Walaa Ghussein on the power (and vulnerability) of Palestinian journalists

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Behind every story told is the individual writing that story. Sometimes opinions shine through, sometimes not so much. Other than stories generated by robots (yes, it’s true) from beginners to ace journalists, there’s always someone, a person with a mind and feelings — communicating.

There’s a big difference between writing in the safety of my home, either my reflections or about news happening on the ground in Palestine, than writing from Gaza. Sometimes it really gets to me in an emotional way but it can’t compare with what it means to be there, experiencing the pain, devastation or comradery.

A friend sent me a link to a crowd funding campaign initiated out of Gaza a few weeks ago and after watching the video, reading the appeal and scrolling down I realized I not only knew the person who initiated it, Walaa Ghussein, but that it represented many of our contributors.

Immediately I reflected on an unusual exchange I had with Walaa a few years ago that I wrote about briefly in an introduction (here). It began when I saw this tweet:

Recognizing Walaa, I wrote her asking if she would consider writing about this encounter. Politely, she flat out refused. Knowing instinctively this was a hot story, I persisted with several imploring emails, literally begging her — which she completely ignored.

I thought about the person behind the storyteller. This was not a person interested in promoting herself, or exploiting her situation, at all.

Thankfully, she finally relented. That was just two years ago but a lot of water (and war) has passed under the bridge since then.

Reflecting on that exchange and her latest ambitious endeavor, to Protect local journalists of Gaza, I contacted Walaa and asked her a few questions about herself:

What drove you to become a journalist? Was it something you aspired to be as a child, or was there a particular experience in your life that motivated you.

Walaa: Journalism wasn’t something I’ve always wanted, especially in a place like Gaza with too much going on, it’s hard to follow, and it’s just overwhelming. However, I just wanted to express myself and was encouraged by friends to do so, and then to tell stories and report news. Another thing is when we’re in a tense situation with events going on, we find ourselves turning into what’s called “citizen journalism” and that makes it obvious how important it is to tell what’s going on around us.

Writing (A child’s dream under occupation) was motivated by the child’s father who came to me believing that someone can spread the word and tell the world about the suffering of his little girl, Asmaa’. The fact that people actually cared and tried to help Asmaa’ after publishing her story, I realized the power of writing, and its consequences. So basically it was that instinct of wanting to help Asmaa’ and to not let her father down is what motivated me, and its impact on me after that.

When I contacted you in 2013 to write about a personal experience of yours in Jerusalem I thought was newsworthy, initially you turned me down. It was only two years ago and you finally relented, writing “whatever I write or say, will not be enough … it’s simply indescribable.”  Is it more difficult to write about experiences and incidences that impact you personally? 

Walaa:  That was my first (and maybe my last) visit to Jerusalem. I left heartbroken and it took me a lot of courage to write a brief of my visit that was published on Mondoweiss. Writing about my own experience and story became easier for me than it was two years ago, I’d still have those mixed feelings, like when I wrote about being stuck at my home under the attack of Israeli warplanes in my area, I was shocked, and it took me awhile to gather myself and describe what has happened. No matter how hard we try, some things are still left indescribable, and if I can’t describe it myself, no one else can. After my visit to Jerusalem, I took a part in a Journalism and New Media course in the United States, summer of 2013, and got a lot of inspiration from my experience in there, the professors, the students, the programs, and the challenge. When I came back to Gaza there was the “at-home work” which was a way to implement some of what was learned in these courses – and I end up winning the “best essay” award, that was a hell of a motivation too!

Wonderful. Living in Gaza, where the threat to your life and your community’s life is more acute than most other places in the world, how does this impact your reporting?

Walaa: When a local journalist in Gaza writes a story or a piece of news it will more likely be his story too, or it affects him/her in any/every way; it’s obvious that the people here are all suffering the same, the story teller might be living that story too, but with different characters, same situation overshadowing all. Palestinian journalists are struggling from the lack of opportunities to tell their own stories when they can’t protect themselves while reporting during the war for example, beside the stress of leaving their families in danger too. On the contrary, there are international journalists coming to Gaza haunting for mainstream stories to sell with their protection tools and the fact that westerners are more likely to hear the story from a white journo than to hear it from a local one, not to be mean, but locals can always tell their stories better. We’re not less courageous, but a journalist needs to protect himself\herself in order to stay alive to tell the stories of others, and they don’t have that kind of protection. 

Ok, thanks.

To help local journalists of Gaza purchase protection helmets and vests to protect themselves during conflicts, check out the campaign (here) launched in collaboration with Press House Palestine in Gaza.

From the U.N. General Assembly, Human Rights Council,  15 journalists and media workers killed during operation “Protective Edge”:

The lack of protection given to media workers in the most longstanding conflict is matter of deep concern; it represents an unprecedented escalation of violations against journalists by the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) in the West Bank observed in recent years. The Israeli violations against Palestinian journalists are the most dangerous, life threatening, and the most frequent.

Remember, some have lost their lives because of the lack of helmets and vests. People just like Walaa. There’s alway someone, a person with a mind and feelings — communicating.

Thanks to Yousef M. Aljamal

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Annie and Walaa~ thank you. All of the oral/written/pictorial history and current events of the ongoing Nakba and of Palestinians is invaluable, irreplaceable, and much needed. When Walaa says ” a journalist needs to protect himself\herself in order to stay alive to tell the stories of others,” it’s, of course, true. What is also true is that the IOF targets them, and so do the PTB of the MSM. Remember how they tried to silence… Read more »

RE: “To help local journalists of Gaza purchase protection helmets and vests to protect themselves during conflicts, check out the campaign (here) launched in collaboration with Press House Palestine in Gaza.” ~ Annie

MY COMMENT: Thanks. I made a modest contribution.

Thanks for highlighting the issue of threatened reporters in the story of this brave woman. The merchants of death threaten reporters from the war zone to the home front. The war zone is more immediately dangerous of course, but as numerous recent articles at Mondoweiss have reported, reporting in America has also been threatened and suppressed. Especially in a country with a Constitutional guarantee of a free press, this ongoing suppression of facts is a… Read more »

Goodbye, au reservoir, Ms. Deneuve. Yes, it’s been lovely, but I’m afraid I have just forgotten you exist….