During one of its frequent raids on the occupied West Bank on January 19, the Israeli army arrested Palestinian journalist Abdul Muhsen Shalaldeh near the city of Al-Khalil (Hebron). This was just the latest in a staggering number of violations against Palestinian journalists and freedom of expression.
A few days earlier, the head of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), Naser Abu Baker, shared some tragic statistics at a press conference in Ramallah. “Since 2000, fifty-five reporters have been killed, either by Israeli fire or bombing,” he said. Hundreds more were injured, arrested or detained. While shocking, much of this reality is censored in the mainstream media.
The assassination by Israeli occupation soldiers of veteran Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11 last year was an exception, partly due to the global influence of her employer, Al Jazeera Network. Nevertheless, Israel and its allies worked to bury the news, resorting to the usual tactics of smearing those who defy the Israeli narrative.
Palestinian journalists pay a high price for carrying out their mission of spreading the truth about Israel’s ongoing oppression of Palestinians. Their work is crucial not only for proper and balanced media coverage, but also for the cause of justice and freedom in Palestine.
In a January 17 report, the PJS describes some of the harrowing experiences of Palestinian journalists. “In the past year, dozens of journalists have been targeted by the occupying forces and settlers [recorded] the highest number of serious attacks against Palestinian journalists.”
However, the harm inflicted on Palestinian journalists is not only physical and material. They are also constantly exposed to a very subtle, but equally dangerous threat: the continued delegitimization of their work.
The violence of delegitimization
One of the writers of this piece, Romana Rubeo, attended a private meeting of more than 100 Italian journalists on January 18, the purpose of which was to advise them on how to report accurately on Palestine. Rubeo did her best to convey some of the facts discussed in this article, which she does every day as editor-in-chief of the Palestine Chronicle.
However, a seasoned Israeli journalist, often touted for her courageous coverage of Palestine, hit like a bombshell when she suggested that while the truth is on the side of the Palestinians, they cannot be completely trusted about the small details. The Israelis, she said, are more reliable in the little things, but they lie about the big picture.
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Scandalous—yes, Orientalist—that thinking may seem, it dwarfs the Israeli government’s state-run hasbara (propaganda) machine.
Is it true that Palestinians cannot be trusted with the small details? When Abu Akleh was killed, she wasn’t the only journalist targeted by Jenin. Her companion, another Palestinian journalist, Ali Al-Samoudi, was there and was also shot in the back by an Israeli bullet and wounded.
Al-Samoudi was the main eyewitness to what happened that day. He told journalists from his hospital bed that there was no fighting in the area; that he and Shireen wore clearly marked press vests; that they were deliberately targeted by Israeli soldiers; and that Palestinian fighters were nowhere near the range from which they were shot.
All this was rejected by Israel and, in turn, by the mainstream media in the West. Palestinians, remember, “cannot be trusted with the small details.”
However, investigations by international human rights organizations and eventually a shy Israeli admission of possible guilt proved that Al-Samoudi’s account was the most honest account of what happened on that fateful day. Similar episodes have been repeated hundreds of times over the years, dismissing Palestinian views as untrue or exaggerated from the start and embracing the Israeli narrative as the only possible truth, only for this “truth” to eventually be exposed as a lie. to take. , authenticating the Palestinian narrative every time. Very often the facts are revealed too little and too late.
The murder of 12-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Al-Durrah in 2000 remains to this day the most shameful episode of bias in Western media. The boy was killed by Israeli occupation forces in Gaza as his father tried to protect him. This was completely in the crosshairs of the media. His murder was in fact blamed on the Palestinians, before the murder story was rewritten to suggest that he was killed in “crossfire”. That version of the story eventually morphed into the reluctant acceptance of Palestinian coverage of the incident. The story didn’t end there, however, as the Zionist hasbara continued to push his story, smearing those who adopted the Palestinian version as being anti-Israel or even “anti-Semitic”.
