Official: Israel to release prisoner after 22 years

Al-Jadeli, who is from al-Bureij camp, has served his full sentence.

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Israeli authorities will release a prisoner who has served a 22-year sentence in Israeli jails, an official in the ministry of detainee affairs said Tuesday.

Suheel al-Jadeli, 39, was detained aged 17 and sentenced to 22 years by an Israeli military court. He was accused of involvement in the killing of an Israeli soldier in al-Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip during the first intifada, said Abed al-Nasser Farawneh.

Al-Jadeli, who is from al-Bureij camp, has served his full sentence.

Farawneh said there were 27 prisoners from Gaza in Israeli jails who were detained before the 1993 Oslo accords.

He urged institutions and residents to arrange welcoming events for al-Jadeli on his return to Gaza after more than two decades.

( / 25.09.2012)

Palestinians set for Pyrrhic victory in United Nations

President Mahmoud Abbas attends a PLO meeting in the West  Bank city of Ramallah
RAMALLAH (Reuters) — If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.After failing last year to win recognition of full statehood at the United Nations, President Mahmoud Abbas returns to New York on Thursday to ask the General Assembly for a less ambitious status upgrade.

This time around, he looks certain to get his way, but the resolution he plans won’t bring independence any nearer. It will also anger the United States and Israel, which is likely to retaliate with painful economic countermeasures.

So why is he doing it?

The fact that Abbas believes the best way forward for the Palestinian cause lies in diplomatic gestures thousands of miles from home underscores the dearth of decent ideas to end 64 years of unresolved conflict.

“The Palestinians don’t have strategy, nor do the Israelis or even the Americans,” said Aaron David Miller, a former senior State Department adviser on the Middle East peace process, now at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

“The strategy is getting by and trying to prevent a blow-up. But one day there will be a blow-up and … sadly, the situation is going to get worse before it gets worse.”

In an indication of how things could degenerate, thousands of Palestinians this month attacked their own security forces in the cities of Hebron and Nablus in the occupied West Bank in a protest over the high cost of living.

The Palestinian Authority scrambled to defuse the crisis, rolling back tax hikes, while Israel looked on in alarm, aware that tensions are growing after years of stalemate in official peace-making.

There have been no direct talks since 2010, when the Palestinians refused to resume negotiations unless Israel suspended settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which they say is killing off all chances of them ever creating a coherent state.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday the so-called two-state solution was the only sustainable option for peace, but that the continued growth of Israeli settlements meant that “the door may be closing, for good”.


In 2011, when Abbas bid for full UN statehood, there was excitement in the West Bank. Posters trumpeting the drive hung from lampposts and a giant wooden chair was erected in the city of Ramallah to symbolize the UN seat the Palestinians wanted.

Predictably, the request wilted in the face of fierce US opposition, and the chair collapsed during a winter storm.

Twelve months on, there is no repeat of last year’s eager anticipation as Abbas readies his more modest bid to raise the Palestinians’ UN status from “observer entity” to “observer state” – the same rank as that granted to the Vatican.

“We deserve to become a fully recognized state, not this halfway step. We don’t understand what it means or what it will achieve,” said Manal Hassan, 26, a part-time school teacher in Ramallah, reflecting widespread apathy across the West Bank.

In fact, the revised UN push could make life much more uncomfortable for the Israelis, even if it won’t bring any immediate change to the situation on the ground.

Being registered as a state rather than an entity means the Palestinians will be able to join bodies such as the International Criminal Court and file a raft of complaints against Israel for its continued occupation.

“This will help level the playing field,” veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters last week.

He said the change would be voted on before the end of the year. The US has no veto in the General Assembly, where some 120 of the 193 member nations have already recognized Palestine as a state.

The Israelis have already signaled their concern.

“I don’t pretend this is good for us, but it will be worse for them,” Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor told reporters in Jerusalem on Monday. “This is an easy and a wrong way out.”

Israeli officials have indicated in private that one likely reprisal would be to hold back tax revenues the Jewish state collects on behalf of the Palestinians, which account for around two-thirds of their overall revenues.

Pro-Israeli politicians in Congress froze some $200 million of badly needed aid for the Palestinians in retaliation for last year’s UN drive, and are likely to up the pressure once more.

Economy in trouble

Both states will have to calibrate their reaction carefully.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund issued grim reports this month on the state of the Palestinian economy, warning of social upheaval unless foreign funding increases and Israel eases long-standing curbs on development.

