What Christiane Amanpour—and the Rest of Us—Can Learn From Palestinian Journalists in Gaza

As she walked onto the set of The Daily Show on eclipse Monday to be interviewed by Jon Stewart, CNN chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour got a standing ovation. The taping marked a reunion of two media icons of the early 21st century—two personalities who were popular, and often critical, in the early years of the War on Terror.

And the studio audience was down for this trip down nostalgia lane. They clapped wildly when Amanpour countered Stewart’s claim that “the world is ending” by saying that the solar eclipse, which had ended shortly before the taping, had brought so many people together “in this incredibly divided country.”

But things went south when Stewart asked Amanpour of her colleagues at CNN: “What do the journalists behind the scenes talk about as their frustrations? What would they like to see covered? How would they like to see it covered, or are they executing it in the manner in which they think they’re satisfied?”

Amapour referred to the segment Stewart had done right before she came out, in which he skewered the contradictions between how the US government and mainstream media depict Russian aggression against Ukraine (bad) compared to how they depict US-Israel’s aggression against Palestine (no big deal).

Amanpour said, “Our major problem covering Israel, Gaza, this phase of it, which has been going on for six months, is that we can’t get there. This is an unprecedented situation. Journalists are not on the ground in Gaza.”

Stewart, to his credit, immediately interrupted her to say, “There are journalists on the ground. They’re being killed.”

“You’re right, you’re right,” Amanpour conceded, “I’m talking about independent, western journalists who are not able to get there, or anybody else, except for those people who are absolutely risking their lives every single day.”

We’ll come back to her longer response in a moment, which had its qualifications, but let’s look at what she said first. Amanpour’s claim, “Journalists are not on the ground in Gaza,” has been, rightfully and mockingly, met with derision by journalists like Hind Khoudary, who simply posted a photo of herself on the ground with Amanpour’s own words.

This is one of the many gifts Palestinian journalists, at great personal sacrifice, are giving to the world: they are giving us a chance to view the role of the journalist in fundamentally different ways.

But is Amanpour’s claim that there are no “independent, western journalists” in Gaza true? Yes and no. She is right that there are no independent journalists in Gaza, because no journalists are truly independent—certainly not Amanpour herself, nor any of us from western countries which have been supplying the money and bombs to kill tens of thousands of civilians, children and our own colleagues. (And certainly not the New York Times which, as the Intercept reported, instructs writers to avoid using “genocide,” “ethnic cleansing” or “occupied territory” and even—“except in very rare cases”—the term “refugee camps.”)

Palestinian journalist Hossam Shabat, stationed (and starving) in Northern Gaza, responded to Amanpour by writing (emphasis added):

The biggest problem is not Western journalists being unable to enter, but the fact that Western media doesn’t respect and value Palestinian journalists. My colleagues and I risk our lives every day to report on this genocide. No one knows Gaza like we do, and no one understands the complexity of the situation like we do. If you care about what’s happening in Gaza, you should amplify Palestinian voices. We don’t need Western journalists to tell our stories; we are capable of telling and reporting on our own stories.

Shabbat is a 21-year-old who was supposed to be a junior in college this year. Instead, like his counterparts in medical schools who have stepped up into the roles of full-fledged warzone physicians in makeshift hospitals, the genocide has thrust Shabat onto the front lines of war reporting.

Amanpour is correct that Shabat is not independent. His feed is full of very subjective experiences: of him experiencing hunger, burying dead people in the ground, trying to dig possibly living people out of the ground, feeding hungry people, raising money for food, talking to children dying of cancer, entertaining kids (alongside a clown) for Eid, giving kids clothes, excoriating the “humiliation” and violence of air drops, distributing aid, and trying to find missing journalist Bayan Abusultan (who went silent in the Al Shifa siege after seeing her brother killed, but who ultimately survived).

As Shabat shortly wrote after the world widely mourned the killing of the six foreign and one Palestinian World Central Kitchen workers:

Aside from journalism, almost every day we cook meals to feed the displaced in schools in North Gaza. With our very limited supplies, we cook and distribute meals to hundreds every day. We appreciate all the aid workers who were killed while trying to help us in Gaza, but our lives matter as much as theirs do. Our lives should be respected and appreciated just as much as theirs are. Palestinian lives deserve to be mourned just as much as any other life.

No, Shabbat is certainly neither western nor independent. But this is one of the many gifts Palestinian journalists, at great personal sacrifice, are giving to the world: they are giving us a chance to view the role of the journalist in fundamentally different ways, including to see how interdependence might be a better way to approach our craft than independence.

Journalism is, after all, a public good. Maybe the best way to serve that good is not through, say, an Anderson Cooper type parachuting into a place to get the hot scoop while pretending to be independent of what is afflicting local journalists, or even local journalists competing against each other to break news.

Instead, what if journalism looked like the video Ahmed El-Madhoun posted in December, when, “A group of brave journalists decided to stay in Khan Yunis and cover what’s happening here despite the intense shelling. All of us, hand in hand”?

What if journalism, in its highest form, looked like reporters not pretending as if any of us are independent, but embracing that the fates of “all of us, hand in hand,” are interdependent? And required us working together to tell the news to the public, and to keep one another safe, fed and alive?

