By Nidal al-Mughrabi
Reuters Correspondent, Gaza Strip
Safety Guidance for International journalists visiting the Gaza Strip.
The Gaza Strip is 360 square km between two crossings, Erez with Israel in the north and Rafah terminal with Egypt in the south.
Before the 2000 uprising began in Gaza and the West Bank, visitors could use the main north-south road, known as Salahudeen road, smoothly and without problems.
After the uprising erupted the Israeli army took control of large parts of the road, which also was used by army vehicles and convoys of Jewish settlers.
The army closed the road near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in the central Gaza Strip.
The Israeli army also frequently closes the coastal road, especially when the settlement is subject to attacks by Palestinian gunmen and when troops work on strengthening the fence protecting the settlement. When the road is closed journalists have to use jeeps and armoured vehicles to travel by the beach.
Signs identifying vehicles as Foreign Press are needed at all times. They must be painted in a distinctive colour, preferably yellow.
The Israelis also close the Salahudeen road at the Kfar Darom settlement in the south. Kfar Darom is divided into two settlements, A and B on each side of the road known to the Israelis as road number 4.
Travellers to the south continue to travel on the coastal road, which also has Palestinian police checkpoints, who sometimes stop the cars for identity inspections. Usually there are no problems, especially with proper journalist ID.
Then travellers must go into the town of Deir al-Balah and take a side road near the town's police station to make a turn back into Salahudeen road.
At that junction the road is heavily controlled and guarded by the Israeli army -- watch towers, jeeps and tanks, troops conducting traffic by traffic lights. Travellers must be alert.
They should end telephone calls at the junction and not do anything suspicious like waving or pointing to things and locations outside the car. Press signs must be present and clear.
Cars must carry more than two people, according to regulations by the Israeli army who fear car bombs. Israeli security believes the chances are less for people to commit suicide bombings when they are accompanied.
Never carry in your car non-journalists, whatever your relation to them. You never know what goes on.
While travelling between the two checkpoints guarding a corridor of approximately 300 meters stay calm and be prepared to be stopped at the second junction for inspection.
In case of problems, always ask for the officer in charge and explain who you are and who you work for.
After the leaving the junction you go on your way to the Gaza Strip southern districts of Khan Younis and Rafah.
There are two ways to go between Rafah and Khan Younis, the eastern road from Khan Younis to Rafah and that road is usually open and safe. The Western road and that road is usually closed and isn't safe. The Western road has been closed for three years as it passes by the Jewish settlement of Morag, which begins at the end of Khan Younis and the start of Rafah.
You can use the Eastern road to travel into Rafah and also to Rafah terminal with Egypt.
Salahudeen road is highly important and an economic lifeline for the 1.4 million people of the Strip.
The road was named after the Muslim leader Salahudeen al-Ayoube who led the Muslim armies against the Christian Crusaders.
Visiting Gaza from Israel
You need to have an Israeli Government Press Card to show to Israeli army authorities at Erez crossing. There is a car park there where you can leave your car during the visit to Gaza.
After passing security checks, you can pick up a yellow Mercedes vehicle that takes you up to the first Palestinian police checkpoint. You will see policemen in army-style green uniform. When getting out the car you have to be registered at an office. Police will take down your details from your passport and ask about where you will be staying in Gaza.
A stringer, a local correspondent, would make that process easy as he will be known to policemen and therefore avoid unnecessary suspicion.
Usually it cost $100 to rent a car per day, including the driver's pay.
There are many car companies. Best of all is al-Farouq company. It is safe and they know your needs as a journalist. Their drivers have good local knowledge.
Phone number is +972-8-28-42755.
If in an accident you are required by law to shoulder part of the damage. Sometimes it is 3,000 shekels (about $670).
Three currencies are in use in the Gaza Strip; the Israeli shekel, the Jordanian Diner and the U.S. dollar.
