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The relationship between Palestinian and Israeli journalists is a thorny subject with a long history, going as far back as three decades. In essence, this relationship does not differ much from the overall relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. A deep ravine separates the two sides. Along the edge stands one party, bewildered and wide-eyed, a country bumpkin on his first visit to the city, with the difference that this bewilderment is coupled with fear, suspicion and wariness. The second party occupies the first militarily and uses all its advanced capabilities to successfully demolish the capacities of the first. The latter has no recourse but to moral considerations, based on the justice of its cause and its resolve to keep on fighting the occupation, or at least, to push it back.
This introduction is meant to show that the relationship between Palestinian and Israeli journalists is just a reflection of the reality that exists everywhere between the two sides. Israeli journalism is highly developed, relying on modern technology. It is also diversified: audio-visual and print media, as well as dailies, weeklies and monthlies. Without any doubt, it is democratic and free. But, as a result of the existing conflict with the Palestinians, on the one hand, and between its own right and left parties and between religious and secular in Israel, it is subject to certain pressures. Additionally, in some instances, it is subjected to military or security censorship. This is especially true of events pertaining to security or state secrets. The censor, usually a security officer, comes and prohibits the diffusion of certain scenes. This happened in the case of the abduction of the Israeli soldier Nahshon Wachsman, and the hijacking of Bus 300 and several similar instances. The punishment went as far as to prevent certain papers from appearing because they did not abide by the rules of the censor, as was the case with Hadashot. Israel also restricts the promulgation of a piece of news, even by foreign news agencies operating in the country. Israeli journalists have often resorted to foreign papers to publish what they have been barred from publishing in their local papers. An example is the publication of the photos of the hijackers of Bus 300 who came off the bus alive and it was later declared they were killed during the fight with the Israeli soldiers.
The Israeli media then, whether print or audio-visual, is subject to censorship for so-called security reasons. It is also manifestly subject to controlled orientation. This is seen clearly in media that appears in Arabic. A case in point is the last government newspaper printed in Arabic that was closed down more than 15 years ago. Al-Anba', as it was called, failed to be circulated among the Arabic public in the occupied territories as an "Arabic" paper when it was discovered that it was Arabic in language only, while its content and orientation were purely Israeli.

The Palestinian Press

When Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967, there were no Palestinian newspapers in the area. Three years elapsed before any serious effort was made on the part of the Palestinians to put out a newspaper. The resistance was such that any interaction with the occupation was discouraged: schools were closed for a while and lawyers refused to go to court. What applied to schools and lawyers also applied to the press. However, encouragement for a Palestinian press in the territories came from Israeli quarters. The Israeli concept was that if Palestinians had their own press, they would have an opportunity to vent their anger and rebellion: instead of expressing themselves through acts of violence, let them erupt in the columns of the papers. Soon papers started to appear on the Palestinian side, encouraged by the facilities provided by the occupying authorities, and within the period of a decade and a half, ten of papers and magazines made their appearance on the scene: Al-Fajr, A-Sha'ab, Al-Quds, An-Nahar, Al-Bayader Al-Adabi, Al-Bayader Al-Siyassi, Al-Awdah, A-Shira', Al-Mithaq, A-Tali'a, Al-'Ahd, Al-Hurriyyah, 'Abir, A-Siyassah, Al-Jiser, Al-Fajr Al-Adabi, the English Fajr, Al-Mir'a, Al-Usbu' Al-Jadeed, and Al-Bashir. All this output was in addition to the Arabic publications that came from within the Green Line, such as Al-Ittihad, Al-Jamaheer, A-Rassed, A-Rayah, Al-Jarmaq, A-Sinnarah, Kul Al-Arab.
There was no comparison between the censorship the Israeli press was subjected to and the stringent one controlling the Palestinian press. It should be noted that the Palestinian press was restricted to print media, where Israeli censorship spread even to commercial advertisements and obituaries for fear they might contain a verse from the Koran that called for jihad or a reference to someone who fell in a battle or operation as shaheed. The only good article, as far the censor was concerned, was the one he alone got to read but that never saw the light of day. From here came the idea of cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli journalists. The Palestinian, because of his proximity to events that took place on Palestinian territory, had easier access to information. However, it wasn't possible for the Palestinian to publish the piece of news in the local newspaper, so the information was "leaked" to an Israeli journalist working with liberal press agencies, like Davar, Al-Hamishmar, Koteret Rashit, and Hadashot. All these newspapers subsequently closed down.
While these papers closed down of their own accord, Palestinian papers were closed following an order by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior. Such was the fate of around ten newspapers that appeared in East Jerusalem. These were fully licensed by the Ministry and had permission to distribute in the West Bank.

