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Bowen diary: Build-up continues

BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen is writing a diary of the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Israeli armoured personnel carriers (12.1.09)
Military traffic on the Israel-Gaza border has been increasing

12 January, Israel-Gaza border

Sometimes when you are up to your neck in a big story, working very long hours in the BBC's news machine, you don't have too much time to ponder what viewers might be thinking about what is happening.

I tend to hope that they are watching, listening and reading what we are putting out. But the next deadline is usually looming and that takes priority.

While I was in London on a very quick visit this weekend, I left Paddington Station in a taxi and ran almost immediately into the big demonstration against Israel's war in Gaza.

I wondered if any of the people had seen the reports that my team had been producing, and what they thought of them. For me it was a strange collision between the world of work and the world of home.

All wars are hard to cover for journalists, for different reasons. The BBC, like every other news organisation, has been stopped by Israel from getting into Gaza. In this war, the main problems journalists face stem from Israel's desire to control the news agenda.

Good journalism

I don't think that the Israelis are succeeding. A lot of good journalism is being done.

Of course, it would be better if we could put the people and resources into Gaza that we would like.

But at the BBC we are lucky that we have two excellent Palestinian journalists in Gaza who are working virtually around the clock, producing excellent original material. Plus the news agencies there are very active. It is not perfect for us but it is functioning, and our two guys, Rushdi Abu Alouf and Hamada Abu Qammar, are stars.

Don't get me wrong. All of us at the BBC would far prefer it if we could get into Gaza. But I think the fundamental facts of what is going on are getting out.

Palestinian man uses white flag to leave Zeitun district of Gaza City
Gaza City residents have been fleeing their homes

Israel has been able to put across its narrative, that it is acting in self defence and doing all it can not to kill civilians. But it has been countered by the sheer weight of images of suffering from Gaza, which have inspired protests across the world.

I was down on the border today. One thing that struck me was that there was more military traffic than at the end of last week.

Quite a bit of it was made up of soldiers from the reserves. You can tell because they were using old military vehicles and lorries that had been to a few other wars.

Many of the young soldiers in the conscript army drive around in modern American humvees. But today I saw a number of men, no longer in their first youth, and in some cases wearing an approximate version of the Israeli army uniform, chugging along in old-style Willys Jeeps.

Tanks brought in

A few tanks were on the move too, on transporters. Compared to other days, there seemed to be fewer explosions coming out of Gaza. As if Israel was getting ready for something.

The deployment of reserves has led to predictions that Israel is moving to deepen its offensive in Gaza. The temptation to escalate, to reach an easily definable victory, is there for the Israeli government.

With the continued attempts to get a ceasefire, it is likely to be one of the main preoccupations of the next few days.

Whatever happens, it is still going to be very, very hard, and frightening, to be a civilian in Gaza.


Previous diary entries by Jeremy Bowen:



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