Indeed, Israel has moved this month to prop up the West Bank economy, hastening the transfer of funds to the PA and offering 5,000 more permits to allow Palestinians to work in Israel, where wages are higher than in their own territories.

Israel believes the path to statehood lies through direct talks and says unilateral moves are in violation of the 1993 Oslo accords, which were intended to path the way to a “final status agreement” within five years.

The Palestinians say rampant settlement building has all but destroyed their chances of creating a coherent state.

Abbas instructed his political allies this month to examine the possibility of scrapping Oslo and renouncing their partial control over the West Bank, effectively handing all the territory back to Israel and upping the cost of the occupation.

Analysts rule out such a drastic step, but say the fact that he is raising it shows how the options are narrowing for Abbas, who has long since lost control of Gaza to the Islamist militant group Hamas, and whose own electoral mandate expired in 2009.

“The leadership has been unable to deliver to the public on anything,” said Ghassan Khatib, former spokesman for PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and now a lecturer in contemporary Arab studies at Birzeit University.

Khatib even doubts whether Abbas will deliver in the United Nations, believing that he might pull back before a vote to give more space to whoever wins the US presidential election in November to contrive a final diplomatic push with the Israelis.

Western diplomats in Israel agree that Abbas is under huge external pressure to shun a UN resolution, and say time is running out.

“We are concerned that if he pushes forward with this, then the United States will simply walk away from the issue,” one senior diplomat said. “Without direct talks, our assessment is the two-state solution could be dead within 18 months.”

(Crispian Balmer / / 25.09.2012)

Syrian War’s Spillover Threatens a Fragile Iraq

A Free Syrian Army soldier in Aleppo looks through a mirror that helps him see government troops.


BAGHDAD — The civil war in Syria is testing Iraq’s fragile society and fledgling democracy, worsening sectarian tensions, pushing Iraq closer to Iran and highlighting security shortcomings just nine months after American forces ended their long and costly occupation here.

Syrian refugees arrived at a camp in Anbar Province, Iraq, in August. Iraq’s leader is now ordering guards to block adult men.

Fearing that Iraq’s insurgents will unite with extremists in Syria to wage a two-front battle for Sunni dominance, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki recently ordered guards at the western border to block adult men, even husbands and fathers with families in tow, from crossing into Iraq along with thousands of refugees seeking to escape the grinding war next door.

Farther north, Iraqi officials have another concern, also related to the fighting across the border. Turkish warplanes have stepped up attacks on the mountain hide-outs of Kurdish insurgents galvanized by the war in Syria, underscoring Iraq’s inability to control its own airspace.

The hardening of the antagonists’ positions in Syria — reverberating across Iraq — was made clear Monday at the United Nations when the new special envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, gave a bleak appraisal of the conflict to the Security Council and said he saw no prospect for a breakthrough anytime soon.

The Syrian war’s spillover has called attention to uncomfortable realities for American officials: despite nearly nine years of military engagement, an effort that continues today with a $19 billion weapons sales program, Iraq’s security is uncertain and its alliance with the theocratic government in Tehran is growing. Iraq’s Shiite-dominated leadership is so worried about a victory by Sunni radicals in Syria that it has moved closer to Iran, which shares a similar interest in supporting the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

There is already some indication that Sunni insurgents in Iraq have tried to coordinate with Syrian fighters to set off a regional sectarian war, Iraqi tribal leaders said.

“Fighters from Anbar went there to support their sect, the Sunnis,” said Sheik Hamid al-Hayes, a tribal leader in Anbar Province, in western Iraq, who once led a group of former insurgents who switched sides and joined the Americans in fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq.

In response, the United States has tried to secure its interests in Iraq. It has unsuccessfully pressed Iraq to halt flights from Iran that traverse Iraqi airspace to ferry weapons and fighters to the Assad government, although The Associated Press reported that over the weekend a government spokesman said Iraq would begin random searches of Iranian aircraft.

While some Congressional leaders have threatened to cut off aid to Iraq if the flights do not stop, the United States is trying to speed up weapons sales to Iraq to secure it as an ally, said Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., the American commander in charge of that effort. As regional security deteriorates, the United States is finding it hard to deliver the weapons — especially antiaircraft systems — quickly enough to satisfy the Iraqis, who in some cases are looking elsewhere, including Russia.

