Robert Fisk is typically provocative (and accurate) in today’s Independent column:
It took a lot of courage to get into Homs; Sky News, then the BBC, then a few brave men and women who went to tell the world of the city’s anguish and, in at least two cases, suffered themselves. I could only reflect this week, however, how well we got to know the name of the indomitable and wounded British photographer Paul Conroy, and yet how little we know about the 13 Syrian volunteers who were apparently killed by snipers and shellfire while rescuing him. No fault of Conroy, of course. But I wonder if we know the names of these martyrs – or whether we intend to discover their names?
There’s something faintly colonialist about all this. We have grown so used to the devil-may-care heroics of the movie version of “war” correspondents that they somehow become more important than the people about whom they report. Hemingway supposedly liberated Paris – or at least Harry’s Bar – but does a single reader remember the name of any Frenchman who died liberating Paris? I do recall my dauntless television colleague, Terry Lloyd, who was killed by the Americans in Iraq in 2003 – but who can remember the name of one of the quarter or half a million Iraqis killed as a result of the invasion (apart, of course, from Saddam Hussein)? The Al Jazeera correspondent in Baghdad was killed in Baghdad by an American airstrike the same year. But hands up who remembers his name? Answer: Tareq Ayoub. He was a Palestinian. I was with him the day before he died.
And who can forget the words of the Israeli journalist Amira Haas – Haaretz’s reporter in the occupied West Bank, whom I often quote. She told me in Jerusalem that the foreign correspondent’s job was not to be “the first witness to history” (my own pitiful definition), but to “monitor the centres of power”, especially when they are going to war, and especially when they intend to do so on a bedrock of lies.
Yes, all honour to those who reported from Homs. But here’s a thought: when the Israelis unleashed their cruel bombardment of Gaza in 2008, they banned all reporters from the war, just as the Syrians tried to do in Homs. And the Israelis were much more successful in preventing us Westerners from seeing the subsequent bloodbath. Hamas forces and the “Free Syria Army” in Homs actually have a lot in common – both were increasingly Islamist, both faced infinitely superior firepower, both lost the battle – but it was left to Palestinian reporters to cover their own people’s suffering. They did a fine job. Funny, though, that the newsrooms of London and Washington didn’t have quite the same enthusiasm to get their folk into Gaza as they did to get them into Homs. Just a thought. A very unhappy one.