Reporter's Notebook: The Strawberry Revolution

Mike Tobin
Gaza — My photographer Mal James, producer Ibrahim Hazboun, and I were trying to have a civilized breakfast this morning when the phones started ringing. Fatah gunmen had stormed the EU building in Gaza. Because it was an international building, this was a new twist from the daily storming of parliament over their internal politics. It turns out they were upset with a cartoon published in a Danish newspaper that made fun of the prophet Mohammed. So they stormed the building, read a statement about no Danish people being allowed in Gaza, fired guns in the air and left. It was interesting, but I felt, in the daily round up of gunmen-storming-building stories, this one was slightly off the mark.

Word suddenly shot through the press scurrying around the outside of the EU building that a group of farmers were headed to President Mahmoud Abbas’ Gaza home to dump their harvest in protest.

They have a beef. The farmers spent a whole growing season raising tomatoes, strawberries, flowers and some other produce in hothouses purchased and preserved from the Israeli settlements before the evacuation. But now that it is harvest time, Israel closed the Karni industrial crossing out of the Gaza Strip, saying they had a warning that a bomb was on its way out. Karni is the only route they have to get the harvest to market and it all rotted at the crossing.

As they were driving the rotten produce to the president’s pad, we jumped in our cab. I told the driver, in Arabic, “Go to Mahmoud Abbas’ house, please.” He turned to Ibrahim and asked, “Where do you want to go?” Ibrahim responded “Mahmoud Abbas’ house.” And off we went.

I asked Ibrahim, “Is my Arabic so bad that he can’t understand me?” Ibrahim responded, “No, he just didn’t listen to you.”

The farmers never made it all the way to the president’s house. The Palestinian police, in great numbers, stopped them about a quarter mile away. The farmers began dumping their produce right there on the street. They threw it up in the air, shouted and waved their hands. Apparently, the strawberries were not entirely rotten because some of the demonstrators, and even a few police officers, started picking them up off the ground and eating them. Mal ate one. I was amazed. He’s such a picky eater — he brings his own special food on the road — and now he was scarfing discarded food off the ground. “Not bad” was all he said after coming dangerously close to the fine line between man and bum.

The farmers’ choice to demonstrate at Abbas’ residence seemed a bit misplaced. He wasn’t even there. I guess they just felt helpless and frustrated after losing the whole take for a growing season and wanted to vent some anger at someone. We overheard a police officer tell one of the demonstrators, “Your problem is with Israel. We don’t have contact with Israel anymore. So, go complain to Mahmoud Zahar (The Gaza leader of Hamas).”

One of my competitors, who arrived at the demonstration, commented on all the police who had showed up, “Where were these guys the other night?” He had a point. When the riots were taking place at the president’s house two nights ago, they were nowhere to be seen. But today they were in riot formation, in their riot gear with acrylic shields ready to defend against a cherry-tomato offensive.

“How much of this are you going to need?” asked Mal.

“I might use it as one element,” I responded. “We’ll need enough video for a minute.”

“Alright, I think the ‘Strawberry Revolution’ is over,” he said.

Later in the day, we were at the home of the number one candidate from Hamas, and likely prime minister, Ismayel Haniya. It was to be another Middle East media scrum press conference.

I want to point out something from these press conferences. Next time you see one, look at all the microphones with the plastic cubes we media types call “mic flags.” There is a sea of microphones in front of the speaker. It’s getting silly.

Here is the secret you’ll learn exclusively from me: Most of the mics are props. Only about one-third of them are actually working.

There are agencies here in Israel and the Palestinian territories, which work for a host of different media outlets all over the world. Some outlets can’t send crews to Israel and the territories because their countries don’t get along. Some of them can’t afford to keep staff here. Or if they do have staff, they can’t be at every event. But they want the sound bites. And the clients want their “mic flag” in the shot because it looks like they were there. So there are guys (we’ve dubbed them “microphone bearers”) whose job it is to get the mic flags front and center.

When the press madness happens on the fly and goes handheld, these guys will have three in one hand, but only one mic is actually hooked to a camera. You’d need a really big hand to accommodate four. Sometimes they’ve got both hands full of mics and only one cable coming out. They get very aggressive about it because their job is not just to get the audio, but, more importantly, to get that flag on TV.

Mike Tobin is a foreign correspondent for FOX News Channel based in Jerusalem.

Michael Tobin joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Chicago-based correspondent.