“Although they want a strategic partnership with the United States, they recognize the vulnerability, and they are interested in going with the nation that will be able to provide them, and meet their need, their capabilities gap, as quickly as possible,” said General Caslen, who oversees a Pentagon office here, under the authority of the American Embassy, that brokers weapons sales to Iraq.

The United States is providing Iraq with refurbished antiaircraft guns, free of charge, but they will not arrive until June. In the meantime, the Iraqis have collected cold war-era missiles found in a junkyard on an air base north of Baghdad, and they are trying to get them in working order. Iraq is negotiating with Russia to buy air defense systems that could be delivered much more quickly than those bought from the United States.

“Iraq recognizes they don’t control their airspace, and they are very sensitive to that,” General Caslen said. Each time Turkish fighter jets enter Iraq’s airspace to bomb Kurdish targets, he said, Iraqi officials “see it, they know it and they resent it.”

Iskander Witwit, a former Iraqi Air Force officer and member of Parliament’s security committee, said, “God willing, we will be arming Iraq with weapons to be able to shoot down those planes.”

The American military withdrew at the end of last year after negotiations for an extended troop presence collapsed because the Iraqis would not agree to extend legal immunities to any remaining force. Once the Americans left, Iraq celebrated its sovereignty, even as military officials in both countries fretted about the deficiencies of Iraq’s military and sought ways to work together that would not require a public debate about immunities.

Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to General Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence.

So even as the country leans closer to Iran and contemplates buying weapons from Russia, it still seeks the military support of the United States. This is because Iraq is still facing a potent insurgency whose frequent recent attacks have raised questions about the ability of Iraq’s counterterrorism forces to face the threat.

In Anbar, said Mr. Hayes, the tribal leader, insurgents have created Al Qaeda-affiliated units under the name the Free Iraqi Army, to mimic the banner under which Syrian Sunnis are fighting. “They are having meetings and are recruiting,” he said. The group also has a Twitter account and a Facebook page.

Similar units have sprouted in Diyala Province, and they have used a call to arms in Syria as a recruitment tool, according to local officials. When fighters die in Syria, local families hold funerals in secret so as not to alert the Shiite-dominated security forces that they have sent their sons to Syria. One such recent funeral was held on the pretext that the fallen fighter had died in a car crash in Jordan, and not, as had actually happened, in fighting in Aleppo, according to a local intelligence officer.

As Western policy makers consider intervention in Syria, they worry that country’s war could turn into a full-blown sectarian conflict like the one that engulfed Iraq from 2005 to 2007. For Iraqis who fled to Syria and are now returning, not by choice but to save their own lives, Syria already is Iraq.

“It’s exactly like it was in Iraq,” said Zina Ritha, 29, who returned to Baghdad after several years in Damascus. Referring to the Free Syrian Army, Ms. Ritha said: “The F.S.A. is destroying Shia houses. They are kidnapping people, especially the Iraqis and the Shia.”

On a recent morning, Ms. Ritha and her mother-in-law visited a center for returnees here, where families collect a payment of four million Iraqi dinars, or about $3,400, from the government. For Iraqis in Syria, people at the center said, there is no security. Shiites are attacked by rebels, Sunnis by government forces. And at any time they can be targeted just for being foreigners.

Abdul Jabbar Sattar, a single man in his 40s, is Sunni. After a bombing in Damascus that killed several top security officials in July, his neighborhood endured round-the-clock shelling. He returned to Iraq with one set of clothes, and little money, having been robbed as he fled.

“It’s the same situation as it used to be in Iraq,” he said. “Everyone is afraid of one another.”

( / 25.09.2012)

Occupation plans to demolish 3,700 houses in Silwan


OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, (PIC)– The Committee for the Defense of Silwan said that the Israeli municipality in Jerusalem plans to demolish 3,727 homes in Jerusalem houaing 1,500 Jerusalemites a prelude to establish Talmudic gardens in the town.

Meir Margaret, Israeli member of the Jerusalem Municipal Council, has informed the committee that the municipality has been discussing demolishing houses in Silwan in the presence of police officers, contractors and housing associations, the Committee’s Chairman, Fakhri Abu Diab, said.

Abu Diab told Safa news agency, on Sunday, that the occupation started handing the demolition orders on houses extensively since the beginning of this month in order to complete administrative and legal measures to start demolition operations.

