A Personal Bias

From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)

Ewa Jasciewicz | The Guardian | 26 August 2004

Life for journalists wanting to report from Israel has just become harder. I was detained two weeks ago by the Israeli authorities while trying to enter the country in order to complete a number of commissions for the British magazine Red Pepper. I have been held in custody at Ben Gurion airport ever since, while appealing against deportation. Yesterday, an Israeli judge ruled that the evidence against me, which has not been seen by my lawyer, is admissible, and so my appeal will be heard by the supreme court in the near future. During my initial interrogation at the airport in Tel Aviv I was asked if I knew any violent Palestinians. Responding in the negative, I was told: "We think you do, but we can accept that you don't know that you do." It shouldn't have come as a surprise to me that the Israeli state sees all Palestinians as potential terrorists. Thus anyone who associates with them is, at best, an unwitting associate. This view now seems to be extended to include politically engaged journalists such as myself. To write well you must write about what you know well. In the course of my political activism I have visited the Palestinian communities in Gaza and the West Bank on many occasions. Ironically, however, this time I had planned to write about the Israeli side of the struggle. I believe it is hugely important to diversify the representation of Israel both within the peace movement and within the national media. For many on the left, Israelis are seen only as soldiers, killers and snipers. Civil disobedience by peace and justice movements within Israel is largely invisible. Groups like Tay'Ush, the Arab-Jewish partnership for peace, and the growing refuseniks' movement represent a mounting Israeli consciousness, are vital to resolving the conflict. This is, of course, anathema to the political right within the country. Israel likes to define itself as the only democracy in the Middle East. But democracy means a plurality of views, of voices and of positions. The fact that I write from a leftwing position should not render me voiceless. When what can be said, or heard, or read, is decided by those in power, it can lead to a social psychosis, a false reality; and this is not only undemocratic but also totally destructive to any society. I believe that I was particularly targeted because of my involvement with the International Solidarity Movement, a non-violent, Palestinian-led organisation that stages protests against the occupation. I am proud to be associated with it. White westerners are not supposed to leave their comparative comfort zones and get involved in violent conflicts in the Middle East. Nor are they supposed to put their bodies between bullets, tanks and children. They are not meant to dismantle government security walls, accompany ambulances, live and laugh with, and grow attached to, "security threat" families and communities. Yet by doing all this, the ISM volunteers have catalysed genuine relationships between internationals and Palestinians, and also between Israelis and Palestinians, contradicting the belief of the Israeli state that coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis is impossible. The human rights violations committed by the Israeli army are a reality that many supporters and citizens of the country would like to ignore. Recently, when I told a former soldier about the killing of Baha al-Bahesh, a 14-year-old boy from Nablus, that I witnessed two years ago, I was told: "You dreamt it." Yet my eyewitness account of the death received considerable press coverage at the time. Writing about life in the occupied territories is a form of activism, and communicating those human rights abuses to a wider audience is an essential part of my advocacy journalism. Yesterday I accepted in court that I had interviewed terrorists as part of my journalistic work, but maintained that I had not been duped into helping them. I am a journalist and I know when people are being manipulative. I know myself. I am happy to declare that my writing has a biased and loaded agenda: the promotion of human rights and social justice. I am motivated by the belief that writing can serve as an agitational tool for those who wish to challenge oppressive realities, demand grassroots power and reclaim lives lost to racist and colonialist agendas. None of this is dangerous to the people of Israel. Rather, it holds out a hope that Israelis will not always be prisoners in their land. As the grassroots peace and anti-capitalist movement swells across the world, new borders - ideological and physical - are crossed, and new alliances, politics and consciousness can be forged. The struggle to allow engaged journalism within Israel is a fight to create real Israeli democracy, in the hope that the country's social movements can, together with the Palestinian social movements, create real peace. Ewa Jasciewicz is a British-Polish journalist and peace activist.