Over the last several weeks, Mondoweiss has presented “They Fear The Truth—We Report It,” a series sharing the experiences of journalists and activists working in Palestine who have been attacked by the Israeli government and its defenders. The clampdown proves it: The work Mondoweiss presents daily, from hundreds of brave reporters and photographers, makes a real difference. So throughout this series, we have also asked for your contribution to sustain and expand this essential service.
Today, with an analysis by veteran correspondent Jonathan Cook, we finish the series and the campaign. We are grateful that over 650 generous donors have donated, and a few last gifts today can get us the remaining $1,500 to our $75,000 campaign goal. Thank you for making our work possible, and helping defy the Israeli government’s efforts to control, suppress and silence the truth.
In 2008 Gaza-based reporter Mohammed Omer won the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism and was able to attend the awards ceremony in London only after Dutch officials intervened to get him an exit permit. On his return, crossing into the West Bank on his way to Gaza, he was separated from his Dutch escort by Israeli security personnel. He reported of his next experiences:
“I was stripped naked at gunpoint, interrogated, kicked and beaten for more than four hours. At one point I fainted and then awakened to fingernails gouging at the flesh beneath my eyes. An officer crushed my neck beneath his boot and pressed my chest into the floor. Others took turns kicking and pinching me, laughing all the while. They dragged me by my feet, sweeping my head through my own vomit. I lost consciousness. I was told later that they transferred me to a hospital only when they thought I might die.”
Israeli officials explained Omer’s extensive injuries by claiming he had “lost his balance” during an interrogation over suspicions he was a smuggler. Yet during his detention, the officers showed they knew who he was by demanding his “English pounds”—a reference to the £2,500 prize money. Omer concluded: “Could it be that despite their tanks, fighter planes and nuclear arsenal, Israel is threatened by our cameras and computers, which give the world access to images and information about their military occupation of Palestinians?”
I told Omer’s story in a 2010 essay about Israel’s increasing efforts to control reporting on its actions. Today, the suppression has intensified – and the danger to Palestinian journalists, in particular, is greater than ever. Mondoweiss’s summary of the situation is accurate: “They fear the truth. We report it.”
As Omer’s treatment demonstrated, those journalists at greatest risk are Palestinian because they witness in person Israel’s actions, which are supposed to be kept out of the public eye. Palestinian reporters can provide Western media with photos, firsthand stories and other evidence of Israel’s aggression, war crimes, and attempts at cover-up. The work of dissident Israeli journalists and human rights groups can be similarly threatening to Israel’s control over public discourse.
It’s as true now as it was seven years ago: Israel wants to justify continuing assaults on Palestinians as well as its refusal to engage in real negotiation. To do so, the state has invested ever more in controlling coverage—especially from Western news organizations, and most of all from the U.S media.
The occupation, and the state of Israel itself, could not survive without U.S. financial, diplomatic and military support. So Israel pressures not only American journalists on the ground, but also the editors in the U.S. who select reporters, approve or reject story ideas, and set the tone of coverage by editing reports from the field.
As I predicted, Israel’s control over the narrative coming from the region has weakened with the rise of new and more democratic forms of media. New platforms like Mondoweiss have led to more accountability in reporting from the region, and in turn have raised the pressure on journalists in traditional media. In response, Israel’s publicity machine has tried to bypass reporters based in Israel/Palestine in favor of polishing its image for editors abroad in hopes they can be more easily swayed.
The passage, and now the enforcement, of laws prohibiting entry for BDS advocates are also part of the effort to silence voices from outside Israel/Palestine. But Israel is fighting a losing battle, due to the persistence of Palestinian journalists, the slow opening of cracks in the mainstream media, and the new opportunities for freelance journalists like myself through electronic media such as Mondoweiss.
The existence of Mondoweiss and other online outlets means that I can report honestly what I learn from witnesses and documents—information that “established” media have been too cowardly to publish.
A watershed moment in my own understanding of self-censorship by Western news media occurred soon after my arrival in the region. In 2002 I investigated the death of Iain Hook, a British United Nations worker, at the hands of an Israeli sniper in Jenin refugee camp.
As the only journalist to go to the U.N. compound in Jenin where Hook died, I was able to speak to Palestinian witnesses and later got access to a suppressed U.N. report on the killing. Israel claimed that the sniper who shot Hook in the back believed he was a Palestinian militant holding a grenade, rather than a mobile phone, and that he was about to throw it at Israeli troops.
But my investigation showed the sniper’s account had to be a lie. From his position overlooking the U.N. compound through telescopic sights, the sniper could not have misidentified either the distinctive red-haired Hook or the phone. In any case, the U.N. compound was surrounded by a high concrete wall and a chainmail fence right up to the metal awning that covered the entire site. Had Hook thrown a grenade, it would have bounced right back at him—as the sniper, who had been there for hours, must have known.
When I offered this story to the Guardian, the foreign editor agreed to publish only a small article looking at the diplomatic fall-out from the killing. It was then that I fully understood the degree to which even a newspaper known for being critical of Israel would not overstep unwritten bounds.
Almost 15 years later, reporting about Israel/Palestine by news media such as the New York Times, the Guardian, BBC and MSNBC has barely improved. The world is waking up nonetheless because the stories are being shared through channels hardly imagined at the turn of this century. Mondoweiss reports the truth, as do other vital news sources that are unafraid of ostracism.
Omar Barghouti has said it well: “It is never about giving voice to the oppressed voiceless, I have found out, as we’ve always had our voices and never needed anyone to speak on our behalf or articulate what we really want. It is all about giving media to the oppressed media-less. In this, Mondoweiss and a few other progressive alternative media outlets have excelled.
“We crucially need alternative media that is accurate, professional and timely, like Mondoweiss, particularly due to the Israel-induced censorship against our voices in the mainstream media. I urge you all to generously donate to Mondoweiss to keep censorship at bay and to further grow our progressive media platforms that are making a real difference in the struggle for rights and justice, writ large.”
As a journalist, I agree wholeheartedly with Barghouti. Please join us in supporting Mondoweiss so that this essential publication will continue to wake up the world.