The municipality handed on Sunday randomly 10 demolition notices not issued by the Israeli court for the demolition of 10 Jerusalemite houses built since more than a decade in the town of Silwan.

Abu Diab, owner of one of the houses threatened with demolition, said that Jerusalem municipality and the Israeli police continue terrorizing the Jerusalemites in Silwan in order not to protest against the demolition of their homes.

( / 25.09.2012)

European delegation to visit West Bank, East Jerusalem

BRUSSELS (Ma’an) – A delegation representing the European Free Alliance Group in the European Parliament is scheduled to visit the West Bank and East Jerusalem at the beginning of October.

A joint statement by the EFL and the council for Palestinian European Relations said the delegation would consist of 15 European dignitaries.

The EFL reported on its website that EFA MEPs François Alfonsi, Jill Evans and Ana Miranda will visit the West Bank and East Jerusalem at the beginning of October.

The fact-finding mission aims to get a first hand view of the challenges facing people in their daily lives as they deal with the effects of occupation including settlement building and checkpoints.

As well as viewing the effects of settlement building for themselves, they will visit a refugee camp and hold meetings with local politicians and NGOs.

( / 25.09.2012)

Israeli forces arrest 16 across West Bank

Israeli forces pictured making an arrest

NABLUS (Ma’an) — Israeli forces arrested 16 people in the West Bank overnight, locals and Israel’s army said.

Witnesses said Moussa Ali al-Adam, 32, Iyad al-Hroub, 32, Ali Mahmou al-Hroub, 34, Majdhi Rajeh al-Hroub, and Ali Mahmoud Abu Warda were arrested in Hebron after Israeli forces raided several houses.

Muhammad Said, 22, and Lutfi Hassan Arafat, 19, were arrested during a raid by soldiers on Balata refugee camp in Nablus, locals said.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said 12 people were arrested in Nablus and four in Hebron.

( / 25.09.2012)

Back in Gaza with Max Igan & the Samouni Family

When I came to Gaza in November 2011 I planned to stay for 2 months maximum, at least that was the deal I made with my pregnant wife.  But as happens Palestine has a way of seducing you, and in my case the Egyptian authorities have a way of imprisoning you, so my stay lasted 6 months rather than 2.  In turn I ended up missing the birth of our second child.

Although I planned to film 30 separate family profiles here in Gaza, to have these families tell their story directly to a western audience, I did not plan to meet the Samouni family as their story had been told many times before.  Fate had other plans however and this meeting was arranged without my knowledge.

Back in Gaza with the Samouni kids

It is ironic how unplanned events often impact your life far more than those that are planned.  Before you know it you are taken down a path of which the universe, God, some unknowable force is clearly in charge, we become but a passenger.  Meeting the Samouni family has been like that, it has caused a chain reaction of events that has dominated my life for the last 18 months.  In that time I have known the greatest of joy, the joy of receiving a child’s smile upon your return for instance.  I cannot guess at the amount of smiles reciprocated with the Samouni kids and yet the joy it produces never diminishes.

What is a child’s smile worth?

In the last 18 months I have also known rage, primarily from the betrayal of those I trusted.  To trust is to love, it is expose one’s underbelly in the interest of union.  It is the cornerstone of partnership, it is essential for any significant progress in effecting a better world.  Those that are afraid to trust, to love, will never know the joy of love, and my willingness to trust has been one of the greatest sources of the immense blessings I have known.  I have no regrets, even with the betrayals.

Max Igan meets the Samouni kids

So the price one inevitably pays for misplaced trust is to be praised one day, and then slandered with the most filthy lies the next.  This is the tactic of infiltration, get inside, develop trust, establish an apparently credible basis to defame the target, then attack.  For me this extends not just about me, but of my wife, my mother and even my children who have been called “illegitimate”.  I have even seen Palestinians create a Facebook page designed purely for the purpose of defaming me (a blatant violation of Facebook’s duplicitous, Israel slanted policies).  I have been unlawfully arrested by the UK police, my family home has been violated and my property stolen by thieves in uniform.  And yet I am grateful for it all because it is in these greatest of challenges, the injustices, that one finds the greatest opportunities to grow, to become wiser and stronger.