New Leanings

A significant number of Israeli journalists working in the occupied territories changed direction and opposed their government, after they had a close-up look at the extent of injustice to which the Palestinian people were subjected. In particular, they witnessed collective punishment and its manifestations with the daily violations practiced by the Israeli army against the Palestinian civilians, regardless of whether they were active in resistance movements or not. Among the instances that stand out in one's memory is the time when an Israeli soldier asked a Palestinian youth in Hebron to kiss the rear end of a donkey. In fact, there is no dearth of similar examples.
Many Israeli journalists came to the territories for purely journalistic reasons. Others had held high posts in the army before joining reserve units, but then were swayed by the justice of the Palestinian cause. I have personal ties with journalists like Yehudah Litani, Uri Avnery, Yoram Bin-Nur, Uri Nir, Amnon Kapeliuk, Danny Rubinstein, Pinhas Inbari, Sami Sockol.
Very few Israeli journalists have worked in the occupied territories without developing leanings towards the Palestinian side and without supporting Palestinian rights to self-determination and the establishment of their own state. On the other hand, I know those who have not been won over to the Palestinian side, and I do not like to have any contact with them. Among them are reporters with The Jerusalem Post, Yediot Aharonot, the Israeli TV and Itim. I tried, but failed to convince these people, while I was able to persuade others to adopt neutral positions, and these people, in general, are careful in reporting what they hear. Once we find examples of inaccurate reporting, we discontinue our cooperation with those responsible and we spread the word among Palestinian journalists throughout the territories not to supply them with information, which damages their work.

Israeli Friends

In 1985, I was arrested for a period of 10 months without trial, although I appeared nine times before a military court in Ramallah. On one of these occasions, while I was waiting, an Israeli journalist entered, accompanied by his photographer who started taking pictures of me. I asked the journalist: "Hadn't you better introduce yourself and tell me what's going on?" He said: "I am a reporter with Kol Ha'ir. I was in your house and your mother informed me that the army had arrested all her children. So I decided to learn more about the subject in order to write an article about you and your brothers." I had no objection and answered all his questions.
Later on, I met him once or twice and a close friendship developed between us. He wrote a book entitled I Am My Own Enemy, that was translated into several languages. It included a chapter about me and my wedding and the administrative detention to which I was subjected after that. When he returned from the United States, having finished writing the book, he left his job at Kol Ha'ir and went to work for Hadashot. In his book, he revealed the practices employed by the Israeli occupation army that he discovered when he impersonated Palestinian laborers, and how he was pursued by Israeli soldiers. After Hadashot closed down, I encouraged Yoram to take up the job of correspondent with Channel 2 of the Israeli TV.
The friendship I have with Yoram Bin-Nur does not differ from any friendship I have with Palestinians, in spite of what the small of mind have said about this relationship, and their efforts to distort it. In fact, I found that several copies of the part of Yoram's book that mention the fact that he attended my wedding, had been distributed with the aim of inciting the Palestinians against me. I did not care and neither did the people of my camp [the Dehaishe refugee camp]. Later on, one collaborator confessed that he was the one who distributed the leaflets upon the instruction of a certain Gad, an officer with the Israeli intelligence. To this day, my friend Yoram does not know about this story.
When the local television station I direct in Bethlehem was closed down in the wake of US military threats to Iraq, the last TV show was a roundtable discussion with four Israeli journalists: from the Israeli TV Channel 2, from Ha'aretz and from the Itim news agency.
In the meeting protesting the closure of my TV station, among those who attended as a show of solidarity was Michael Warshawski (Mikado), director of the Alternative Information Center.
I came to know Mikado through his wife, Leah Tsemel, who defended me not less than ten times in front of Israeli military courts. She was not only my lawyer, but a friend who came several times to my home with her husband and I, too, visited them in their house. However, a great source of worry and sadness for me was her young son's reservation at my being in their house. He was being subjected, at the time, to a vilification campaign on the part of his schoolmates because his mother was defending "terrorists." Mikado was arrested for two years and his center was closed down on charges that it published inciteful material commissioned by Palestinians. With him and Gideon Spiro, we formed a solidarity committee with Dehaishe camp when it was sealed off by the Israeli authorities and the settler leader, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, set up his sit-in tent in front of the camp. My Israeli friends would come to hold sit-ins in front of Levinger's tent. On the day my television station was closed down, Mikado gave a moving speech in which he said: "When my government closed down my center, Hamdi came to show solidarity with me; today, Hamdi's government has closed down his TV station, and I come to show solidarity with him. We exchange roles."

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