July 8, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Rafah through the eyes of int’l journalists

The trip by journalists is important because it provides the first reactions among correspondents to Israel’s operations in this area of southern Gaza.
July 8, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Rafah through the eyes of int’l journalists

The trip by journalists is important because it provides the first reactions among correspondents to Israel’s operations in this area of southern Gaza.

Rafah is “unrecognizable,” a “ghost town,” and a “wasteland,” according to recent reports from international media. The Israel Defense Force took foreign journalists to the Philadelphi route along the Egyptian border and also into areas of Rafah for the first time since the operation began in May. The IDF had done a similar trip for Israeli journalists in mid-June.

The joining of journalists from Fox News, CNN, the Associated Press (AP), NBC, CBS, and other networks in this journey is important because it provides a glimpse into the first reactions among correspondents to Israel’s operations in this area of southern Gaza.

Many of the reporters who came on the trip are veteran journalists who know what war looks like. Therefore, it is important to see Rafah through their eyes because most of Gaza has not been accessible to foreign journalists or Israeli journalists for a while now.

Additionally, that is important since this will affect perceptions regarding Israel’s ongoing war. Foreign journalists see the destruction and the war differently than some of the Israeli accounts describing this same situation for a variety of reasons – one of which may be the fact that some journalists who have been to Rafah have also covered fighting in Syria or Ukraine.

For instance, CNN’s account by Jeremy Diamond noted, “Israel has repeatedly described its ground operation in Rafah as ‘limited.’ But in this neighborhood in southern Rafah, the destruction looks almost identical to what I’ve seen in northern Gaza, in central Gaza, and in Khan Yunis through the limited prism of trips into Gaza with the Israeli military.” While the IDF told CNN that they have found tunnels in Rafah, including tunnels that run in the direction of the Egyptian border, so far more details on whether these were used for smuggling remain unclear.

The Associated Press also visited Rafah and observed that “two months ago, before Israeli troops invaded Rafah, the city sheltered most of Gaza’s more than 2 million people. Today it is a dust-covered ghost town. “The Israeli military invited reporters into Rafah on Wednesday, the first time international media visited Gaza’s southernmost city since it was invaded on May 6. Israel has barred international journalists from entering Gaza independently since the Hamas attack on October 7 that sparked the war.”

In the same report, the AP also detailed that “abandoned, bullet-ridden apartment buildings have blasted out walls and shattered windows. Bedrooms and kitchens are visible from roads dotted with rubble piles that tower over the Israeli military vehicles passing by. Very few civilians remain.” It added that “Israel says it has nearly defeated Hamas’s forces in Rafah – an area identified earlier this year as the militant group’s last stronghold in Gaza.”

Both NBC and Fox News reports included footage with gunfire detected in the background. In particular, NBC’s Matt Bradley spoke about a “highway of tunnels” underneath Rafah.

Trey Yingst from Fox News described being in Rafah, where “fighting rages on.” He also noted that there are still thousands of “militants” in Gaza and that there are questions about the day after in that region.“It is impossible to put into words the scale of the destruction in Rafah. The pictures captured by CBS News’ camera speak for themselves. It has been made a wasteland,” CBS reported.

“Apart from a line of empty aid trucks and their drivers, the only people seen in Rafah were IDF forces. A few stray cats and an emaciated dog roamed around the rubble, looking sorry for themselves. CBS News heard significant small arms fire during the visit, most of it seemingly from IDF troops still operating in the city,” it described.

What is more, CBS reporter Holly Williams provided a report from Rafah in which she showed a tunnel that was unearthed. “The neighborhood we saw is shattered and unlivable. There is destruction on a scale that is impossible to adequately put into words,” she said. Williams also showed footage from Rafah that she described as a “wasteland.”

Questions about the IDF’s goals in Rafah

These reports were varied. Some did not depict the area in stark terms. However, it is clear that the method of operation, where there are no civilians present because they have been evacuated, left an impression on those who visited it. This may be in contrast to other war zones, such as in Syria or Ukraine, where civilians remained in some areas.

The destruction has also led to questions concerning the IDF’s goals in Rafah. Most reports noted that up to 900 Hamas fighters were killed and that tunnels had been found.

Notably, Israel did claim that Rafah was one of the last holdouts of Hamas, that its last battalions were there, that hostages were held there, and that there were smuggling tunnels in the area. However, these assertions have not yet met with the reality that people are seeing on the ground. Hostages were not found in Rafah. Hamas easily left Rafah and moved to Khan Yunis because Israel had left Khan Yunis. Hamas battalions retreated. The tunnels that were found have not yet been shown to be responsible for all the smuggling that helped Hamas become an empire of terror. That means that many questions still remain regarding what was effectively accomplished in Rafah.

Foreign journalists will ask different questions than Israeli journalists have or will ask. This is not due to a value judgment of who are the better journalists; it is merely a fact that Rafah is being seen from different perspectives. Each person brings with them the knowledge and experience of the past when entering a place like Rafah.

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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