I am grateful because through the joy and through the hardship I have never lost sight of how blessed I am.  When I look back at my life there is such richness in the stories I have accumulated and the friendships I have developed.  I have thought with my heart more than with my head and in a world of collective insanity I realised long ago that popularity and approval is not what a content and honourable life generally provides, in fact it almost never does.  The path of popularity is not for me, it is self-respect, service to life, commitment to truth and justice that I am committed to. The hardship, ridicule and slander is all part of the path and ultimately can only be overcome by steadfastness and love, love of truth, love of justice, and ultimately love of peace.

Indeed I have taken the path less travelled by and without doubt this has made all the difference.  This path has lead me back to Gaza, and as potentially dangerous as this path is it doesn’t really matter, if my mortal life ends today I will leave behind an example of what blessings await those that “think” with their heart and more importantly, act in accord with their heart.

So I am back in Gaza, and I am back with the Samouni family.  What we have shared is what we shared before, love.  If the full truth be known about all that has been employed to tear or relationship apart it could be made into a movie.  Even a prominent human rights organisation has  been advising the Samouni family to divorce themselves of me because I was all that I was accused of being by the slanderers.  What makes this shocking is that this “human rights” organisation indicted me based on one source and one source alone, Facebook!

This organisation went even further to pressure the Samouni family to press charges against me.  When the family asked for one simple thing, evidence, this organisation refused.  Indeed this has been the judge of me for many, Facebook.  What does this say about some of the so-called “friends” of Palestine, that they are so incredibly stupid as to validate a known CIA/Zionist tool as a source to crucify one of Palestine’s most easily verified allies?

What I find myself saying more and more about the plight of the Palestinians is, “with friends like these, who needs enemies.”

Between the human rights organisation and the corrupt UK police and court system and Zionist agents online and importantly, the idiots who give credence to all of the above, it is safe to say that the only thing that has truly protected me is integrity.  And the only thing that will save the Samouni Project and the educational program it entails is steadfastness.  And even if these poor, poor human beings who wish otherwise were to succeed, I will die with my integrity as it is not subject to the whims of a human society that is, literally, collectively insane to the point that we remain on the brink of the human caused end of the world as we know it.

But make no mistake at all, those who have instigated baseless slander against me, those that have stolen resources for the Samouni Project, Aloha Palestine, Trade Not Aid, those that have been stupid enough to propagate lies without any critical thought, have not attacked me primarily, they have attacked Palestine and in particular, the Samouni family.  A massive amount of effort has been invested in destroying the trust between myself and the Samouni family, it has not worked.  I remain a loved member of this family and I love this family as if they were my blood.

In the next few days prepare to feel the joy I am feeling with me, as something beautiful is about to happen here in Gaza.

( / 25.09.2012)

Sailing returns to Gaza shores

A man stands next to fishing nets at the Gaza seaport May 19, 2012.

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Twelve-year-old Darin Kabariti says she feels completely free when she launches her sailboat off the Gaza coast.

Kabariti, from Gaza City, is thought to be the youngest girl in the coastal strip to take part in a revival of sailing.

The sport was popular in the 1960s and 1970s, but has dropped off in the intervening years, Sailing and Surfing Association head Mahfouth Kabariti said.

In 2006, he co-founded the association in order to revive the sport. After contacts with a similar group in Qatar, the Gulf state shipped 10 small sailing boats to Gaza to support the initiative.

But Hamas also won elections in 2006, and after a year of being shunned by the world community, ousted Fatah from the Gaza Strip, prompting Israel to tighten its blockade on Gaza.

The donated Qatari boats lay in a Mediterranean port for four years, finally arriving in the Gaza Strip last week.

In just a few days Kabarati has been training young Palestinian men and women to use the dinghies and small sailboats.

“The trainees have amazed us with their potential,” he said.

For some, the sport is more than a hobby, Kabariti said, noting that a Gazan sailor will compete in a sailing championship in Qatar in October.

( / 25.09.2012)

Official Israel government Twitter account joins partisan attacks on Obam

Surrounded by Israel lobbyists, including past and current chairmen of AIPAC, President Barack Obama signs the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act in the Oval Office, 27 July 2012.

Given the backlash over his apparent meddling in the US presidential election campaign, you might think that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would back off.

Instead, the official Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) account tweeted this morning, “Israeli official: Obama doesn’t give us same sense Clinton did that he’ll be there if things go bad.”

Israeli official: Obama doesn’t give us same sense Clinton did that he’ll be there if things go bad – Times of

Article on The Times of Israel website, which actually reports on the controversy over Israeli interference in the US election, including this passage:

Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, meanwhile, wondered aloud if Netanyahu was acting to support Republican candidate Mitt Romney. “And he’s making a mistake if he is,” Frank said. “I think it was unwise for him to do as much. I think they’ve pulled back a little bit.”

