelis will tell you that it's suicidal, "not a good time to go," etc. But they're exagerrating the danger to scare you off. Yes, they have good intentions, but it doesn't mean that they're correct.

An american getting killed by terrorists is an extremely unlikely thing. Kidnapped is possible - but apart from these Fox News guys, I can't remeber any time when they held a Westerner longer than a few days.

The vast majority of vistors to the territories have no problem at all. And as much as terrorist groups are popular in these areas, once politics is left out you'd be surprised at how friendly the people are. If anything, they expect Americans to be hostile to and contemptuous of them. So obviously don't voice pro-Israel views or call them terrorists etc.

Yes, I speak from experience. I've been to both places. No problems at all. In every case, the Israeli authorities had strongly warned me against going.

Posted by: Dan at August 22, 2006 05:01 PM

Dan, thanks for noting your experience. It adds huge credibility -- but I think there is a timing mismatch, right now. Hamas fighters are actively killing and being killed by Israelis, who just detained another Hamas/ Palestinian official.

I think other times were safer. Do you know any Americans now (last two weeks) in Gaza? Journalists? Even if yes, yes, I prefer MJT to remain only in comfortable risk.

You make a good point "it's not as dangerous as you think". Probably most readers have driven drunk, safely, er, without accidents, in the past.

1 in 100 000; 1 in 1 000; 1 in 100. What is safe?
(What is the one-time drunk driving chance of accident?) We don't quantify personal risk often enough.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at August 22, 2006 05:44 PM

I understand it is not impossible or terribly unsafe even now to get into a very few West Bank towns such as Bethlehem or Jericho as long as you make arrangements with a good Arab guide. I suspect you have contacts who can help you, if not, I can track down some starter info, probably. But since an Italian was killed in the Arab section of Jerusalem last week or so, the 2 journalists in Gaza, the molotovs and rocks being thrown around Qalkilya -- to heck with the Pals. Hey -- how about heading to Ben Gurion University and talking to some of the Beduin women medical students, see what they think. That's an amazing program.

I would much rather you REALLY tell us what's up with the reservists who are making waves -- I am so hoping something will come of their legitimate outrage and it won't get siphoned off and frittered away.

In Anderson Cooper's defense -- on his blog he clearly stated their Beirut videos were stage-managed by Hezbollah, under threat of... well, under threat.

Be safe -- do good work!

Posted by: Pam at August 22, 2006 10:24 PM

When I was in Jerusalem, my cousin's best friend was kidnapped from his home and taken to the west bank by Palestinians. The motivation was criminal - the palis demanded a ransom for his safe return. He was able to escape from his kidnappers as they were not well organised. Once he got out of the place he was being held (in the heart of the west bank), some other Palestinians gave him a lift to a police station and he was safe from there.

Also, when I was in Israel, an Israeli guy went into Jenin to change the tires on his car (apparently new car tires are cheaper in Jenin) and when he got out of his car he was stoned to death.

Posted by: jonny at August 22, 2006 11:19 PM

Dan: All right. I've think you've become overly paranoid since that Hizballah threat.

No, I am actually being prevented from going into Gaza against my will. Long story. Don't ask. I knew all about the kidnapping threat while I was trying to make this happen.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 23, 2006 12:15 AM

I think the most important under-reported story is how many potentially moderate Palestinians are murdered by fascist Palestinians, intimidating all others.

Could you consider asking Israelis why they don't keep better track of the Palestinians being murdered? Or, maybe they do and I don't know?

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at August 23, 2006 12:21 AM

"I am being prevented from going into Gaza against my will. It's for security reasons, not for government media censorship reasons. That's just the way it is, and I cannot control it."

Yeah, I'm also married.

Posted by: maor at August 23, 2006 02:54 AM

Stop trying to figure it out! It's not because I'm married. Nor is it my mother.

The only people who will be able to figure this out are foreign correspondents. Everyone else will be wrong. Sorry I can't be more specific right now.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 23, 2006 02:57 AM

It's obviously unsafe to go, at least now. I think Michael's been not nearly risk-averse enough in the past, given that he's made it clear that he's not easily manipulable, unlike many (most?) MSM reports -- see Nick Robertson, say.

Posted by: Joel Rosenberg at August 23, 2006 06:58 AM

Stop trying to figure it out! It's not because I'm married.

It's because he's under threat by a Discordian Squirrel... do you think he'd dare go over there and risk upsetting a child of Eris? I mean, she obviously playing around there quite a bit right now....

Posted by: Ratatosk at August 23, 2006 10:16 AM

Mike, shame you can't go to Gaza, but such is life. You're right - kidnapping journalists is quite the stupid way to draw support for your cause.
No one really controls Gaza. The strongest groups can only defend themselves. Most of the kidnappings have been inchoate groups interested in cash. Gaza is like Somalia.

Of course, it's been under occupation for 40 years and free for a month, so that's par for the course, frankly.

Funny thing happened in Somalia last month.. not that I'm drawing parallels.

Posted by: glasnost at August 23, 2006 03:14 PM

Nor is it my mother.

So I assume you're not jewish then.

Posted by: jonny at August 23, 2006 08:59 PM

"Stop trying to figure it out! It's not because I'm married. Nor is it my mother."

Don't worry, I'm not seriously speculating about it. It's just that those words felt awfully familiar.

Posted by: maor at August 24, 2006 12:50 AM

>>>"Just so we're clear here, I am being prevented from going into Gaza against my will."

Shorter MJT: My wife said no.

Posted by: Carlos at August 24, 2006 10:31 AM
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