The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS) teamed up with the Oxford branch of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in the UK to exhibit a powerful series of photographs from the frontline in Palestine as part of a three-week long versatile cultural programme “Palestine Unlocked” organised the city’s labour movement, the mayor’s office and solidarity campaigners. The exhibition was opened by IFJ president Jim Boumelha.
The author of the photographs, Nablus-based photojournalist Abed Qusini took part in a debate which followed the opening at a packed meeting in Oxford on Tuesday June 16th, presenting his experiences covering the West Bank for the past 22 years, 17 of them for Reuters.
“The testimony of Qusini was so powerfully presented that it kept the large audience of university academics, journalists and supporters on the edge of their seat throughout the debate. Abed did his union and his colleagues back on the front line proud by telling with passion the story of the daily humiliations, beatings, arrests and the impact of the barrage of stun grenades and tear gas they have to face up for just doing their job as journalists – to report to the world what’s going on in Palestine” said Boumelha.
Qusini’s commitment to the profession was seriously tested when his closest friend and colleague, Nazeh Darwazi was targeted by an Israeli soldier and shot dead, as the two of them had been standing side by side in Nablus in 2003. But as he explained, the story of the Palestinians must be told, and he feels it his responsibility to help tell it, to “freeze a moment to show my homeland to the wider world”.
Complementing Qusini’s account of the challenges getting news stories out of Palestine was David Hearst, editor of Middle East Eye, who talked about the challenge of getting the full range of opinions on the Israel/Palestine conflict into the British media. He talked about his experiences at the Guardian, a national paper traditionally on the liberal/left, where he had been a leader writer on the Middle East.
He left the newspaper, to launch Middle East Eye because he felt that stories written from his perspective were being squeezed out, probably as part of a strategic and heavily funded exercise in trying to promote the paper to a US audience. He referred also to a number of examples of shockingly uncritical reporting of stories from Israeli sources by the BBC, including its coverage of the finding of Israel’s own investigation into the killing of four boys who were playing on a beach in Gaza, which was reported under the title “Gaza beach attack: Israel 'struck boys in error'”.
The BBC report, he said, differed significantly from the way the story was covered in national newspapers, which had challenged major shortcomings in the Israeli investigation. Questions were asked about why the BBC had succumbed to pressure from the Israelis to appoint a “Middle East czar” – with responsibility for ensuring “balance” in the BBC’s coverage of this area.
The meeting also discussed the role of the liberal/left press in Israel, and the importance of working with them, particularly as they put so little effort into gathering news from Palestinian communities either within Israel or from the West Bank and Gaza, and are therefore reliant on sources like Reuters and Middle East Eye to find out and illustrate what is going on. Details of the festival which brought to Oxford citizens big chunks of Palestinian lives, culture and history can be seen at www.palestineunlocked.com.