Journalist talks about reporting in Israel

Yonah Bob describes his experiences in a region where there is no shortage of stories.

While many Halifax residents stayed inside to avoid messy streets and snow clogged sidewalks on Thursday, about 20 people made their way to the Lord Nelson Hotel to hear what journalist Yonah Bob had to say about Israel.

Originally from Baltimore, Bob has worked various jobs. He has worked for the international law division of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign affairs, and for publications like the BBC, Sky News and Russia Today. He currently works as a legal affairs correspondent and an international affairs commentator for the Jerusalem Post.

No shortage of stories

“I never have to worry about finding a story to write about,” said Bob who has posted four stories since he left Halifax Friday morning. Topics include IDF’s treatment of Palestinian miners, the IDF’s effort to avoid civilian casualties and an IDF war probe report.

“There’s something about three major religions having holy sites in one tiny city,” he said. Bob says he is more likely to have trouble deciding which story is the most important to write than finding an important story.

“There are definitely two narratives being told,” he said.

“I live on the Israeli side. I only see the suffering of the Israelis,” he said. “At the same time Palestinians only see Palestinian suffering.”

About 20 people made it out through roughly cleared streets to hear Yonah Bob talk about Israel (Photo: Rachel Collier)
About 20 people listen to Yonah Bob talk about Israel (Photo: Rachel Collier)

Bob said stressful events and memories affect his writing. He has reported on his friends mourning the deaths of their friends, and he has been threatened by rockets fired by the Palestinians.

He told the story of an attack that happened while his wife was in the shower. “Put on a towel! I’ll get the kids!” he shouted to her. They had to rush to a bomb shelter as rockets hit their city.

Bob said he believes that by being aware of his biases he can do a better job at being impartial.

He also said that getting reliable contacts from both sides can be an extremely sensitive task, but it’s also crucial to the quality of a story.

Fear and anxiety

Israel has been through three wars since 2009. Some cities have experienced multiple attacks every day for extended periods of time during the heat of conflicts.

“Rockets have been raining down on Israeli cities,” said Bob. “The amount of fear and anxiety of ‘Jo Shmo Israeli’ is very high.”

He said that the people are terrified of groups such as ISIS, Hamas or Hezbollah.

“There are a lot of Israelis now that feel that every time we withdrawal from land in order to get peace, we get more war and closer on our borders,” said Bob.

“Then there is the fear that you have, you know, a dangerous enemy like ISIS. If we withdraw from another place, maybe we withdraw from the West Bank, and ISIS takes over or Hamas takes over, suddenly the security issues are even more complicated and dangerous. That seems to be the prevailing opinion of your centre Israeli.”

“Central Israelis bounce around,” said Bob about political ideologies and support trends. “Sometimes things stay the same forever in Israel, but sometimes with the snap of a finger they turn around.”

Bob said he believes that fear is one of the main reasons why many typically centrist Israeli voters decided to vote for Benjamin Netanyahu in the recent Israeli election.

Still optimistic

It gives Bob hope to see diplomats who oppose one another on the record, but who can put aside their differences in search of a resolution.

For example, as an intern for the Israeli embassy to the United Nations, Bob said he sat in on meetings where Israeli and Arab diplomats yelled back and forth in heated debate. Afterwards, diplomats from differing parties kidded around about how, if they were in charge, they would fix the conflict together in no time.

Bob also referred to the six Palestinian reporters who reported that rockets were illegally being fired from residential areas after they left the Gaza strip. He said it was a brave act, and noted that “they probably won’t be invited back to the party the next time.”

This is an understatement, considering that the reporters were threatened of being beaten if they reported on the story while still in Gaza.

“I have no idea when, but I’m an optimist, I think that someday there will be peace,” said Bob.