(No) permission to tell
Palestinian journalism has proven its effectiveness in recent years – with coverage of Israel’s military offensives against Gaza being a case in point – thanks to the power of social media and its ability to disseminate information directly to news consumers. Yet the challenges remain great.
Nearly four decades after the publication of Edward Said’s essay “Permission to Narrate,” and more than a decade after Rafeef Ziadah’s seminal poem “We Teach Life, Sir,” it appears that Palestinians still need to be heard on some media platforms and in some political environments. have to get permission to tell. In part, this is because of the anti-Palestinian racism that remains prevalent, and in the opinion of a supposedly pro-Palestinian journalist, Palestinians cannot be trusted with the small details.
However, there is some hope in this story. There is a new, powerful and courageous generation of Palestinian activists – authors, writers, journalists, bloggers, filmmakers and artists – who are more than qualified to represent the Palestinians and present a cohesive, non-factional and universal political discourse on Palestine.
The search of a new generation for the truth
Times have indeed changed and Palestinians no longer need filters, such as those who speak on their behalf, because Palestinians are supposedly incapable of doing so.
We recently interviewed two representatives of this new generation of Palestinian journalists; two strong voices arguing for an authentic Palestinian presence in international media: journalists and editors Ahmed Alnaouq and Fahya Shalash.
Shalash is a West Bank-based reporter, who discussed media coverage based on Palestinian priorities and gave many examples of important stories that often go unreported. “We Palestinian women have many obstacles in our lives and they are [all] related to the Israeli occupation because it is very dangerous to work as a journalist,” she explained. “The whole world saw what happened to Shireen Abu Akleh because she reported the truth about Palestine.”
She understands that being a Palestinian reporter on Palestine is not only a professional pursuit, but also an emotional and personal experience. “When I’m working and on the phone with the families of Palestinian prisoners or martyrs, I sometimes burst into tears.”
Stories of the abuse and assault of Palestinian women by Israeli soldiers are hardly a media topic. “Israel puts on the democracy mask and pretends to care about women’s rights, but that is not the case here at all,” the Palestinian journalist noted. “Israeli security forces beat female Palestinian journalists because they are physically weaker; and they curse them with very inappropriate language. I was detained for questioning by Israeli forces. This affected my work. They threatened me and said if I continued to portray them as criminals in my line of work, they would prevent me from becoming a journalist.”
This is not reflected in Western media, Shalash added. “They keep talking about women’s rights and gender equality, but we [Palestinians under Israeli occupation] have no rights at all. We don’t live like any other country.”
Alnaouq is the head of the Palestinian organization We Are Not Numbers. He explained how the mainstream media never allows Palestinian voices to be present in their coverage. Even pieces written by Palestinians are “heavily” edited. “It’s also the fault of the editors. Sometimes they make big mistakes. If a Palestinian is killed in Gaza or the West Bank, the editors should say who the perpetrator is, but these publications often omit this information. They cite Israel not.” as the perpetrator. They have some kind of agenda that they want to impose.”
When asked how he would change the coverage of Palestine if he worked as an editor in a mainstream Western publication, Alnaouq said, “I would just tell the truth. And this is what we want as Palestinians. We want the truth. That don’t we? We don’t want Western media to be biased towards us and attack Israel, we just want them to tell the truth as it should be.”
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Only Palestinian voices can convey the emotions of highly charged stories about Palestine, stories that never make it to the mainstream media. Even when such stories do get through, they often miss context, prioritize Israeli positions — if not outright lies — and sometimes omit the Palestinians altogether. But as the work of Abu Akleh, Al-Samoudi, Alnaouq, Shalash and hundreds of others continues to demonstrate, Palestinians are qualified to produce quality journalism with integrity and professionalism.
It is essential that the Palestinians are at the heart of the Palestinian narrative in all its manifestations. It is time to break free from the old mindset that saw the Palestinian as incapable of telling, or being a liability for, his/her own story; are secondary characters that can be replaced or replaced by those deemed more believable and truthful. Anything less than this may rightly be mistaken for Orientalist thinking of a bygone era; or worse.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect Middle East Monitor’s editorial policies.