1 JD is 6.28 shekels
$1 is 4.45 shekels
Currencies like the Euro and the British pound are used in the stock market and banks but are not widespread. Loans are not uncommon but the payday loan market that thrives in Western countries is non existant here.
Use banks for exchange, but it is also safe to use money exchange shops in the city of Gaza as they are all authorised and licensed by the Palestinian Monetary Authority.
Islam is the main religion of the people of the Gaza Strip. Muslims and the Christian minority mix freely.
Do not feel astonished to see Christian women wearing scarves. It is according to tradition rather than religion.
When meeting with Islamists it is always advisable that women journalists wear scarves and long skirts or trousers.
Women journalists visiting Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder of the Islamic militant group Hamas, must wear the Jelbab, a long traditional Muslim dress.
Both Muslims and Christians could take exception to questions hinting at religious discrimination in Gaza.
In normal situations, visiting journalists and TV crews need to have local fixers or correspondents. It is always preferable and advisable that the local man is a journalist and not just a translator or some driver with knowledge of English.
Journalists who are of Jewish and Israeli origin must not speak Hebrew while in Gaza; they should stick to English, especially when they speak over the phone or use radio to communicate with colleagues in Jerusalem and in Israel.
Journalists arriving in Gaza are advised to visit the Palestinian Ministry of Information in Naser Street, Gaza City, to get a press card, which will facilitate their travel in Gaza.
The Palestinian Ministry of Information is different to other ministries of information in some Arab countries. You are free to go after getting your card. You will not be accompanied.
You can also get these cards from the State Information office, a government press body in Omar al-Mokhtar street in Gaza City.
Cars should carry press signs at all times.
Risks in the Gaza Strip are greater than those in the West Bank.
Treatment of journalist by the Israeli army is different from the West Bank and journalists covering army raids into Gaza cities and refugee camps could be subject to great dangers.
Journalist should stick to one another. Move as a group with other local cameraman and correspondents who can estimate the situation and quit when danger becomes near.
Do not forget your Flack Jacket and Helmet. Carry at all times inside the trunk of your car, as well as your first aid bag.
Again you can be at great danger if moving alone. You do not know where some gunmen are hiding and they could be a target for Israeli airs strikes, snipers and tank shells.
You also have no idea where there may be bombs, planted by Palestinian gunmen to ambush Israeli troops. So stick to local journalists and always keep a distance from gunmen. Try to make your presence clear and visible for Israeli troops if possible.
Usually it is not possible to get near to Israeli troops and usually you will have to film from the Palestinian side, so be careful.
Be very wary of fleschettes, a fragmentation bomb used by the Israeli army. It is fired from tanks and special rifles. It is usually fired against open areas. Once it explodes it causes hundreds and maybe thousands of arrows, needle-like projectiles, that fly and spread over dozens of meters in all directions. They are made of steel and are fatal.
They are generally banned in areas like the Gaza Strip, a heavily populated area. But they are allowed upon a military order from the Gaza Israeli military commander.
Please see websites of the U.S. army regarding fleschettes. They are very serious.
Air strikes can happen at any time. Dozens of Palestinian militants have been killed in air strikes during the current uprising. Many civilian passers by were also killed during these incidents.
Do not move as missiles fall. Israeli helicopters often pause for some time between the firing of missiles.
Many Palestinians, including journalists, have been wounded and killed when helicopters returned suddenly and fired another missile as people crowded in out of curiosity or to rescue the targeted militants.
Stay at a safe distnace and do not approach until you are sure no more missiles will be fired.
You can be sure the helicopters have left when your mobile phones resume working normally. The aircraft disturb the signal. Always keep a Palestinian and an Israeli cellular with you.
If you want to film inside hospital after an Israeli attack, study the situation quickly and see if other cameramen are doing that -- especially locals. Not all people are happy with cameras as they weep and scream for their dead and wounded. Emotions can go high and you may get attacked.
If somebody asks you not to film him or his relative, do that. Let your local man try to explain. If insist, do not do it. Look for something else.
