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Covering Conflict in Palestine: A Panel Discussion (Part 1)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Edited Transcript of Remarks by Shireen Abu Aqleh and Taghreed El-Khodary

Transcript No. 329 (23 June 2010)

To view the video of this briefing online, go to

The Palestine Center
Washington, D.C.
23 June 2010

Dr. Edmund Ghareeb (Moderator):
Good afternoon.  Welcome to the Palestine Center. It is a pleasure to have you all here today and especially it is a special delight for me to have an opportunity to present to you or to introduce to you these two highly skilled, highly professional journalists who have covered a very complex, very difficult conflict with a great deal of balance and I would say objectivity under very, very difficult circumstances.  Iíve known Taghreed [El-Khhodary] actually from the time she was in Washington [DC] before she went back to cover Gaza and itís been also a pleasure, while I donít know Shireen [Abu Aqleh] personally, before today I had never met her, I followed her coverage on Al Jazeera and Iíve been very impressed also with the coverage that she has offered to the public and the Arab world and beyond.

As we all know, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian conflict is a very complex, very controversial and highly emotional topic. This has been reflected in the coverage, in the region and in the United States.  And thatís why itís important to hear from these two ladies who have done, as I said, an excellent job in covering this conflict. Weíve asked them to talk about their perspectives and their experiences about the coverage and what recommendations they may have. Later on of course, we will open it later to your questions and answers.  But let me say just a couple of words about each one of them.

Taghreed is today a visiting scholar in the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment, where her research is focusing on Gaza, and she is the Heinrich Boell fellow. Since 2001 she has been based in the Gaza Strip reporting on political developments for The New York Times and serving as a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group. Throughout her career as a journalist, Taghreed has worked as a correspondent for Al Hayat LBC TV and as a producer for Agence France-Presse, as well as for Al Jazeera and Middle East Broadcasting (MBC). She has also worked as an assistant producer on documentaries by National Geographic, PBS, CBS and ITV. She also in the year 2010 led a three-week mentorship program on election coverage for journalists in northern Sudan under the auspices of the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) and Linnaeus Universityís Fojo Media Institute. Taghreed has been one of the few journalists who have covered Gaza and the Gaza conflict for an American media outlet and that gives her a unique perspective.

Shireen is also, of course, most people know her from her work on Al Jazeera satellite channel. She has also been in a unique position.  Sheís covered Israel as well as the West Bank for the channel and sheís had a ten-year experience of reporting on the ongoing conflict.  Especially, sheís done a lot of work not only on the conflict itself and on cycles of violence, but sheís covered political, social and economic issues in the West Bank and she has also made features as well as interviewed news makers. She has been also one of the founders of the Voice of Palestine as a radio correspondent and as a presenter. She has also before that I believe worked for Radio Monte Carlo.

Shireen Abu Aqleh:
Yeah, it was [from] 2000 to 2003.

Dr. Edmund Ghareeb:
And she has been awarded a number of international prizes and awards including most recently the Dubai Press Club Award, where she was named as a ĎMedia Personality of the Yearí as well as other international prizes and she has also taught journalism at Birzeit University. Who would like to go first?

Shireen Abu Aqleh
:  Iíve been covering the conflict between Israel and Palestine for over ten years now, and basically Iím based in the West Bank and I cover Israel and [the] West Bank. This is my first experience here in Washington.   Iíve been here for only for two months and I am staying for one more month. Most of all, I am usually based in Palestine and Israel. Through these years I would say that the challenges that we are facing as journalist is getting higher and things are not getting easier. For one thing, we are not facing one authority.  In Palestine, we have to deal with now three authorities.  One of them is, of course, the Israelis and, of course, itís very hard because in Israel they have their own story and itís not easy to come up with different stories.  For a long time there was no Palestinian or Arab media covering the conflict and it was only their point of view and now with all these media channels, whether they were Palestinians or Arabs, they brought us many challenges. And then in the Palestinian side, too bad to say, but now we are facing two authorities, the one in the West Bank which is the Palestinian Authority, and in Gaza our colleagues are facing another authority, which is Hamas.  After, I think, about 2007 they took over so itís another challenge for them.  Also, itís too bad to say that things are getting worse now because at a certain point of time we thought, as Palestinians, that we were lucky to have more freedom of expression in Palestine.  But now with this division between the Palestinians among themselves itís becoming harder because no one is tolerating the other point of view.  So it is causing more challenges for us. This is just something I would like to start with.