Well, the GPO tweet demonstrates that Netanyahu hasn’t pulled back at all. This is a story planted by the Israeli government and then tweeted by it.


The renewed attack on Obama comes after the president appeared on the CBS program 60 Minutes on Sunday and dismissed intense pressure from the Israel lobby to take an even more aggressive stance toward Iran as “noise,” amid continued Republican attacks that Obama has not been sufficiently pro-Israel.

The Clinton Standard: Is Obama ready to “get in a ditch, and fight and die” for Israel?

The fact is that Obama has been the most substantively pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian president in history, consistently refusing to hold Israel accountable for any of its crimes, including blocking UN action on Israel’s 2008-2009 attack on Gaza, and boasting of “unprecedented levels” of US aid to Israel amid an economic crisis, and while Israel continually steals occupied Palestinian land for settlements.

So it is not surprising that the Israeli “official” quoted in the The Times of Israel can only point to a “feeling” that Obama is not pro-Israel enough:

“President Clinton made us feel like he had our back [at Camp David]. When we made concessions that were greater than anything an Israeli government had ever offered, we felt he’d be there if things went bad. Would he have been there? I don’t know. But it felt that way, and it put us in a different frame of mind. President Obama doesn’t give us the same sense that he’d be there.”

This official does not believe Obama is uniquely unfriendly toward Israel, noting, “He just doesn’t seem to make friends. Not with anyone. He isn’t friendly with David Cameron either.”

So what could make the Israelis “feel” that Obama is as pro-Israel as Clinton. Remember Clinton’s famous comments in 2002:

Because Israel believes, when it comes right down to it America is the only big country that cares whether they live or die. That’s why I can say, give up the West Bank, because the Israelis knew that if the Iraqi or the Iranian army came across the Jordan river, I would personally grab a rifle, get in a ditch, and fight and die, and I would.

That’s a pretty extraordinary statement for a former president of the United States, especially one notorious for his draft-dodging during the Vietnam war. But it sets a standard Obama will be hard-pressed to meet, even though he has been trying to appeaseAIPAC and the rest of the Israel lobby for years.

GPO’s earlier mischief

A Reminder: This isn’t the first time the GPO account is used for mischief. Last year it disseminated the Marc3Pax hoax, something for which it had to apologize once it was busted, claiming it was “duped.”

The “Gay activist” video was an apparent hoax and we were duped. The GPO tries to verify beforehand and does sincerely apologize.

( / 25.09.2012)

Resources for Freelance Journalists in Conflict Zones

Conflict reporters play an important role in our understanding of the world, but it can be dangerous and difficult work.


A reporter visits the ransacked U.S. embassy in Tripoli during the Libyan civil war.

I don’t know the first thing about conflict reporting. The closest I’ve ever come was covering a clash between protesters and riot police in Cairo, which I found difficult and disorienting enough to know that it was not for me. My work takes place behind a computer monitor, underneath an air conditioning vent, and never more than 20 feet from a coffee maker.

