‘Headlines from the Holy Land’ at Waterstones, Chiswick

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On Wednesday 8th June, I gave a talk at Waterstones in Chiswick, west London.


Thanks very much to everyone who came along, and to Joe Scott from Waterstones who chaired the discussion about Headlines from the Holy Land.

The book’s publisher, Palgrave, have included it in a new timeline of key moments for journalism in the Middle East.

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Discussion and book signing, 8th June


On Wednesday 8th June at 1900, I will be at Waterstones in Chiswick to discuss my latest book, Headlines from the Holy Land. More details here .

Do please come along if you can.


Press Gazette publishes ‘Headlines from the Holy Land’ extract


The Press Gazette has published an extract from Headlines from the Holy Land.  It is adapted from Chapter 7 ‘Social Media: A Real Battleground’.

Since the Arab uprisings of early 2011, social media have played an increasing role in the politics and conflict of the wider Middle East. That has been especially true in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood, who returned to Gaza to cover the Israeli military operation in the summer of 2014 concluded of her time on that assignment: “If you want to know what’s happening, it’s on social media first, before any other news outlet, so it’s essential to be monitoring Twitter all the time.”

This is how the journalism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has evolved: while eyewitness reporting remains of paramount importance, it is no longer sufficient just to be in one place.

With social media, and Twitter in particular, you have simultaneously to keep an eye on what is going on elsewhere too.

Social media had been a part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since it came into being. Following Operation “Cast Lead” – an Israeli military campaign in Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009 – there were reports that both the Israeli Army and Hamas’ military wing had warned those in their ranks against using social media for what doing so might give away to the enemy.

This was different.

You can read the full extract here. You can also read the introduction, and part of Chapter 1, on the publisher’s website, here.  


Headlines from the Holy Land now published

9781137395122.EditMy new book, Headlines from the Holy Land: reporting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has now been published by Palgrave MacMillan.

Here’s a brief outline

Tied by history, politics, and faith to all corners of the globe, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fascinates and infuriates people across the world. Based on new archive research and original interviews with leading correspondents and diplomats, Headlines from the Holy Land explains why this fiercely contested region exerts such a pull over reporters: those who bring the story to the world. Despite decades of diplomacy, a just and lasting end to the conflict remains as difficult as ever to achieve. Inspired by the author’s own experience as the BBC’s correspondent in Gaza from 2002-2004, and subsequent research, this book draws on the insight of those who have spent years observing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Starting from a historical perspective, it identifies the challenges the conflict presents for contemporary journalism and diplomacy, and suggests new ways of approaching them.

You can find more about it, and read the introduction and the first chapter, on the publisher’s website. You can also order copies there, or from Amazon.

There will be a launch event in London next month, and I will publish details of that here.

My thanks go to those who have read the book, and written the following:

At a time when reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is under unprecedented scrutiny, James Rodgers provides an essential and insightful historical perspective on the long “war of words” behind a major conflict of our time.
Rodgers’ book is essential reading for those seeking a greater understanding of the difficult dynamics behind reporting – and resolving conflicts.

Lyse Doucet, Chief International Correspondent, BBC News

Headlines from The Holy Land is an impressively, innovative form of history as media history, looking at one of the most complex stories of our age through the imperfect, shifting but revelatory perspectives of the many journalists who covered this often compelling tale as it unfolded, from its 1946 roots through the various wars and propaganda battles fought in the streets of Gaza or the networks of social media. James Rodgers is an insightful, empathetic and rigorous guide to how journalism struggled – often heroically – to tell one of the most brutal and difficult of international stories.

Charlie Beckett, Director, Polis, Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics

James Rodgers is honestly direct about the challenges and pressures that makes reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unique amongst the myriad of crises faced by international journalists; something he was uniquely placed to do as the only western correspondent based in the Gaza Strip in the tumultuous years immediately after 9/11.  But what makes this book so refreshing and incisive is that this account of reporting on this most intractable yet consequential conflict is the work of someone with the benefit of having been an experienced foreign correspondent but who is now writes with the rigour of an academic’s eye on how our world is reported.  In doing so, Rodgers leaves very few stones unturned, from the war over terminology and language, to the increasing role of religion in a crisis centred on the a small area brimful of contested holy sites and he is framed it in a way that has context, careful analysis and is accessible to all those who either want to understand how this war which continues to have a major international impact is reported and to those who want to report it themselves.

