A few weeks ago, I ran into Danny Seaman, the head of Israel’s government press office who has a well-cultivated disdain for many international journalists covering Israel.
“I hear you’re leaving,” Danny said to me. “I’d pop the champagne, but I don’t drink.”
We both laughed and then had a chat about baseball.
I’m sure Danny has used that line dozens of times over the years with many a reporter who has set up shop in Jerusalem to cover this conflict.
Danny is famous for his hostility towards journalists.
Last year, Danny defended Israel’s decision to bar journalists from entering Gaza to cover the controversial military assault and accused reporters of becoming Hamas apologists.
(As a consequence, a recent survey of press freedom around the world found Israel's ranking was in "free fall.")
Over the last five years that I’ve worked in the Middle East, though, I never had a run-in with Danny. He never called to complain about our coverage and always made sure that our work visas and temporary press cards were quickly approved.
But now Danny can pop the champagne.
This week brings an end to Checkpoint Jerusalem.
As readers will have noticed, I’m heading to Kabul, where McClatchy is in the process of opening up a full-time bureau so we can better cover Afghanistan in the years ahead.
In my stead, McClatchy will be bringing you coverage from two of the most talented reporters in Jerusalem.
First, McClatchy is expanding its joint venture with The Christian Science Monitor so that readers will be able to read the work of Ilene Prusher, one of the most thoughtful veterans in Jerusalem.
But, for the first time in decades, McClatchy will no longer have a full-time bureau in Jerusalem.
In fact, McClatchy has become the last American news organization to close up shop in Beit Agron, the boxy press building that long-served as Jerusalem's media hub.
For decades, as I've written before, the fourth floor of Beit Agron was coveted real estate. Journalists waited for months and years to get space on the fourth floor.
Now the hall is deserted.
In troubled financial times, McClatchy has held out longer than most newspaper companies in retaining its international coverage.
Over the past four years, I've covered the Israel-Hezbollah war, Saudi sitcoms, elections in Lebanon, Obama's speech to the Muslim world, Palestinian drag queens, and Israeli politics.
But the years have largely been dominated by events in Gaza.
This blog began right before the Hamas military takeover of the Gaza Strip in June, 2007. Because Israel barred reporters from entering Gaza as the fighting intensified, I was one of the few international reporters to be inside to cover the chaos as it unfolded.
This blog devoted many posts to challenging Israel's decision to bar reporters from entering Gaza during last winter's offensive. And I was one of the many reporters to trek through the Egyptian desert to enter Gaza as Israeli forces pulled out last January.
While Danny derided reporters who ventured into Gaza to report on the fighting as a "disgrace to their profession," journalists from McClatchy, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The Times of London, The Independent, The Washington Post, The New York Times and other major news outlets spent weeks trying to separate fact from fiction, reality from propaganda.
Journalists spent hours interviewing survivors and testing their credibility. Reporters dug up medical records to verify claims, conducted separate interviews with witnesses, scoured neighborhoods for information, conferred with human rights researchers working in Gaza, examined the scenes of fighting, challenged inconsistencies in stories, and sought input from the Israeli military.
McClatchy reported on allegations that Israeli soldiers shot Palestinian civilians waving white flags and used Palestinian men as human shields. McClatchy wrote about Hamas using the fighting as cover to attack its Fatah rivals and about Israel's attack on the American school in Gaza.
And the United Nations has warned both Israel and Hamas that they could face war crimes charges if they don't launch serious, credible investigations of their conduct during the fighting.
The coverage that led to the UN actions was possible because so many international news outlets devoted time, money and resources to the story.
Jerusalem is still home to one of the biggest concentrations of reporters in the world. But the number of full-time journalists based in the Middle East is dwindling.
And that will make it harder for all of us to separate truth from fiction in this convoluted, politically-charged part of the world.
Checkpoint Jerusalem will soon be morphing into Checkpoint Kabul. There, as here, I hope to use the blog to report on both the substantive and the surreal.
Readers are invited to keep checking in at the new checkpoint...