Taghreed El-Khodary:  I agree with Shireen.   Iíve been working as a journalist since, I would say, 1995.  I was a witness as a producer during [the] Oslo [peace negotiations]. But then 2001 till 2009, I was based in Gaza covering for The New York Times and, at the same time, for four years I did TV reporting for Al Hayat LBC. I would say as a journalist, Gaza has been a school, a real school for me, to implement whatever I studied in American universities. But at the same time, you talk about the challenges and I donít want to talk too much.  But one of the most serious challenges Iíve been confronting with is Israel. When it comes to Hamas I would say during the war I experienced one challenge, when I did this story on the killing of the collaborators. And I was a witness at the same time. So one of the Qassam [Brigades]  guys came to me, you know, one of the members of the military wing of Hamas, and asked me not to cover it but I said, ĎNo, you cannot talk to me like this.í But you have to understand, as a journalist, one of the main challenges is how to maintain the focus, how to make everyone around you, including Fateh, Hamas, or whoever, calm about your work and that requires so much focus and, at the same time, so much understanding to their narrative or their point of view when it comes to certain things. So there are many distractions, I would say.  As  a journalist, the challenge is to keep going and to not let anyone stop you.

Now, Iím out of Gaza and Iím one of the lucky ones that I made it out.  And for me itís important to keep the exposure. I cannot just lock myself inside Gaza and keep covering one color of the story that is Hamas because the story is not only about that element. You have to be exposed. Now Iím in DC and Iím experiencing the other element that is the American administrationsí role when it comes to that conflict. And at the same time you hear different points of views and itís very interesting.  But at the same time, itís very frustrating because you see the place that is Gaza, getting worse and worse. As a journalist, as an observer and as a Palestinian throughout history I have been witnessing the change within the place and itís a very sad story. Itís very depressing and it gets into you as a journalist. So itís very important to get out and to be exposed, to get the energy and one day, or I donít know when, to just go back and continue the work.

Dr. Edmund Ghareeb (Moderator): Well thank you very much. I guess that we can start with the question and answers. I am going to ask the first question, actually.  The first one is, and youíve touched on it Taghreed,  what are some of the challenges and perhaps advantages of being a Palestinian journalist--for both of you is this question--of being Palestinians but who are covering this very complex issue? What have been the problems?  What have been the advantages?

Shireen Abu Aqleh: The advantages, I have to think about that. Well, for sure there are advantages.  When you are Palestinian it is easier to know, you said it, the complexity of the Palestinian society, how things go on. Iím working with a channel that has been on debate and we had many people who didnít agree.  We faced many problems with all the authorities Iíve been talking about. So sometimes when you know them as Palestinians, sometimes it helps. As a Palestinian journalist, you know how to get things going because at a certain point sometimes it could be really dangerous.  You could be subject to incitement. Our office was closed one time in Ramallah and we really had problems with Israelis. Itís never an advantage when weíre talking about the Israeli side.  Itís always a disadvantage. Especially when the second intifada started, all my colleagues from the West Bank, they all lost their press cards and they had no access to move around.  They were paralyzed, all our crews, and they couldnít get out of Ramallah or the city they are in. For [those of] us from Jerusalem, it was a little bit easier to move around. So the Israelis, itís another story, but at least with the Palestinian Authority or Hamas, sometimes itís easier when you are Palestinian because you know people you could talk to.  You have a sense of this complexity of the relationships and itís easier to go through with.

Dr. Edmund Ghareeb: Well, Shireen you touched on earlier in your brief presentation on a new aspect of the coverage and that is the role of the Arab media. There is a new Arab media right now that is playing a major role in covering stories, such as [the] Arab- Israeli conflict as well as other issues, including Iraq, from an Arab prospective perhaps. How significant is that? And do you think that in any way that it is contributing to the way the media has been covering the issue? And I would like to have both of you touch on that.  And on a broader question, also, I would like to focus on the Arab Media.  And I wonít ask any more questions as Iím sure you all have questions. I donít want to monopolize this.  But as someone who was following the media coverage, especially the American media coverage, of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and has written extensively about it, one of the problems I found, with the coverage of the American media, has been that the media often ignores the thematic contextual background.  It goes with the ebb and flow.   We hear a lot about cycles of violence, we hear a lot about the start and stop of the peace process, but we donít really get to the heart of the issue; issues such as the occupation itself. So what do you think of the way the media has covered this? How have you dealt with this issue? How would you go about, maybe trying to improve this, the way this issue has been covered?

Taghreed El-Khodary: You donít want me to talk about the advantages and disadvantages?

Dr. Edmund Ghareeb: Of course I do. But this is the second question.