Amanpour did go on to address the deaths of local journalists, telling Stewart (emphasis added):

Media workers, journalists, almost 100 have been killed according to the CPJ, in Gaza, West Bank and Lebanon in six months. It is an unprecedented situation. And it goes beyond the horror of what’s happened to those people and their families. It’s about telling the story of Gaza, telling the story of the Palestinains, you know, actual local journalists will tell you the story of a people. You know, not just dehumanizing numbers, or the like, but a people. And when we got to do our job, and I’ve been doing this  pretty much since the first Gulf War, we go there to be the eyes and ears of everybody who can’t go. Whos’ not a local. But we are not able to get there.

To her credit, Amanpour explicitly blamed Israel for why people like her cannot get to Gaza. But I believe she is wrong that there aren’t any western journalists in Gaza. There are, by default, some going in, coming out, and trying to share what they’ve seen with the world.

While people who are only foreign journalists can’t go into Gaza, medical workers are getting in for two-to-three week shifts, leaving, and trying to tell the world about the horror of what they’ve seen. They are making video documentaries for the BBC. They are writing essays for the New York Times. They are being interviewed in the New Yorker. They are meeting the President of the United States, showing their photos to him, and—having landed a unique and truly exclusive interview with Biden— are reporting to NBC News about his candid (lack of a) reaction. And on shows like Democracy Now!, they are even filing photos and video footage.

Indeed, at the height of tax season, we need look no further than to a Palestinian journalist to see how implicated we are.

These doctors are, de facto, western journalists. And what they have to say is powerful, and so controversial, that Palestinian-British surgeon Ghassan Abu Sitta was banned from entering Germany, lest he tell the German public what he’d seen in Gaza (and add evidence against the German government as it faces charges of facilitating genocide in the International Court of Justice).

There is a long history of doctor-turned-journalists in western media, especially as talking head TV commentators. Abraham Verghese’s My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story is one of the most important texts of the inexcusably under-reported AIDS crisis in the rural United States. But such people being, in effect, the only foreign correspondents in Gaza is not just a threat to the Amanpours of the world, but a threat to the whole notion of journalist independence and objectivity.

For the way these people straddle the roles of healer, helper and reporter is quite like the interdependent kind of journalism being modeled by Palestinians and a rejection of the myth of independence Amanpour projects. There is no denying that someone from the west who can stitch up someone’s wounds and place their hands inside their flesh has a more intimate understanding of what’s happening in the Gaza genocide than someone from the west who is just looking on, not starving and has no medical skills.

But what if that intimate subjectivity doesn’t make one less of a journalist, but more of one? What if the role of the journalist is not to just report, but to help?

Stewart asked Amanpour if it’s “an American problem,” that the world, via social media and reporting from Al Jazeera, is getting a very different perception of Gaza than what western media is generally showing. He even appeared angry when he stated that eliminating Hamas is an unrealistic military goal for Israel (“So what, you’re not going to stop until you kill everybody?”) and annoyed when Amanpour responded “Israel was attacked on October 7th, the worst single day massacre in its history” and said (just as Biden administration flacks Karine Jean-Pierre, Matt Miller or John Kirby would have said ) Israel “has the right to defend itself but… the issue is you stay within the guidelines of international law.”

Stewart then genuinely seemed scared when he talked about the blowback he expected, asking Amanpour, “Do you have any idea how much shit I am going to take for today’s show?” It reminded me of how candidly Ta-Nehisi Coates expressed his worry when he spoke out against Israel’s “segregationist Apartheid regime” on Democracy Now!  in November (“I have my fears. I do. I do. You know, I’m afraid right now, sitting here talking to you!”) More personally, it made me think of the fear I have had in writing and speaking about Gaza, which has had a significant impact on five different jobs or contract positions I’ve had over 15 years.

I think for Stewart and Coates—and I can say definitively for myself—that for American writers, we feel guilty about Palestine because we know our tax dollars pay for the horror we are seeing. Even when we speak about it anyway, we are afraid at some level because we know it could harm our careers.

But here’s the thing: this belies the nature of our so-called independence, and reveals how subjective our positions are.

Indeed, at the height of tax season, we need look no further than to a Palestinian journalist to see how implicated we are. Ahemd El-Madhoun, the same reporter who made the viral video of Palestinian journalists working “all together, hand in hand,” posted a damning video on Friday. He was reporting from the Nuseirat refugee camp (on the same day a group of journalists was shelled by Israel, resulting in the amputation of journalist Sami Shehada’s leg).

In an obliterated crater,  El-Mahoud found a shell that read “MADE IN USA.” It’s the type of shell the Biden administration bypassed congress to send 14,000 rounds of to Israel in December.

“Israel is killing us with American bombs funded by your tax,” he El-Madhoun wrote, the weekend millions of Americans sent their money to Washington, correctly adding that we have “directly participated in the genocide!”

El-Madhoun is not an independent, western journalist. But he’s telling western journalists news we can use.

For maybe the best way to “respect and value Palestinian journalists,” as Hossam Shabat pleads for us to do, is to not try to step in and tell Palestinian stories for them. Perhaps, the best thing for us to do is to demand the United States stop supplying the bombs which are murdering our colleagues, so that they can do their work in peace.


(Disclosure: I have been a guest onAmanpour & Co in 2019 and in 2023 to talk about AIDS policy, though I was not interviewed by Amanpour herself, and have I ever interacted with her directly.)

Steven W. Thrasher

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