Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Only truth will set "Palestine" free

From The Australian, May 15, 2010 by Rebecca Weisser:

THE Palestinian diaspora in Australia is facing an unexpected catastrophe. Normally, May 15, Israel's Independence Day, is the most important day of their year for celebrating their victimhood: the catastrophe, as they see it, of the founding of Israel.

But, this year, visiting fresh from the streets of Gaza, Ramallah and Jerusalem is Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli Arab Muslim journalist, who declares: "I'd rather be a second-class citizen in Israel than a first-class citizen in any Arab country."

And some in the diaspora are not happy about his visit. Ali Kazak, a former ambassador for the Palestine Liberation Organisation, circulated an email this week accusing Abu Toameh of being an "Israeli propagandist" on the "Israeli payroll" and warning people not to be misled by him.

Kazak told The Australian: "Khaled Abu Toameh is a traitor." These are dangerous words in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Kazak admits that many Palestinians are murdered in the West Bank and Gaza for being traitors.

He says he doesn't agree with it but: "Traitors were also murdered by the French Resistance, in Europe; this happens everywhere."

Asked why he calls Abu Toameh a traitor, Kazak says: "Palestinians are the victims. He shouldn't write about them, he should write about the crimes of the Israelis."

Kazak admits there is corruption and violence in the West Bank and Gaza. "Of course, Palestinian society isn't perfect. I myself have criticised it," he says. But Kazak objects to Abu Toameh writing about it.

Toameh responds: "It is absurd that this gentleman is calling me a traitor while the PLO whom he claims to represent is conducting security co-ordination with Israel and helping Israel crack down on Hamas and is even imprisoning Palestinians without trial in the West Bank.

"When I write about corruption and bad government in Palestine it's because I care about the people and not because I support the occupation.

"I'm more pro-Palestinian than Mr Kazak because I'm demanding reform and democracy and good government for my people while he is sitting here in the comfort of Australia, preaching to us what's good and what's bad and spewing hatred.

"I don't receive threats from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. I receive threats from people like Mr Kazak. When he calls me a traitor he is actually sending a message to extremists that they need to kill me simply because I am demanding reform and democracy.

"Hamas, Fatah, they know I am writing the truth. They just say to me, 'Why do you have to air the dirty linen in public?' "

But he refuses to be silent, saying he does more for Palestinian human rights and freedom of speech than Kazak, and that Palestinians in the diaspora who live cut off from the reality of life in the West Bank and Gaza do nothing to help Palestinians.

"They live in a parallel universe of leftist, radical ideology. They are much more hostile towards me than Palestinians living in Gaza or Ramallah."

While Kazak's email was intended to discredit him, Toameh says he has never been refused an interview by anyone in Fatah or Hamas. On the contrary, he broke a big story about corruption in the PA earlier this year because people within the PA came to him.

He also has written about the way Palestinians spy on each other in the West Bank, comparing it with the former East Germany. Toameh denounces the intimidation of Palestinian journalists who work in the West Bank and Gaza in an atmosphere that moves beyond fear to outright danger.

"About 2000 Palestinians have been killed in the power struggle that has been raging between Hamas and Fatah since 2007," he says, claiming it got very little coverage.

"People in the West don't get an accurate picture of what is going on.

"Both Hamas and Fatah have no respect for freedom of the media and both are cracking down on Palestinian journalists."

But Toameh says this is only part of the problem.

He says some international journalists are ignorant. "They don't speak Arabic or Hebrew, they don't know the history and they are often very biased. They don't want to report the corruption and violence within Palestinian society because it doesn't fit their narrative of good Palestinians and bad Israelis."

Toameh started his career in journalism at the Palestinian newspaper Al Fajr, but he left because it was not about journalism but propaganda.

He says, "It's ironic that people like me have to go and work in the Israeli media to be able to practice genuine journalism."

While the Australian media has given scant coverage to Abu Toameh, he has been invited to speak across the world, including spending a hour with Barack Obama.

While he thinks Obama is well-intentioned, he fears the US President's impatience to restart peace talks will be counterproductive. "After Operation Cast Lead, Hamas has stopped firing rockets from Gaza into Israel. We have a de facto ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that is holding and in the West Bank things are improving," he says.

"Now comes the peace talks [which] threaten this calm and prosperity. Why? Because core issues like Jerusalem, refugees, borders and settlements are being placed on the table once again, triggering tensions. It would have been better if Obama had waited until better times.

"If Palestinians are allowed to get on with their lives, things will continue to slowly get better. But if people are forced into peace negotiations, there are explosive issues that can't be resolved and it could end with a third intifada."

Whatever transpires, Abu Toameh, unlike his critics in the diaspora, will be there to report what is happening to the Palestinian people.
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