Taghreed El-Khodary:  Definitely as a Palestinian, it is an advantage because you understand the issue very well and you are living it.  You are not outside the place and then you are sent [in] from time to time. I think one of the advantages when a reporter is living the story it adds a lot. Sometimes it has, of course, its advantages because you become part of it. It can affect you, definitely.  So, one of the advantages is to be a Palestinian and to live the story. I recommend to journalists, even if they are foreigners, they have to live where they are covering. Not just to be sent from time to time. One of the advantages is if you are not belonging [to a faction], because the sad part, when it comes to many Palestinian journalists, they belong to a faction. They have a history.  In the past, they used to belong to that faction or that faction, so they will be always tainted as this person belongs to that. Let me give an example.  If you are a journalist known to be Fateh in the past, [the] Hamas people will never trust you and vice versa. Thatís the story.  And luckily Iíve never belonged to any political faction and thatís why I feel strong on the ground talking and reaching everyone.  Disadvantages; for journalists, exposure is the key. They have to be exposed and I think the more they [are] exposed to other elements of the story, it makes a difference. The sad part is, now you have Gaza completely separated from the West Bank.  Imagine you are a Gazan journalist and you are just based in Gaza and you cannot see the other story that is the West Bank. And of course the Israelis donít let someone like me, who worked for The New York Times, [to] even work. They gave me a hard time and thatís also another challenge.   Being a Palestinian journalist, even if you work for Reuters or AP [Associated Press] or The New York Times, Israel will never give you access to the West Bank or to Israel.

Shireen Abu Aqleh: I think itís very interesting and itís very important the role of the Arab media. I think basically now what weíre living in in Palestine, itís not just the confrontation on the ground between Palestinians and Israelis.  Itís also how to mend the public opinion and this is a great battle that is going around. How can you influence the public opinion?  And there were some times, that I remember in our coverage, that a few things would happen that would really influence the people and I think to some extent it had to influence the way decision makers took their decisions afterwards. There are few ones that I would remember.  One time, when we were talking about the siege of Gaza, probably Taghreed remembers more, the date when people in Gaza were really under so much, they were feeling so frustrated and so many people went to the borders in demonstrations. That was when the Egyptian government decided to open the borders. I think thereís so much that the media is doing there; the way that you cover these stories, the way that you influence the public opinion and from there things could change. Also, the [Freedom] Flotilla, what happened about this attack, it did some job when the world had to pressure Israel to ease its siege, although it was not up to the expectations of Palestinians. But still, it did something.  What I say, again, is that the Arab media now, it is spreading.  At least for example, Al Jazeera, now you can see it in English. So everybody, whether it is in the Arab world or outside, can see Al Jazeera. For the first time now you can hear the Arab news coming from an Arab channel and not having to rely only on what Israel has to say or the western media has to say, especially if we want to say [in regards to] the second question in the American media.

Iíve been here for two months and during those two months I only saw the conflict twice covered in the American media, that was when it was the flotilla and the second time was when Israel decided to ease the siege on Gaza. You never see a human story coming out from Gaza.  How do people live in Gaza? Although in the American media everything is humanized, every story that comes out in the media. And now we see the oil spill [and] how this disaster is affecting people.  Every day there are human stories coming out of people, how they are affected.  But you never see any human story coming from Gaza. How do people live under siege?  When it was covered in the American media, I could hear the same question being asked to international officials is, ĎHow will you make sure that weapons and arms are not getting into Gaza?í But no one is asking, ĎHow do the people live there?í  ĎHow do they get the medicine?í And nobody asks why they have to die because they donít have enough access to hospitals or medicine or food.  They cannot build their houses.  So this is really missing in the American media.   And one other point I would like to add is sometimes the ambiguity of some points when you listen to the way the news is edited.  And I will also give you another example.  When there was another ship coming up from Ireland, [going] to Gaza, that was after the flotilla, it was said in the news that, Ďanother ship, which is called [the] Rachel Corrie, is coming to Gaza.í  Rachel Corrie is a well known American who was killed by Israelis. But the news said that this ship that is called [the] Rachel Corrie, Ďis named after an American killed in Gaza.í So nobody knows who killed Rachel Corrie.  Whenever you think about it, probably the first impression would be that she was killed by Palestinians in Gaza. But that was not true, so whenever there is something that would be against Israel it just drops from the news and you only see what is in favor of Israel.  So itís very far from being objective when it comes to covering the Palestinian- Israeli conflict.

