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Lebanese women journalists brave war odds

Issue 1, Spring 2007

By Magda Abu-Fadil

Al Jazeera reporter Katia Nasser.

Lebanese women journalists braved bombs, bullets and missiles to report the conflict between Hizbullah and Israel in the summer of 2006, sometimes surpassing their male colleagues’ coverage by providing insight into the conflict’s human nature.

Veterans who had covered the country’s civil war were joined by newcomers who proved equally resilient against physical dangers and tight controls imposed by “the Party of God,” which called most of the media shots in the heat of battle.

“Hizbullah monopolized media coverage, we could only report on their angle of the news,” said seasoned reporter Sanaa El Jack, who writes for the pan-Arab daily Asharq Alawsat and contributes a weekly column in the leading Lebanese daily An-Nahar.

She said journalists were banned from reporting on people complaining about Hizbullah’s control over the media in Beirut’s southern suburbs, the country’s south or wherever the party boasted strongholds that were targeted by Israeli firepower (for the full story of Hizbullah's channel Al Manar in the war, see Paul Cochrane).

“We couldn’t visit refugee shelters, shoot pictures or talk to people unless we were accompanied by a Hizbullah minder,” she said, adding that independent voices were stifled and any contradiction of the “resistance’s” spin was viewed as being pro-Israel.

El Jack, no stranger to wars, is one of dozens of women journalists who covered the recent conflict through hard news stories as well as eloquently crafted features about human tragedies, suffering, and hope in an engaging style that added luster to her newspaper’s war reports.

It is a quality the women journalists brought easily to their work, particularly those who had lived through, and covered, Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

Al Arabiya reporter Rima Maktabi .

Even rookies like Rima Maktabi of Al Arabiya news channel, whose childhood was spent seeking shelter from the civil war and who overcame stereotypes about her earlier career as a TV weather girl and game show host, embraced the challenge with bravery and determination to accurately disseminate the horrors of war.

“We saw death close up,” Maktabi told an interviewer for Lebanon’s An-Nahar, adding that her satellite channel obtained more than one exclusive during the 33 days of fierce battles.

She recounted how the convoy she rode in had accompanied a Lebanese Red Cross ambulance in south Lebanon and was targeted by Israeli gunners. As a result, the Red Cross asked the reporters to maintain a healthy distance on the road to prevent relief workers from being attacked by the Israelis.

“We also lived through the Israeli blockade (of Lebanon) and during the last 15 days of the war really felt the hardship of supplies running out in the country,” she recalled.

Maktabi, like other reporters, had to share what few food items she managed to carry with the starving civilians she encountered. Since extra weight could be problematic for TV journalists loaded with heavy equipment on the run, they often limited their supplies to bread and cheese.

She had traded the fashionable clothes she wore on Lebanon’s Future TV for a flak jacket and occasional helmet, knowing full well that the protective gear could easily be penetrated by Israeli missiles.

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