But I am deeply reliant on actual conflict reporters, and not just for my work. So is anyone who cares about what’s happening in the world, votes in elections, knows someone in the military, or works in an industry with interests abroad. I have also been very lucky in that my work has brought me into frequent contact with conflict reporters, affording me a front-row view of the bravery, curiosity, and sense of purpose that sends them hurtling into the places where they are needed most.
So I was particularly upset when Austin Tice, a 31-year-old freelance reporter who had landed in Syria in May, went missing. Tice, who I have not worked with, has not been heard from in over a month. The State Department is working through the miraculously still-open Czech embassy there to find him, but has been unable to confirm reports that he is held by the Syrian government.
“Please quit telling me to be safe,” Tice wrote on his Facebook page in late July, attempting to explain the “pioneering spirit” that he said had led him into Syria, though he had no experience reporting abroad or with the Arab world. “And look, if you still don’t get it, go read Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. That book explains it all better than I ever could,” he concluded, referencing the 1940 novel about a Montanan who dies fighting in the Spanish civil war.
Conflict zones are dangerous, Syria particularly. I have no way to judge whether Tice had the appropriate skills or knowledge to venture into Syria, partly because I don’t know Tice and partly because I am ignorant of what it takes to report from inside a war. But one thing I have noticed in two years of working with freelance reporters is that, with the state of the media industry what it is, a number of young journalists are forging ahead into conflict zones with little more than a camera and a sense of adventure. That’s deeply admirable, but it also risks allowing another degree of danger into an endeavor that already has plenty.
“Most of the risks are being run by freelancers,” Sebastian Junger told the Huffington Post recently in explaining why he was starting an organization to teach reporters emergency first aid. “People really in the meat grinder of the front lines are not, for the most part, insured or salaried network correspondents. They’re young freelancers.”
I asked some experienced freelance conflict reporters what advice they might have for newcomers to the work, what links or resources they might point them toward. Here are their suggestions for staying safe. Again, I have no idea if any of this information would have helped Tice; for all I know, he’d done all of it. And none of this can make a place like Syria truly safe. But if you are considering reporting from a conflict zone as a freelancer or know someone who is, it could be worth your time to at least acquaint yourself with this information and to consider getting the appropriate training. Please do not consider it to be comprehensive; it’s just a starting point.
  • The Rory Peck Trust: The U.K. organization, “dedicated to the safety and welfare of freelance newsgatherers and their families around the world,” offers “hostile environment training” for reporting from conflict zones. The training courses are highly regarded. The organization offers “bursaries” to journalists who need help paying for the training. They also offer “direct assistance” to freelancers and their families, including grants, help landing assignments, and “practical advice, information, and support for freelancers or their families in crisis.”
  • Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues (RISC): Started by Sebastian Junger in thememory of journalist Tim Hetherington, who was killed covering Libya’s civil war last year, RISC offers classes in emergency medical treatment. Hetherington, like other journalists since him, died in part because he was wounded far from a hospital, and though the people around him tried their best to help, no one had the appropriate medical training to stop the bleeding, which might have saved his life. RISC training is designed to help reduce this risk. Scholarships are available.
  • 3-Day Columbia Class, “Reporting Safely in Crisis Zones”: This new class at Columbia’s prestigious graduate school in journalism emphasizes “prevention of harm” and “how to avoid unnecessary peril, with careful preparations before, during, and after assignments.” The New York class is expensive, at $695, but scholarships are available for freelancers. Judith Matloff, who has worked both as a freelance and staff reporter, teaches. The next class is October 19 to 21.
  • Buy Insurance: One option is the Reporters Without Borders plan, which is designed with freelance reporters in mind. It is very cheap and covers emergency medical care. You may wish to consider kidnapping insurance.
  • Get the Equipment: Wear a helmet and a kevlar jacket. Carry a medical kit. A reporter who asked to remain anonymous says that kevlar is particularly cheap in Israel. Do be careful about getting an Israeli stamp on your passport, as some Middle Eastern countries will not allow you admittance if you do.
  • Know the Dangers: “The things you should know before going into any hot war zone like Syria include the types, uses, and effects of various weapons (will bullets go through walls? What do single shots mean, versus long bursts?); the names, goals, and organizational structures of the people who you’re likely to meet; and a way to get out,” Graeme Wood told me in an email.
  • Keep Others Informed of Your Movements: Also from Graeme: “You should also have someone far away and someone close by both looking over your shoulder. If I’m going on a dangerous road, with chance of abduction or whatever, I’ll tell someone I trust locally and someone I trust far away, and promise to check in within a couple hours of arrival. If I ever get abducted on an Iraqi road, people will be aware that something is amiss (and that I’ll probably miss my next deadline) within a few hours.”
  • Have a Plan: Don’t just dive into the front line for the sake of being at the front line. There’s rarely much to be learned there. If you have a story to report that requires going somewhere dangerous and you’re confident that the risk is acceptable, just go to the extent that it’s necessary for your story, and then get out. Have your own dedicated transportion, both there and back, and make all the necessary arrangement ahead of time.
  • Read More: This information is just a starting point. Reporters Without Borders has produced a much better informed, and more informative, practical guide for journalists. It’s 100 pages and makes for good airplane reading.
Unless some enormous news event happens in the next few hours (Joseph Kony invades the Diaoyu Islands? Vladimir Putin retires the presidency to start a league of cape-wearing crime fighters?), this may be my last post at after four great years of working here. I hope it may in some small way give back to the class of foreign reporters I owe so much to and have so long admired.
( / 25.09.2012)