Reporters on the Job
• Into a Palestinian Militia Camp : With the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, correspondent Nicholas Blanford wanted to do a story about another nonindigenous force making its home in Lebanon: Palestinian militia (this page).
He wasn't sure how difficult it would be to find the camps, but he says that his trip to the Bekaa Valley was more fruitful than anticipated. "I was expecting to get turned away from all the bases I visited. I had been to the Fatah Intifada base in March 2000 after it was bombed by Israeli jets. But as it turns out, I think most people have forgotten it exists," says Nick. "When I entered this remote valley, there was no obvious indication that the Palestinians were still there. We stopped at a farmer's hut and asked an old man when the Fatah Intifada people had left. He replied somewhat indignantly: 'We are Fatah Intifada and we haven't left.' "
Nick had read stories about the Palestinian camps in the local Lebanese media. But he and his Reuters colleague, he says, "were the first reporters to reach the PFLP-GC base above Qussaya, partly because we had a four-wheel drive vehicle to get there. The Palestinians were very surprised and a little irritated to see us. But they invited us into the hut, and we spent half an hour interviewing their commander."
• Clearing the Courtroom : A bail hearing in the provincial Egyptian city of Damanhur gave staff writer Dan Murphy a glimpse of how chaotic and frightening it can be for average Egyptians when they have to deal with the government.
The hearing, scheduled for 11 a.m., seemed ready to go when the 12 accused - farmers caught up in a land dispute - were brought into a small viewing cage at the side of the courtroom, says Dan. "But then court policemen began moving through the crowd, identifying those they thought were family members of the accused, and forcibly evicted them from the courtroom," he says. "Then the accused were led out of the cage again, and the lawyers began scrambling for information in the cavernous government building."
One of the lawyers said that officials sometimes switch the case at the last second so the lawyers can't find the hearing and represent their clients. At least three mothers of the accused wailed in the hallway.
A few hours later, Dan says, the accused were led into another cage in a separate court room, and two family members were manhandled out of the room. Then a policeman turned on Dan, saying the judge had ordered him out as well, but one of the lawyers intervened. "He told them, 'This is a public case, and everyone has a right to be here. Only the judge can order the room cleared,' " Dan says. The man conferred with the judge, and called the judges and the accused into his chambers, where the hearing was held in private.
"The really weird part of this is that, at about 10 p.m. that evening, the judge finally ruled - allowing the men to go home without posting bail," says Dan. "It just seems that they're so unaccustomed to scrutiny of any kind that they reflexively wanted to shut everyone out, even when the ruling ended up being favorable to the farmers."
David Clark Scott