Rageh Omaar, International Affairs Editor, ITV News

Reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict often generates as much controversy as the issue itself. James Rodger’s book is rare for approaching the subject of how the story has been told by Western journalists over the decades, with an open mind & an academic rigour. It combines detailed research and candid insights from many of the region’s seasoned correspondents with an accessible style that keep the pages turning. With so many thoroughly biased self-appointed media watch dogs out there it’s refreshing to read something that genuinely attempts to tackle the job of reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with intelligent thoughtfulness.

Paul Danahar, Author of ‘The New Middle East: the world after the Arab Spring’

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has been more intensively covered by the media, and for a longer period, than any other in recent times. In this fascinating book, James Rodgers tells us the story of the story. He shows how, as the struggle came to be as much about meaning, language, and perception as about bullets, bombs, or negotiations, reporters were under constant pressure from two sides seeking to control the narrative to their own advantage. He shows, too, how they brought their own prejudices and national viewpoints to the story, and how, nevertheless, good reporting did emerge and was, as it remains, vital in sustaining what informed public opinion there is on the dire state of affairs in the Holy Land of the title.

Martin Woollacott, commentator on international affairs and former foreign editor, The Guardian

‘An important and necessary book.’

Patrick Cockburn, The Independent

A view of the barrier between Israel and the West Bank, near Qalandiya crossing point, June 2014 Picture: James Rodgers

A view of the barrier between Israel and the West Bank, near Qalandiya crossing point, June 2014
Picture: James Rodgers

Headlines from the Holy Land — update March 2015

I have finished the manuscript for my next book, Headlines from the Holy Land. The book is due to be published later this year by Palgrave Macmillan. I will post details here once they become available.

In the meantime, I was a guest this weekend on the BBC World Service’s Weekend programme. I discussed — among many other things — Russia, the Middle East, and even how Pacific oysters got to the North Sea. You can listen here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02l1yz9 .

Coming 2015: ‘Headlines from the Holy Land’

THEY DUG THROUGH TONS OF RUBBLE to try to save those lying beneath. Their efforts were often in vain. The trapped casualties were already dead.

This could have been Gaza in the summer of 2014. It could also have been Jerusalem in the summer of 1946, when an armed Jewish group fighting to drive the British out of Palestine bombed the King David hotel, then the headquarters of the British administration.

In both cases, journalists from across the world were there to try to tell the story of what was happening: a story which for decades has fascinated, and often horrified, reporters, editors, and audiences.

I am currently finishing my next book, Headlines from the Holy Land. It is due to be published later this year by Palgrave Macmillan, publishers of my first book, Reporting Conflict. The book tells the story of the way that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been covered from the 1940s until now. The early chapters draw on extensive archive research; the later ones on interviews with more than twenty journalists and diplomats in the Middle East, Britain, and the United States.

A view of the barrier between Israel and the West Bank, near Qalandiya crossing point, June 2014 Picture: James Rodgers

A view of the barrier between Israel and the West Bank, near Qalandiya crossing point, June 2014
Picture: James Rodgers

I also draw on my own experience of being based in Gaza for the BBC from 2002 to 2004. Since then, I have returned regularly to the region, including making two trips to Jerusalem and the West Bank in the last 12 months to gather material for the book.

Headlines from the Holy Land explores the relationship between journalists and diplomats: who knows more about what is going on? Why has the Israeli-Palestinian conflict attracted so much airtime and diplomatic effort? In conclusion, the book analyses how the conflict is evolving, and how both journalism and diplomacy need to respond.

I will post some more details of the book between now and publication. In the meantime, I look forward to the chance to discuss some of my work with the Journalism students at City University London who will be taking my ‘Reporting Conflict’ module this term.

Gaza: wars of weapons, and wars of words

Large-scale bloodshed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict provokes a series of responses. Often, they seem almost to follow a pattern — especially when, as at present, there is no prospect even of talks about talks to end the conflict. In the absence of any meaningful political process, the two sides fight; Israel’s far superior firepower means more Palestinians than Israelis are killed; eventually, there will be a ceasefire.

Alongside the bombs and bullets, the warring parties trade arguments: both for the benefit of their own people, and international consumption. The news media report what’s happening. Lobby groups and columnists criticize the media coverage. Journalists writing about the conflict can expect to receive abusive email (something of which I was reminded yesterday).