You can always return later. Most times people become calmer and more understanding after the initial shock.
Places of maximum risk
Rafah camp has long been a flashpoint of Palestinian-Israeli violence. It is frequently raided by Israeli tanks, and the borderline has been a frequent target for Palestinian gunmen. Gunmen plant roadside bombs and attack tanks with anti-tank grenades all the time.
You have to be careful if you work near the borderline. The Israeli army always responds to sources of fire and sometime initiates fire to scare off residents and gunmen trying to get near to the borderline.
Beware the rubble of houses and apparently spent munitions. Several children have been killed or wounded as they played with remains of Israeli tanks shells or bombs – or bombs concealed by gunmen to trap Israeli patrols.
Always travel in Rafah -- and generally in all of the southern Gaza Strip area --in an armoured car. The area is extremely violent as it has most of the 19 Jewish settlements in the Strip.
If you want to film inside a Jewish settlement, you will have to make your arrangements before coming to Gaza. Speak to the settlement spokesman/woman and they will arrange with the army to get you inside.
Do not try to go into a settlement from the Palestinian side or return to a Palestinian camp or city from the direction of a settlement. You can get yourself killed. Leave the Strip completely and return as a new person from Erez crossing.
People and the Media
People are usually open to the media, but you have always to bear in mind that people are not always the same. Once people know what you are doing and once you know how to communicate with them regarding your story, doors will open for you.
Never use the word terrorist or terrorism in describing Palestinian gunmen and militants; people consider them heroes of the conflict and ideals.
There have been no reports of foreign journalists attacked in Gaza by local people.
Although some foreigners were once detained for several hours by angry former policemen who wanted to make a case for their jobs, they were released unharmed.
If you feel threatened, stay calm, state your nationality and what you do, let your local man do the talking, ask to call your company.
Shifa Hospital in Gaza City is the main governmental hospital. You are advised to go there if wounded. You are guaranteed special care.
In Rafah you should head for the hospital of Abu Youssef al-Najar.
Hotels are safe
Preferable Al-Dira Hotel: +972-8-2838100/200
Beach Hotel: +972-8-2828800
UN and ICRC
There is an ICRC headquarter almost in every city of the Strip's four cities and the main headquarters is in Gaza city in al-Jala street.
UN headquarters is located in Talateeni street. Tel: +972-8-2824508
I am a journalist: Ana Sahafe
Can you help me: Momken Tesaa'edni
I need a doctor: Bede doctor or Bede Tabeeb
1. At all times, keep your flack jacket and first aid bag inside your car and keep car attended at all times.
2.Always preferable to have a local fixer who is also a journalist and not only a translator. He is better able to explain things in context and alert you of dangers and of people habits and traditions.
3. Car should carry Press signs in English and Arabic
4. There must be two and more passenger in a car if need to move between north and south of the Gaza Strip.
5. Beware Rafah.
6. Never approached settlements. Israeli soldiers will not hesitate to open fire, as settlements are often targets of attacks by Palestinian gunmen.
7. Do not film near Palestinian security headquarters without proper permission, unless you are covering an air strike against one facility. Always watch for local journalists in the area and stick to them when in doubt.
8. Never speak Hebrew, if of Jewish and Israeli origins, especially over the phone and radio, especially at raids.
9. Be aware of sensitive social attitudes and traditions as wearing of a scarf for a women journalist outside a mosque and when meeting top Islamic officials.
10. Never touch a woman. You might want to be nice by touching her shoulder or hand. Never do it. People are very conservative as Arabs and as Muslims.
11. Always ask in advance about the roads before you move between cities to know whether there are problems or delays. Sometimes Israeli soldiers let traffic goes in slow motion, and then you will never get your story done and better to stay behind.
12. If covering news, it is always preferable to have a spare camera standing by in Gaza city if you will have to leave to southern areas; you never know what happens in Gaza, a stage of frequent Israeli air strikes.
back to index page