Amira Hass wins women media award

By Democracy Now and Middle East Online – 22 Oct 2009

Amira Hass

Amira Hass

Israeli journalist known for defending Palestinian rights awarded for remarkable bravery

NEW YORK – The International Women’s Media Foundation honoured Israeli journalist Amira Hass with 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Amira Hass is a regular columnist with Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper and the only Israeli journalist to have spent several years living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank.

She is the author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land under Siege, Reporting from Ramallah: An Israeli Journalist in an Occupied Land and Diary of Bergen-Belson, 1944-1945.

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour described Hass as “one of the greatest truth-seekers of them all.”

“She writes what the Palestinian journalists think about their country’s leadership but dare not say themselves. She writes what she thinks citizens of Israel should know about their leadership but do not want to hear.

“Some call her a traitor. It is uncomfortable to hear the truth; it’s very uncomfortable to tell the truth. Some say that she is the only voice of truth in a polarized conflict.

“For twenty years, she’s paid no attention to either of these camps, choosing instead to follow her own path. Amira knows what Irena just said, that dictators do not like journalists, but more than that, democracies often don’t like journalists either” said Amanpour.

Hass received the award on Tuesday.

“What am I doing? I’m generally defined as a reporter on Palestinian issues. But, in fact, my reports are about the Israeli society and policies, about domination and intoxications,” Hass said.

“My sources are not secret documents and leaked-out minutes which were taken out of meetings of people with power and in power; my sources are the open ways by which the subjugated are being dispossessed of their equal rights as human beings.

“There is still much more to learn about Israel, to learn about my society and about the Israeli decision makers, who invent restrictions such as: Gazan students are not to study in a Palestinian university in the West Bank, some seventy kilometers away from their home.

“Another ban: children above the age of eighteen are not to visit their Palestinian parents in Gaza, if the parents are well and healthy. If the parents are dying, Israeli order-abiding officials would have allowed a visit. If the children are younger than eighteen, the visit would have been allowed, as well.

“But on the other hand, second-degree relatives are not allowed to visit dying or healthy siblings in Gaza. It is an intriguing philosophical question, not only journalistic. Think of it. What, for the Israeli system, is so disturbing about reasonably healthy fathers or mothers? What is so disturbing about a kid choosing and getting a better education? And these are but two in a long, long list of Israeli prohibitions.

“Also, when I write about the progressively decimated and fragmented Palestinian territory of the West Bank, it’s not just about people losing their family property and livelihood that I write. It’s not only about the shrinking opportunities of people in disconnected, crowded enclaves. It is in fact a story about the skills of Israeli architects.

“It is a way to learn about how Israeli on-the-ground planning contradicts official proclamations, a phenomenon which collectivizes the acts of all Israeli governments in the past as in the present.

“In short, there is so much to keep me busy for another lifetime, or at least for the rest of my lifetime. But, as I said, the real correction is elsewhere. It’s not about achievement that we should be talking here, but about a failure.

“It is the failure to make the Israeli and international public use and accept correct terms and words which reflect the reality, not the Orwellian Newspeak that has flourished since 1993 and has been cleverly dictated and disseminated by those with invested interests.

“The peace process terminology, which took reign, blurs the perception of real processes that are going on: a special Israeli blend of military occupation, colonialism, apartheid, Palestinian limited self-rule in enclaves, and a democracy for Jews.

“It is not my role as a journalist to make my fellow Israelis and Jews agree that these processes are immoral and dangerously unwise for all of us. It is my role, though, to exercise the right for freedom of the press in order to supply information and to make people know.

“But as I’ve painfully discovered over the years, the right to know does not mean a duty to know. Thousands of my articles and zillion of words have evaporated. They could not compete with the official language that has been happily adopted by the mass media and is used in order to dis-portray the reality, official language that encourages people not to know. Indeed, a remarkable failure for a journalist,” said Hass.

Peace process

In an interview with Democracy Now!, Hass explained the current status of Middle East peace process.

“That we’re not talking about symmetric powers here, Israelis versus Palestinians or Israeli state versus a Palestinian state. We’re talking about a regime of occupation that uses all methods in order to force on Palestinians an arrangement of surrender, which is far away from internationally accepted, or at least in the past or at least proclaimed, internationally proclaimed solutions for the conflict, which is a two-state solution based on the ’67 borders.

“And this Israel has been doing for the past twenty years very successfully by economical attrition, by economical temptations, by separation, disconnecting Gaza from the West Bank, by military—vicious military attacks against Palestinians both in the West Bank and Gaza, by all sorts of means, by restrictions on movement which sometimes we feel are far worse than those restriction on movements put on blacks in South Africa, apartheid South Africa.

Look, there is a joke. I mean, the peace process and the negotiations have been a joke for the past almost fifteen years, and certainly for the last ten years. We don’t expect that Israelis will change now their course in the peace—in the negotiation process and agree to things that they did not agree so far: dismantling all settlements, not just the unauthorized outposts; stopping the scandalous ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, East Jerusalem; bringing Gaza back to the Occupied Territories, by—of allowing Gazans to connect back to their brothers in the West Bank. So I don’t see that this—that there is a change, such a change in Israeli society and in Israeli policymaking that will give the negotiations the essence that they have lacked so far. “

Goldstone report

Hass said Goldstone “felt compelled to relate to the facts, to those facts, and to denounce what he saw as crimes, or to alert, to alert fellow Jews in Israel.”

