Reporter's Notebook: Bad Boys and Donkeys

Mike Tobin
Father Flanagan, from the old Mickey Rooney movie "Boys Town" would have found challenge to his old thesis — "There are no bad boys" — if he met up with the gang of Gaza street kids we encountered during the course of our newsgathering. I should be fair, I'm sure the kids are not bad by nature, but this is a tough environment in which they grow up and some of them end up, well...different than American kids.

The blood has been flowing here in Gaza just about every day. Aside from the Hamas versus Fatah gun battles, Palestinians and Israelis have been trading Qassam rockets for hellfire missiles with increasing frequency. This particular morning Islamic Jihad militants fired another round of Qassam rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot. Israel is embarrassed and tired of enduring the rocket fire, so we are predicting another big air strike from the Israeli Air Force soon. For that reason photographer Mal James, producer Ibraim Hazboun and I are geared up with a very mobile videophone attached to our armored truck, and we're doing our reporting in the neighborhoods where the next big thing is likely to happen.

That brought us to a slum on the edge of the Jabaliya refugee camp. There were Hamas gunmen around, and the location seemed as good as any to do our reports. So we set up about 30 minutes ahead of our live window. While we waited, we got the attention of the street kids. These are kids who have grown up surrounded by the ugly side of life. After witnessing the kind of violence they have seen, an adult speaking angrily to them has no intimidating effect. They are also terrifically bored.

One kid attracted another and another, until we had a throng of them around our live shot. Soon they were crowding into the spot where I was standing and jumping around in the background in the hope that they would get on camera. The bold ones started smacking me on the backside. I was trying to pay extra attention to my wallet making certain it didn't get lifted in the process. Ibrahim and Mal were busy setting up and making sure the gear didn't disappear.

If you get cross with these street hooligans and try to scare them off, they just get more belligerent. Asking them to leave nicely wasn't working. But if you were to give one of them the kick in the pants he was earning, he would go get his brother or cousin, who would unite against the outsider, regardless of right or wrong. We'd be outnumbered and in more trouble than we bargained for that day.

One of the Hamas gunmen saw our deteriorating situation and came over to help. He grabbed the most troublesome of the kids by his dirty blue T-shirt, scolded him and manhandled him a bit. Despite the AK-47 and the new uniform of the militiamen, the little street urchin was unfettered and undaunted in his quest for entertainment at our expense. Our best bet was to ignore them and hope they'd get bored with us, but that wasn't working either. These kids won't have anything more fun to do than harass a TV crew today, tomorrow or next month.

With their volume and energy growing, the kid in the dirty blue T-shirt untied a nearby donkey and started moving the poor thing closer to my live location. It appeared his intention was to wait for me to start talking then scare the donkey into the shot with me. With kids jumping around, I determined my live report was going to be disrupted either by beast or bad boy. The visual of kids jumping around making mischief was not going to reflect the seriousness of the present reality in Gaza. Helpless to control my immediate environment, I decided that whatever happened, I would just try to explain it away in as few words as possible, then get back to my report.

Who would have guessed that the donkey would be the key to our salvation? The donkey's owner, who depends on the animal for his livelihood, saw the young roustabout rustling his stock, and the back of his tanned, sweaty neck got red. He came up on our location hollering at the kids. When the kid in the blue T-shirt turned on him with the usual belligerence, the donkey owner cuffed him in the head so hard you could hear it pop from 10 yards away. Soon, he was popping all the street kids he could reach.

A rock landed by his feet and that just made the old donkey owner angrier. He reached down into the dust came up with rocks are started firing them at the kids. I've got to give the old guy a lot of credit. He was bobbing, weaving and dodging rocks like Joe Louis slipping punches. The kids were dropping rocks in the dirt all around him. But the old guy was firing rocks back with the precision of a trained sniper. Nearly every one of his pitches was followed by the shrill cry of a troublemaking youngster who had just been beaned. With just a minute to go until our live shot, the donkey owner had chased all the kids back into defensive positions. Meanwhile, the donkey quietly stood his ground. The dust settled and all the viewers ever knew was the information I intended to put in my report.

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.