Taghreed El-Khodary:  I agree with Shireen when she talked about the role of the Arab media.   It has played a great role in the entire region.   All of a sudden you have all categories of people with all classes of the population all over the Arab world having access to the stories and you have Al Jazeera, you have Al Arabiya; you have many others.  So there is a competition, but Al Jazeera is playing the role. The sad part is if we talk about the two major channels, that is Al Jazeera [and] Al Arabiya, each of them is taking a side. And as an observer, when it comes to, for example, the civil war between Fateh and Hamas, Al Jazeera did a mistake by taking the side of Hamas. So to the people on the ground, when it comes to Palestine, they know Al Jazeera is taking that side. When it comes to Al Arabiya, [it] is taking also another side that is Fateh.  And that is the mistake. But people are not stupid on the ground.  They are realizing, so they are watching both to understand both narratives. Palestinians are aware of that.  So, if they want to understand the story, if they are among the silent majority, they will watch both channels. The Hamas guys will watch Al Jazeera and the Fateh guys will watch Al Arabiya.  They feel like itís psychological. So when it comes to the region, thatís the thing.   What are they watching and who do they believe? So it depends. Definitely these channels are influencing the public opinion in the entire region.  But really, I think we are very lucky to have all these channels that didnít exist a long time ago.

When it comes also to the issue, like Shireen gave the example of the flotilla and the breaking of the border with Egypt, the sad part--and I think this is what the western media has failed--they have promoted Gaza as a humanitarian case. Period.  They are really avoiding the real issue that is Gaza is a political issue; it is not a humanitarian [issue]. Of course, there is [a] humanitarian issue.  Of course, there is no economy.  People are suffering, all of that, but [it] all goes under the political issue.  And if we avoid clarifying the story as a political issue, I think you have an American administration now happy a little bit, ĎNow we have opened a little bit so its fine.í  And the Israelis now, ĎOkay, no more excuses.  No more humanitarian issues now in Gaza. Weíre going to get them the mayonnaise and the ketchup,í thatís it. But what about the economy? What about the two entities that all the parties are contributing now in coming out with. You have the West Bank that is going to be completely different from Gaza.  And that is the fear if you think in the long-term Ė itís purely political.

If I want to talk about the American media, Iím sorry that I left Gaza, but my bureau chiefís son joined the Israeli army and I felt like itís not wise of me.  I donít want to risk losing my sources that I have been establishing for many, many years. Itís a very sensitive issue, as you all know, not only that, but itís also risky and you have many small groups who would like revenge and I can be a great person to get a hold of. Itís very sensitive and I was really disappointed that they took this decision but they understand why I left. Of course, I miss the place, but I feel good that I left it at this time. But hopefully it will be resolved that there will be more features coming at this point from Gaza. But again, the thing is, as Shireen said, the issue is touched upon as humanitarian and I am against this because I think the readers in the West--and I think Europe is different from the States.  In Europe they understand more when it comes to that; that the issue is political. But here they escape the real issue by talking about it and by covering it as if it is a humanitarian case only.

Dr. Edmund Ghareeb: Thank you. Let me open the questions to you (the audience). Please identify yourself, Iíll call on you and you can ask a question. Please try to make it brief.

Question: Iíd like you to go a little more into the American media because it seems to me that despite the Gaza flotilla weíre still not getting enough information.  We never do.  I think The New York Times is a little better than The Washington PostThe Washington Post is pretty bad. Do you feel censored over here with the stuff that you write? Is that why it happens? Do you write things that maybe never get in or do you write things that are so heavily censored that the point is gone or a lot of the essence is gone? Another thing that concerns me is all the deserved attention on Gaza, whatís going on in the West Bank is sort of being neglected: the expansion of the settlements, the increasing settler violence, the continuing Judaization of Jerusalem.  None of this is getting any attention here.  And what do you see as a way to go to try to improve this situation?  Thank you.

Taghreed El-Khodary: If I want to talk about how I covered the war, I really sent what was happening in Gaza and it was really taken by The New York Times, and itís there. The issue is even if you write a feature, if you write anything; you need the Israeli narrative in the story. You need to balance and thatís why you need the space. Thatís the story here.  You have to be politically correct.   You have to have the Israeli narrative even if you are working in a feature. So thatís how it goes and I think you need to understand also how the Israelis are looking at things. Whatís disturbing here, is watching your TV.  I cannot watch CNN domestic.  They treat me like a stupid person, like a stupid audience. I really stopped watching it because itís so different from the CNN International.  Iím here and Iím really not watching your FOX [News] or your CNN.  Itís scary. So, thanks to God [that] we have [the] Internet.  I watch BBC.  I listen to BBC actually, to get access. And of course, you have The New York Times, The Washington Post and you need to read. My advice:   donít rely on one source.  I watch Al Jazeera every day.  I listen to BBC every day and I read here and there. You cannot just count on reading or trusting one source.  Itís a mistake.