“We assume that America will veto [the Goldstone report] or that it will not accept the recommendations of the Goldstone report to ask Israel to open an independent inquiry to the allegations, and if, within six months, there is no sufficient or satisfying response from Israel—and Hamas, for that matter—it can be transferred to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. These are the recommendations of Goldstone. “

Hass added: “the Goldstone report forced Israel to look at testimonies and evidence that was there all the time, but it was very easy to ignore, because they were saying, ‘Oh, it’s just all these journalists and these marginal journalists, and so far our soldiers have not told anything, so everybody believes our version’. All of a sudden, the scope of the attack against Goldstone report shows that they take it seriously. “

Israeli ‘war’

“I don’t think that the word “war” is correct. There was no war between two symmetric parties. I see it as an attack,—and this is, by the way, what Breaking the Silence people noticed from the—when they spoke to soldiers, a massive, wet—what we call wet training exercise of the Israeli forces.

“With live ammunition. So a massive exercise. And I see it as a massive exercise for wars to come, not for wars that were, but for wars to come, using all the sophisticated, almost science fiction weapons, weaponry that Israel has against, what I see, Native Americans with their arrows. That’s—if I’m asked to make a comparison, this is mine. That’s why I cannot use the term ‘war’.”

The rockets of the Palestinians?

“My argument with them is about indeed morality and about usefulness for the struggle for liberation. Is it useful or not? I think that the whole rocket thing is a theater, is a make—pretend for internal use, for the Palestinian internal use, to say, ‘Oh, we are fighting against the occupation’. It’s putting people in total misconception, because Hamas has not delivered in improving people’s life, so they go to the realm of imaginary fight and imaginary struggle for liberation, comparing themselves to Hezbollah, based on no fact.”

“But the thing here that we—when we concentrate so much about the rockets, we think—we forget, we completely forget, the daily—what daily?—minute-by-minute violence that Israel is exercising against the Palestinians. When borders are closed, when all exits to Gaza and out of Gaza are closed, this is violence. This is daily violence. When children do not have pens and pencils and paper to use in schools, this is violence. Everybody is talking about food. Food is not the problem. The problem is the right of Palestinians to produce, to create, to export, to travel, and this has been violated for ten years already, before the rockets were launched from Gaza.”

Robert Bernstein’s article,

In response to a question regarding former an op-ed piece written by Robert Bernstein (former HRW chairman) the New York Times, Hass said: “It’s very Orwellian, very Orwellian. It’s Israel which attacks the Palestinians. I mean, I read the article. The word ‘occupation’ does not appear there even one time.

“He says that Israel is a democracy of seven-million-point-something Israeli citizens. He forgets four million Palestinians, who have to be registered in the Israeli population registry in order to exist. All the Palestinians are registered. He forgot the four million. So what kind of democracy it is, where four million who are in the Israeli Ministry of Interior have to be registered and Israel decides if they are—if they exist?

“How can you call it a democracy, when half of—when one-third, not to mention the one million Israeli Palestinians, don’t have rights, the same rights? What kind of democracy it is? It is really twisting all facts around. I was surprised to read this article, because it very much sounded—much of it sounded like propaganda of Israeli officials. Parts of it, not all.

“Every American Jew has more rights in Israel, potentially has more rights in Israel, than any Palestinian who was born there, who lives there, or who was born to Palestinians who were expelled. Every American Jew. I mean, this gives—this gives an obligation to Human Rights Watch to monitor Israel. I mean, there are no Americans who have a potential right to become automatically Saudi citizens or Chinese, or I don’t know what. Only Israel. So you have an obligation to monitor in what—to what extent it protects or abides by internationally accepted obligations and human rights. So these things are completely forgotten, and many more. I mean, it’s—factually, I mean, there are many things to argue with him, I think, and also value-wise many things to argue. And maybe—I’m sure that people will answer.”

A third intifada?

“This is, I think, almost a natural law, that when you have oppression, sooner or later there will be explosion against this oppression. Will it be successful? Will it be clever? Will it be intelligent? Will it be stupid? We don’t know. “

Israeli Apartheid

“The world doesn’t know. People do not associate now the Israeli regime with the terrible restrictions on freedom of movement, like it was in South Africa. Everybody knew during South Africa, during apartheid, that there is pass system. Now people do not know about. I was asked by a very nice Jewish woman, close to Peace Now—she asked me, ‘Are there any Palestinian journalists doing like what you are doing, living in Israel and reporting about Israel?’ I said, ‘They wish they could, but Israel would not allow them even to go and cover a press conference in Jerusalem, let alone live in Israel.’ We mean Palestinians who are residents of the West Bank or Gaza. She was surprised.

“So people do not grasp the extent of the restrictions of movement, which is the worst of all. I mean, it completely shrinks people’s life, not to mention how Gaza is a huge, how would I say, detention camp for one million and a half people who could not move more than thirty kilometers or forty kilometers in the past ten years or twelve years.

Watch the DemocracyNow interview on the IOA Video Selection page

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