Yet there is no doubt that in all contemporary wars belligerents place massive emphasis on the importance of their media campaigns. As a Georgian official I spoke to after his country’s 2008 war with Russia told me, ‘In this century, and in a conflict where you have a huge power against a small state, I think that’s almost as important as the media battle.’ (From Reporting Conflict p.68).

In the last week, I have had two pieces published on the website of The Conversation. You can read the latest one here (a version follows below, too) and the earlier one (posted last week on this site) here. Among other issues, they consider the challenges of reporting from Gaza, and the way editorial priorities in the Middle East are shifting.

Fortifications near Qalandia check point between the West Bank and Jerusalem, June 2014 ©James Rodgers

Fortifications near Qalandia check point between the West Bank and Jerusalem, June 2014 ©James Rodgers

The world was no longer watching – at least, that was what both Israelis and Palestinians seemed to feel when I visited Jerusalem and the West Bank late last month.

Yet the people on both sides of the conflict suspected what outsiders did not: that things could go badly wrong very soon. Now missiles strike targets in Gaza to stop rockets launching out of there. With a combination of horror and despair, the world is watching.

I had been on the West Bank talking to people for my next book: Headlines from the Holy Land. Travelling back to Jerusalem, I wondered if I could step off the bus at the main check point to take pictures of some of the fortifications.

When I was based in the region, this might have been something which could get you into trouble – perhaps only shouted at; perhaps warned off with a shot. At the back of my mind was always the death of James Miller, a British cameraman fatally shot by the Israeli Army in Gaza at the time I lived and worked there as the BBC’s correspondent.

All the people I asked whether it was safe or wise to take photos at the Qalandiya checkpoint dismissed my concerns. One Palestinian journalist even told me it had become “like a TV studio” there. I jumped off the bus, took my pictures, and got on the next bus back to East Jerusalem.

A week later that side of the city was no longer as calm. Palestinians, angered at the abduction and killing of a Palestinian teenager, clashed with Israeli Security forces. That abduction was apparently carried out in response to the earlier killing of three Israeli teenagers. At the time of my visit, the three Israelis had been missing for ten days, but their deaths were yet to be confirmed.

The atmosphere I experienced – where you could pass checkpoints without hindrance, and photograph the concrete wall next to them – was deceptive.

Two weeks later, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has reached a level of violence not seen since Israel’s last major offensive on Gaza, in November 2012. Then, as now, Israel says its operation is aimed at stopping rockets being launched at Israeli targets. Now, as then – given the density of population in the besieged coastal territory – the majority of the dead are civilians.

That’s more like the Gaza I knew when I lived there from 2002-2004, at the height of the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising against Israel. Perhaps because of my previous experience, I too feared the worse when I read of the disappearance of the Israeli teenagers. There seemed a strong chance their deaths, if such they were, would not be the last.

Israelis I spoke to on my first morning in Jerusalem asked if the story was being covered in the UK. I explained that Iraq and Syria were dominating the British headlines from the region.

They were dominating news-gathering agendas, too. For while the calm I experienced crossing into the West Bank two weeks ago may have been temporary, something else had changed since the second intifada: the number of international journalists based in Jerusalem. It had fallen significantly. Many US news organisations had left – driven away by dwindling budgets, drawn away by more dramatic events elsewhere in the Middle East. Rumour suggested some big British names were planning to follow suit.

Would it matter if Jerusalem ceased to be the journalistic hub it has been in recent decades? There are good reasons for going elsewhere – not least that Israel’s relations with some of its neighbours make it a poor departure point for travel in the wider Middle East.

My own experience with my camera that afternoon taught me a valuable lesson. My concern that taking pictures might land me in trouble was based on my experiences of a decade ago. Reporters working there more recently knew I was not really taking a risk. Yet if things had changed, it was only on the surface. The bloodshed in Gaza of recent days shows that the previous quiet did not mean peace.

That leads me to another reason why reporting from Jerusalem is so valuable. Palestinians and Israelis have little direct contact. In that part of the world, international journalists are among the few who can travel widely, including to Gaza.

Even diplomats, divided as they are between missions to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, rarely get the full picture. Those from the EU and the US are not even permitted to talk to Hamas), which has been in charge of Gaza for the best part of a decade. They may instead seek journalists’ views.

So reporting from Jerusalem, whatever its shortcomings, is an invaluable resource for understanding the region. Diplomacy, in the shape of the latest failed talks, has ground once more to a halt. News organisations should reflect that no peace process should not mean no correspondent.