What was the other question? You asked two questions or thatís it? [Yes, I also asked about the West Bank not being covered]. Yeah, the West Bank.   I think the real issue now, of course, Gaza is an issue, but when it comes to what Israel is doing regarding the peace process and whatís happening on the ground, I think there has to be more attention when it comes to whatís happening? Nobodyís talking about the [separation] wall.  But the sad part, when it comes to media, you get bored of covering the same story and that is whatís happening to American reporters.  Itís like how can you keep reporting the same story over and over? And thatís why itís very important to be there and to find out how this wall and how these settlements are affecting the population and come out with features not only news.

Shireen Abu Aqleh: Yes, Iíll just add that as I work for an Arab media station, I came from the West Bank only two months ago but I could still say that every day we have at least one story coming out of the West Bank because on a daily basis there is something going on, either new settlement expansion or new houses demolished in Jerusalem. And itís not only Jerusalem.  All over the West Bank, any place that is close to the wall, you will see Palestinian houses being demolished. The last decision to demolish houses was yesterday in East Jerusalem to demolish 22 houses. I would say that Iím from Jerusalem, I was born in Jerusalem and until now I couldnít have my own house to buy an apartment in East Jerusalem because itís very hard. In most places in East Jerusalem we are not allowed to build because there are all kinds of excuses from the Israeli government [so that] we cannot build.  We have a very small area that is allowed to build in.  Itís very hard to get the Israeli permits.  So if you want to buy an apartment, it is [very] expensive. Thatís why, for many young people now, itís very hard for them even to find a house, because they cannot buy in Jerusalem. The other substitute for them is to go buy a house or rent a house somewhere else, like in Ramallah or another city close to Jerusalem.  And then they will be subject to lose their Jerusalem ID if they live in any other part of Palestine that is not Jerusalem.

Then there are these attacks by the settlers; this is a daily story, that we cover in the small villages around Nablus, Qalqiya, Hebron where the people are just attacked by settlers.  They lose their land. I know a small village near Hebron where we have people working for the International Solidarity Movement [who] are living there because they take the children every day in the morning to school and then they wait for them to bring them back from school and that is because there is a very close settlement over there.  And there were many times when the young children were attacked by settlers and so they stopped going to their school. Now they have these people from International Solidarity Movement going to school with them and coming back and you never hear these stories. When was the last time you heard that a Palestinian was killed by an Israeli soldier? You never hear it in the news, but it still goes on. Itís not as high as it had been, but the situation is still worse, very bad.  We still have the checkpoints as they are. The wall is taking so much land from the Palestinians. I live in Jerusalem and the wall is not separating Palestinians from Israelis.  It is just coming in the middle of the Palestinian houses where a person is now separated from his own neighbor. The geographical face of Jerusalem has changed.  We had the main street going from Ramallah to Jerusalem and in the center of the street now the wall [has] cut it.  So we had to change all our trips going from Ramallah to Jerusalem, going through settlements because the main street we used to use, as Palestinians, we are not allowed to use anymore. There are roads that Palestinian cars, inside the West Bank, and Iím not saying in Jerusalem or between West Bank and Israel, Palestinians are not allowed to use because they are Palestinians and only settlers are allowed to use them. You never hear these stories in the news, though maybe you could find it in European [media], but you never see these stories in American media.

Question: Ahmed Salkini. I have two questions, for Taghreed and one for Shireen. I think your comment on Arab media, I find it very interesting regarding Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, first of all I think itís ironic and maybe Shireen can attest to that, but from what I hear, Shireen gets accused a lot of times of being Fathawiya, but sheís with Al Jazeera, so I thought that was somewhat ironic. Show me a completely objective news source, and Iíll show you an ideal world. I have yet to see a completely objective news source Ė we see it here in the states too, I mean FOX news has a certain agenda, MSNBC has its own agenda, and so on and so forth. Thatís just a comment. But my question is take us on a journey in the thought process of a Palestinian journalist whoís covering Gaza, but yes covering it for The New York Times. I mean I can imagine there are a lot of dilemmas. How do you make it an objective story when there is so much passion, considering the occupation, the struggle, the death, and so on and so forth. And my question to Shireen is to take us on a journey on some of the difficulties you face, especially on the Israeli side, whether itís the government or even the people, I think [a news reporter] got attacked by settlers recently, so maybe share some of the stories youíve had to deal with.

