Thursday, April 22, 2010

'The details are usually more important than the general idea'

It’s been a busy week of networking and chasing after three different stories, which I'll write more about later. I’ve collaborated with a 66-year-old American documentary filmmaker named Maurice Jacobsen on one story about the non-violent protest movement, a subject that I blogged about two weeks ago. The combined video and print piece just published in New Matilda.

I’ve also met with Palestinian reporters who understand the complicated social and political issues in Gaza far better than foreigners like me. One of these journalists, 25-year-old Hamza Buhaisi (pictured on the right), has written about 40 Arabic investigative articles for Elaph and Al-Watan during his three years of work as a freelancer. He’s also co-produced three videos, including a 25-minute English language documentary called “To Be” that chronicles the work of Gaza's foreign activists. The film ends with the dramatic story of an 18-year-old Palestinian who was killed by Israeli border patrol in April of 2009 while trying to escape from Gaza. After the man’s body was left to rot for 54 days and the International Red Cross declined to retrieve it, foreign and Palestinian activists dodged Israeli gunfire to find the corpse.

In addition to his courageous coverage of the Gaza War and his many articles on the devastating ripple effects of the continued Israeli blockade, Hamza has reported on sensitive internal Palestinian issues. In one article, Hamza investigated a vague Hamas press release claiming that a man had been "martyred" in "resistance operations" far away from the Israeli border. Hamza discovered that the man had in fact died while digging a secret tunnel that collapsed on top of him. The tunnel, which was subsequently destroyed, was intended to go from one home to another. Some Fateh members suspected that Hamas planned to use the tunnel for escapes and surprise attacks in the event of another civil war. The Hamas government claimed the tunnel was being dug in preparation for another Israeli invasion.

Hamza’s articles often raise questions about Hamas policies and military actions, and on some occasions the de-facto government has demanded to see the articles before they print. However, Hamas has not censured the content of Hamza's articles or blocked their publication. Hamza insists that he doesn’t practice journalism to propel a political agenda, but rather to "defend and protect people in an indirect way" by exposing the truth. “I started working in investigative journalism after the [2007] civil war, not before,” he said. “So the government I’m investigating is Hamas. How can I do reports about Fateh? They are in the West Bank now. I won’t do articles by phone. I need to see things with my own eyes.”

Two new Arabic articles from Hamza are currently in the works. The first concerns the story of an alleged Palestinian couple currently imprisoned in Gaza. Rumor has it that the man and woman were jailed as punishment for their suspected adulterous relationship and / or to protect the woman from “honor killers” in her own family. The second article explores the backgrounds and ideologies of young men recently recruited by the Salafis, an Al-Qaeda-affiliated militant group whose members have been killed and repressed by Hamas security. The Salafis reject Hamas’s decision to temporarily stop firing crude rockets into Israeli cities and condemn Hamas for not imposing Islamic Sharia law.

At his family home in the city of Deir Bala, Hamza recently hosted me and six Palestinian journalists for a delicious meal and a lively philosophical discussion (see picture). Hamza is spearheading an effort to organize events and raise funds for the new Gaza chapter of a Morocco-based young journalists' association, which he hopes will help empower and train Gazan freelancers. He criticizes major news networks that produce “general stories but don’t focus on the details. And the details are usually more important than the general idea.”

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