Today, Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of the of The Jewish Daily Forward wrote a piece called “Why the Forward Sent a Brave Reporter to Gaza,” in which she described the decision to send their Middle East correspondent, Naomi Zeveloff, to Gaza for a three day reporting trip. She writes that the decision to send Zeveloff, who is Jewish, was “mulled over for many months” and required “complex planning.”
Eisner’s assumption is that Gaza is a dangerous place for a Jewish journalist to visit, even for a couple of interviews on a subject as non-controversial as psychological trauma. This viewpoint is shared by Eisner’s colleague at the Forward, JJ Goldberg, who put it into blunt terms last summer while debating The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah on Democracy Now!, claiming “I’d be shot” upon stepping foot into Gaza. Ironically, Goldberg’s claim is a succinct description of Israel’s “buffer zone” policy, in which any Palestinian who walks within a loosely-interpreted 300 meters of the border is shot by an Israeli soldier or remote-control machine gun.
As a journalist who happens to be Jewish and having spent almost four months on the ground in Gaza including the last weeks of the war last summer, it is clear to me that Eisner knows nothing of reality on the ground in Gaza. More than anything else, Eisner’s hysteria over sending Zeveloff to a place where journalists – Jewish and gentile — make regular visits, exposes her anti-Palestinian racism.
Eisner wrote about a rocket launch Zeveloff heard while she sat in a beachside hotel as “a frightening introduction to everyday life in Gaza.” Zeveloff featured a quote from an interviewee saying the rocket is the “soundtrack” to Gaza.
Since the final ceasefire last summer, however, rockets have been few and far between. If there is a soundtrack to Gaza, it is the incessant hum of drones and roar of F16s punctuated by Israeli gunfire and the laughter of children.
This is not to say there is no element of danger in Gaza. I can recall several moments when I was fearful. However, these instances were results of Israeli violence. For instance, in mid-May, I attended a Nakba Day demonstration where unarmed Palestinian protesters marched towards the Nahal Oz border crossing and Israeli soldiers immediately shot three people in the legs just a few meters away from me (as JJ Goldberg projected). I spent many days walking around on ruins on homes, fully aware of the possibility of detonation of an Israeli ordnance buried under the rubble. I went into the buffer zone, knowing that the only thing protecting me was the soldier tasked with choosing who to shoot recognizing that I am not Palestinian.
But the danger from Israeli violence doesn’t end in the Gaza Strip. Last year I was used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers while photographing in Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp, and that night was held at gunpoint by Israeli soldiers who then threw a flash grenade as they released me. I’ve been repeatedly threatened and spit on at right-wing Israeli demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Eisner’s anti-Palestinian racism reinforces the propaganda of the Israeli government and groups like the Anti-Defamation League, who published a survey claiming the Gaza Strip and West Bank are the world’s epicenter of anti-Semitism — a study so deeply flawed that the Forward itself published a short critique of it.
In my experience, if Palestinians in Gaza pose a threat to the health of professional journalists who happen to be Jewish, it’s only by offering too much food and sweets.
Editor’s Note: Dan Cohen incorrectly stated that Naomi Zeveloff’s article did not mention the subsequent Israeli bombing after the rocket she witnessed. This article has been updated to reflect that.