Taghreed El-Khodary: I mean, like it or hate it, but thatís a fact. But people on the ground they know, that Al Jazeera is taking that line and Al Arabiya is not. I mean thanks God we have people like Shireen and Walid, and whatever, but you are talking about the real agenda and the editorial here. There is nothing that is objective, definitely, and as I said, weíre lucky to have both Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. But people on the ground, when it comes to the Palestinians they are realizing if they are watching Al Jazeera, they know, they know whatís Shireen, they know whoís the editor, whatís happening here and there. People are not stupid, after all, and they have Al Arabiya, and as I told you if you want to get the whole story you watch both Ė when it comes to the editorial. Whatís happening, the opinion, the shaping. Iím not talking about a feature here, a news item here, you know itís different.

When it comes to my role at The New York Times, I would say I did my part and I believe that I did a very fair reporting. But as I said, Iím not working for an Arab media, Iím working for an international media, therefore you need the Israeli perspective, sometimes maybe itís too much Ė even in a feature you want to put the Israeli perspective, but thatís how it works. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to get the narrative that place out. And I succeeded. During the war, I was attacked by many Jewish Americans, many Arabs, and you know Arabs are like Ďhow come you work for The New York Times?í I mean, excuse me, but if you want to reach the people here, you need to work for such medium and its very important you cannot just let itÖand I would disagree, I think The New York Times and other American media, they did cover the settlement stories.  The New York Times did stories on the settlers, and The New York Times did stories on the war. But whatís missing is more of it, more depth maybe, more reporting Ė not just one story and just move on, you know, thatís the thing. When it comes to Gaza, more reporting is needed. And I agree with that.

[Question: Do you think itís balanced coverage? Balanced reporting?]

Taghreed El-Khodary:  My work?

[Question:  No not your work, The New York Times in general.]

Taghreed El-Khodary: I think The New York Times is doing a good job, if I compare it to others Ė if you want me to compare it to CNN or FOX.  Iím sorry, but when it comes to European media, itís completely different, I would say. But I think The New York Times has been doing a good job, and we did get the story out. And we really succeeded to get the story of Gaza during the war out, and it was really great reporting, and I didnít do one single mistake when it comes to facts.

Shireen Abu Aqleh: Just a quick thing about Al Jazeera and Fateh and Hamas. I wanted to say something before. Itís just that I donít really agree that the Hamas people are the ones watching Al Jazeera and Fateh are watching Al Arabiya, because weíre criticized for everything we say by Fateh, so if they didnít watch it we wouldnít have been criticized on every word we say. No, everybody watches, and I still think that because weíre the number one TV channel. I just want to say also that we were criticized by Hamas, and if you go online to some of their websites, you will see that. So anyways, about the challenges against Israelis, it is still going there. They do still control the country, and wherever you go you can find Israelis everywhere, so being able to come into any city where thereís something going on and you want to cover, itís up to them to let you in or no. And for many years, we had to go through very complicated roads, sometimes through the mountains or I donít know, now itís getting harder because of the wall. But we had to go through very long roads to take very side roads, asking everyone to be able to enter some cities. And on some occasions we had also to sign waivers that if anything happened to us, the Israeli military is not responsible. Of course we donít ever expect them to be responsible, but itís a way of saying that itís better for you not to go in because you will be in danger. I know that many of our colleagues working for, especially western media, they just didnít go in. We took the initiative, we used to go in, but whenever it is said that this is a military area, you are not allowed to have any pictures, to film, in some occasions, we lost our tapes and probably the last one was the flotilla when we had seven people on that ship and all the tapes taken away. As you mentioned, my colleague, Walid, when he was covering that in Ashdod, they were attacked and I spoke to him and he told me the minute they were attacked, he went to the Israeli police who were standing there because they were supposed to take care of the situation, and he told them that we are being attacked by those people and they did nothing. The only thing they told him is, Ďyou better leave.í So he started taking all the equipment and they were going to the car when they were attacked again and no one interfered. So it is a very hard situation. I remember once we were in the West Bank and we were going to cover something and some settlers just made us stop, and because they had weapons they said let us see your IDs. This is not an army, this is not police, and yet they have the right to stop us and see our IDs whenever they wanted. So there are these kinds of challenges, and mostly they were during when we were covering the Lebanon war. I remember when we went, we were standing up and we had our cameras, and they would immediately come to us and say we have to move although we arrived [in] some places where there was media standing. But the minute weíre there, they come and say, Ďnow everybody, all the journalists have to leave.í I remember during the war against Lebanon, there was a suit against Al Jazeera and they said, Ďwith the pictures you have you are helping Hizballah.í Some of these pictures, we were taking them from the Israeli TV. It was a panorama of Haifa and the military sensor would call and say, ĎNow. Change this picture.í And weíd say, Ďbut weíre taking this picture from the Israeli TV itself.í They would say, Ďokay, that is Israel. Not Al Jazeera.' These kinds of challenges, because of that, sometimes we were not allowed to be given permits for our crews to move around. We were not allowed to be given visas for some of the crews who wanted to come from Doha to cover the Israeli elections, because it was a kind of punishment from them because they didnít like the way we were covering different stories at that time.

