The One Place Where Israel and Hamas Are Communicating

“By now,” he says, “they have issued an instruction to the anchors in the studio to not let me engage them. To not be responsive. So they tell me, ‘Yes we hear you, but we won’t talk to the enemy.’” Hopes of conversations were further dashed when Israel launched a ground invasion of Gaza on July 17, and then, last week, carried out a bombing campaign on several major Hamas targets, including Al-Aqsa’s Gaza City headquarters. Its studio was badly damaged, but the channel continues to broadcast.

That doesn’t mean that communication between the two sides has been completely shut off. Behind the scenes at both news stations, Yaari explains, the reality is quite different. “I speak to Hamas all the time. And they know who I am,” he says. “They are under strict orders not to talk to us, but they do.”

Sometimes, he says, they have an agenda—Can you pass a message to the prime minister? Can you make this statement on air? Other times, however, they just feel like chatting. Either way, once the conversation is concluded and Yaari takes his seat before the camera, he knows that his sources are watching intently.

“They try to use you,” he says. “Of course they have other channels as well, but they will suggest to me, can you drop this idea to someone? And since they follow us, they know exactly what I say on air, what I took from the conversation and what my interpretation is.”

Sometimes Yaari knows what his sources are going to say to him before he even gets them on the phone. That’s because his reporting team—four Channel 2 reporters who work alongside him, plus two others who routinely monitor hundreds of Arabic-language news channels, fed into the station’s control room through a forest of satellite dishes—does journalistic work that could be mistaken for Israeli intelligence operations. They maintain a slew of computers with hidden IP addresses that can’t be traced back to Israel, and manage dozens of Arabic-language social-media profiles. They slip into chat rooms, monitor YouTube videos and Facebook feeds, and click away on smartphones in WhatsApp groups. It’s here, in the nooks and crannies of the Arabic-language Internet, that Yaari gets his most reliable information (Yaari claims that news operations across the Arab world are engaged in similar initiatives).  

When Hamas was prepping the first-ever video of Gilad Shalit, the former IDF soldier who was captured in a cross-border raid in 2006 and held in captivity for five years, Channel 2 got wind of the video days before it was due to be released to the Israeli government. “They were in the course of preparing the video. They had a raw version, without graphics, and it wasn’t ready for release,” Yaari says now. “We broke the story—it was such big news, the first video of the abducted soldier—and they were stunned … they never learned who it was.”

Yaari, for his part, regularly arrives in the Channel 2 studio with an earpiece in each ear—one in Hebrew for his producer, who speaks to him while he delivers the news, and one in Arabic, hooked up to a Palestinian station and offering a live feed that he can drop into the broadcast if he so chooses.             

Regardless of when the current conflict in Gaza subsides for good, the two sides will continue watching each other religiously. “We are playing a very dangerous game,” Yaari admits. “Whether they pick up our feed or we pick up theirs, when we do it live on air we lose control.” Nevertheless, he remains convinced that the benefits outweigh the risks.

“We have achieved the dream of any journalist, especially on air,” he says of his work at Channel 2. “Which is the ability, in times of crisis, to be instantaneous.”

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Debra Kamin is a writer and editor living in Israel.

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