An Unsealed Room

Protecting Israel, Aching for Gaza

I don’t think it’s incongruous to support Israel’s effort to bring quiet and normality to its citizens and still be filled with sadness over the toll being taken on the residents of Gaza, especially the children, who didn’t ask to be born into their situation. Many of my journalist friends who know the Gaza AP reporter have sent his heartbreaking first-person article around. And Ron Kampeas at the JTA discusses it here.

Ibrahim Barzak is one of the best reporters I know.

We got to know each other back in 1992, when he was about 16; I had just started with AP, and he had inherited his father’s correspondency. Hikmet Barzak, who married late in life, had died after reporting Gaza for the AP since the 1950s. Ibrahim would call in reporting starting, “This is Hikmet’s house,” still deferring to his beloved dad.

It took a few conversations, shaking his hand and seeing his broad, shy grin on one of his visits to Jerusalem, before he felt comfortable enough to start calls, “This is Ibrahim.” It was wonderful watching him learn, being one of a large staff who guided him through the idioms of wire-news-ese. He called once a day and ran through a detailed list of Gaza wounded; most were light wounds, and never made copy, but I never interrupted him: I was in awe of his thoroughness, imagining him at the hospital recording each injury.

He is an assiduous, just the facts reporter. He never raises his voice and always asks the tough questions. He has risked his life more than once for his job, and more than once for pissing off the Palestinian powers that be.

And he is dogged. Supervising the Jerusalem night desk, I asked him once to return to Rafah, where fratricidal fighting was taking place in 1999. The free-for-all shooting had tapered down, Ibrahim was on his way home – and then, with nightfall it resumed with a vengeance. In the calmest of tones, Ibrahim said: “Ron, I will go back, but I will die.” I told him to continue home.

So I bristle – I bristle hard- when some moron who thinks he is making some kind of case for Israel writes about how Palestinian reporters are implacably biased (and I wonder whether these fools realize how hard those accusations make it for Israelis and Jews who are reporting in the region.)

I’m Facebook friends with Ibrahim, and what stuns me under the circumstances is his continued affection for pop culture (the AP office in Gaza, back in the day, was plastered with photos of Princess Diana) – he keeps joining fan clubs – and his fierce focus on his little sons, now living with his wife at his in-laws. Ibrahim, his home in shards, is living in the little AP office (I wonder if the Diana posters are still there).

This haunts me:

My brother took a picture of the room where my boys, 2-year-old Hikmet and 6-month-old Ahmed, once slept. Their toys were broken, shrapnel had punched through the closet and the bedroom wall had collapsed. I don’t know if we will ever go back.

The Israeli army issued a video of the bombing of the Hamas compound, which it posted on YouTube. I can see my home being destroyed, and I watch it obsessively.

So read this, by the best reporter in Gaza, and see how hard this war is on Gazans.

It never hurts to know.

No, it doesn’t. And we must know.