Question: Iím an attorney here in town and work with a conflict resolution organization. Iím Cynthia Butler. My question is we saw a lot of on the ground citizen journalism during the Iranian election that I think really shocked Americans. We didnít have any idea that people knew how to use Twitter or that they had all that infrastructure that allowed them to just upload on YouTube what they were seeing on their phones. My question is, is there any potential for citizen journalism or is the censorship organization over there so tight that people canít upload stuff on YouTube or canít access what all the social media things. Because one would think that Israelis certainly have access to all of that, within the non-occupied part. Do they have military satellite interrupters or how do they prevent somebody in Jerusalem, like yourself [Shireen] from uploading something on YouTube if some settlers have it?

Shireen Abu Aqleh: They donít. Usually, we have that. They donít interrupt our feed and weíre able to cover. Thatís why you find these stories in the Arab media. You find it on satellite. I donít know how much is on YouTube, but I would say, yeah, we have access to all these things but I donít know how often people would see it here. The Israelis can see what weíre feeding, whatís going on the satellite. They cannot stop it. They donít stop it. But weíre punished afterwards with different things that I mentioned. Weíre not granted permits to go around or visas for some of our staff to go into Israel and Palestine. Sometimes they would not accept to come on our shows. Especially from the ministry of foreign affairs, they would stop talking to Al Jazeera. That happened for a certain time. We use every means we have to spread the story.

Taghreed El-Khodary: I feel there is a future for citizen journalism on the ground; definitely. One thing you have to know, of course, Israel is in control of everything. They even listen to our phone conversations. But at the same time, things are going - you have the issue of the electricity being cut. Once thatís off, you donít have access to anything. This happens many times on the ground. Iím optimistic that this will succeed on the ground. There are many voices that are sick of it all and they feel there voice needs to be out. And I see it coming. Already, there are many bloggers, many people who are using YouTube to come out with stories. Yeah, Itís there. But you need to work on it more, I think, if you want to encourage it.  You need to make people more aware. Especially the young generation, I would say.

Question: Thank you. Iím Nadia Sularib Gil, I have this question to most journalists, actually, but the two of you are here, so Iíll ask you. Why do you call occupiers, Ďsettlers?í It seems to me that if you make yourself part of the occupation effort you are not even a civilian, and it also seems to me that that plays into the hands of the Israelis and simply obscures the issue of the genocide that is going on of the Palestinians.

Taghreed El-Khodary: You have terms that you cannot touch, you cannot change Ė and it depends which medium you work for, but that is the term that everyone is using and understanding. Definitely I understand your point, but you cannot challenge your editors and tell them I want to change that because there are terms that are fixed.

Question: I believe that the French media sometimes uses the term Ďoccupiers.í And why is the discussion over whether theyíre civilians or not, off limits in a free media?

Shireen Abu Aqleh: Let me just say something. We use the word settlements to point out all these buildings, cities that were built inside the West Bank since 1967, and in international law it is recognized that settlements are illegal. So when you say Ďsettler,í which is someone living inside these settlements, it also has the sense that itís illegal. Because in international law, it is very well known that all the settlements built inside the West Bank are not legal. So whenever youíre living in these, itís also illegal.

Taghreed El-Khodary: For Americans it is not understood, we understand your point, butÖ

Question: My name is Louise Ross. I just want to make a comment. I am kind of surprised that Taghreed thinks The New York Times is fair. I pull my hair out every morning as I read the way they describe what is going on. And I wouldnít have if IÖ [
Taghreed El-Khodary]: Well when you compare it to other American media, thatís my point] Well I rely now on the Palestinian blogs for all my news.
Taghreed El-Khodary]: You think the Americans rely on the Palestinian blogs? I mean, thatís the questionÖ] Iíve got enough Palestinian friends who have pointed out some good ones. Iíd just like to say, for anyone who hasnít been there the shock of an American like me growing up in this country and then going over as I did last year with the National Cathedral group. I was just stunned to see a lot of this stuff in person to see the settlements, to see the wall, to see the way Americans are treated versus the way the Palestinians are treated.

Taghreed El-Khodary: That is the best way to understand anything, to just go to the place.

