NOVEMBER 2004. I was 23, waiting at Rafah to get my passport back from Israeli officials so I could enter Egypt and fly from Cairo to Abu Dhabi for my new job. I heard my name in a Hebrew accent, coming from a dark-tinted window. The voice directed me to a back office to meet an IDF intelligence officer.
I felt nervous and scared. What could an intelligence officer want from a new journalism graduate who had not started his career yet? I planned to settle permanently in Abu Dhabi. How could he have any questions for me?
Part of me thought he would arrest me and put me in jail. I didn’t know why Israel arrested Palestinians. Would this officer put an end to my dream career? Many questions came to mind and all were frightening.
Just about every Palestinian journalist has had at least one experience similar to mine. Israel’s attempts to neutralize our profession take many forms, from bullying to physical force to bribes. I’m sharing this part of my personal history to help Mondoweiss’s readers understand how vital it is as an avenue to broadcast our reporting—to defy the efforts to silence us. I am asking you to show your solidarity with our work by donating to Mondoweiss to support publication of our journalism.
Back at the Rafah Crossing, it took me a minute to find the back office, which turned out to be a small, air-conditioned room with a plastic chair opposite an old computer and a rolled-up map of Gaza. The officer introduced himself with the name Tal Hayman and showered me with questions.
“Why did you choose to study journalism? Why did you choose the Islamic University? When will you come back to Gaza?” Officer Hayman asked. All I wanted was to end this dramatic scene quickly.
Answering these questions truthfully was not difficult, but the scariest moment was when he asked me to keep his mobile number. I asked him why I would want it, living in the Emirates. “You are a journalist and you must have diverse sources to serve your job,” the officer told me as I gazed at his serious eyes. “I will offer you any information,” he continued, “once you decide to come back and work in journalism here.”
He said, “Trust me, Ahmad! The Palestinian media lies, but we do not! Tell other journalists that we’ll give them great opportunities. For now, take your passport and I will wait for a call from you.”
For weeks—months—afterward, I wondered if it was foolish not to call. Of course, I didn’t want to serve his goal of recruiting me to collaborate with Israel’s repression. And even if I abandoned my integrity, a call to Israel using an Emirati SIM card would put me at risk because it was illegal in Abu Dhabi. But if I ignored his request, I worried that my brother or sister in Gaza might be arrested on some pretext.
I never called.
EVEN 13 YEARS LATER, the details of that conversation are still fresh in my mind. I see Israeli soldiers assaulting journalists by beating them, breaking their cameras or arresting them. I know that what drives these attacks is the same simple fact that motivated Mr. Hayman to try to recruit me: the biggest nonviolent threat to Israel is for Palestinian media professionals to convey accurate messages to the outer world.
And to do this vital work, we need Mondoweiss. I have reported essential facts about life and oppression in Palestine, and I know that Israel would like my stories never to see the light of day. But because of Mondoweiss, thousands and thousands of people all over the world learn the truth of what I and my colleagues report.
Please help journalists like me continue to overcome Israel’s censorship. Please give today so that our work and Mondoweiss will grow and thrive—so we can continue to expose Israel’s lies. Your contribution makes a real difference not only in my life but in the lives of all whose stories I report.