Dr. Edmund Ghareeb: To follow up on this question, actually, what role do you think the alternative media, the new media, is playing, and also especially non-governmental organizations, civil society, etc. and the way itís probably contributing to a better coverage? Is it contributing to a better coverage?
Shireen Abu Aqleh: Well let me point out to something that now Palestinians are working on and I heard that itís - in some places [here], probably California, San Francisco - itís the boycott. It is a way of civil resistance that is very peaceful and in a way it could be affecting Israel, and that is something we would find many organizations working on in Palestine. And itís doing really a very good job. We have now many non-[government] organizations that are working with others in Europe and the United States. I donít want this whole panel to be so pessimistic, but there is something changing, even here in the United States, and by the way, this is one report that Iím doing and it will be on very soon. You can find something even among the Americans that you never expected it before. More and more people are aware of whatís going on although in the media itís not as fair as we want it to be, still very far, but something is changing. The people now can have access to many media channels in the world where you could get the story from there. A few things are changing, I would say, and going back to your question, I think that civil organizations are really doing a great job of getting more in touch with partner organizations all over the world.

Dr. Edmund Ghareeb [to Taghreed El-Khodary]: Anything on that? Anything thought particularly on the social media or alternative media?

Taghreed El-Khodary: I think there is a future there, but still so they need to work on it more. And I think maybe the civil society, the NGOs, need to do more training; they need to focus on the young generation. They need to access schools, and thatís not happening on the ground. So this is an area, maybe someone can recommend to them. Whatís sad, when it comes to the media especially, anywhere, when it bleeds it leads. And that is what the flotilla has proved. And thatís what Israel has proved. It took blood for the story of Gaza to come out again, and thatís the reality of media.

Question: Thank you both very much, I want to say that first and foremost. But I do have a question. Since youíre both now in the United States - and Iím Paul Verduin with Friends of Sebeel North America -  are you getting any opportunities at all to have off-the-record, frank and candid discussions with the reporters and editors from the major U.S. media Ė The Washington Post, the Washington Times, The New York Times, USA Today, the LA Times, any of these papers or TV media networks Ė challenging them on their first premises, on their presuppositions? I mean, one example, [19]67 war, historically took place, the Six-Day War, because Egypt and Jordan and Syria were saber-rattling and making menacing moves around the borders, so Israel attacked and pushed the Egyptian army out of Gaza and the Sinai, pushed the Jordanian army out of the West Bank, pushed the Syrian army out of the Golan Heights. Well, Israel made peace with Egypt long ago now, made peace with Jordan long ago, there is no peace with Syria, but there certainly hasnít been any fighting or any shots fired with Syria in a very, very, very long time, so why is Israel still occupying the Palestinian Territories? After all, the UN and the British when they had the mandate intended Palestine to become an independent country in 1948. Do you have any chance to talk about these things with them?

Shireen Abu Aqleh: Well, I have only been here for two months, so maybe Taghreed can talk more about that. But for me, I would say, sorry, no Ė I didnít have the chance. First of all, I didnít cover news in the USA. Iíve been covering feature stories, so Iíve been going around many states from New York to Miami and Iíll be traveling again so I didnít have a chance to talk to any of them, although I would have loved that, but probably Taghreed because sheís been here a long time.

Taghreed El-Khodary
: Iím focusing on policymakers in this stage of my life.  I think we need to change the policy in orderÖ (laughs)

Question: Hi, Iím Alicia Shepard and Iím the ombudsman at National Public Radio. [someone in crowd boos.]

Taghreed El-Khodary: I met with NPR.

Question (continued): Boo? Well, I represent you. Iím the listener advocate. And I would have to say this is the issue that is the most contentious that I deal with. [someone in the background, ĎTerry Grossí] Well Terry Gross is not NPR, sheís produced by WHYY in Philadelphia. But, it just seems to me that - and I just wrote a posting about this at npr.org/ombudsman - that itís what they call the hostile media effect. I mean, I can have two phone calls within ten minutes about the same story, and theyíll say ĎNPR is nothing but National Palestinian Radio,í and then the next one will say that NPR is a mouthpiece for the Israeli Defense Force. You know, theyíre hearing the same story, so I feel a little frustrated, frankly, at how quicklyÖ I mean, you used the word Taghreed Ďnarrative,í and there are two narratives and both sides feel that their narrative, that NPR should take their side. And that isnít the job of the American media. Iím not saying they do a good job, but I just donít see how thereís ever going to be anyone saying Ďwow, NPR did a good job on that.í

Dr. Edmund Ghareeb: Before you answer let me ask you this question, actually. To what extent do you think that youíre your audience response effects they way you cover the story?

Alicia: I would say not at all.

Dr. Edmund Ghareeb: None whatsoever?

Shepard: I mean, I think that NPR, around the time of the second intifada was affected by CAMERA, which As probably as many of you know Committee on Accuracy in Middle East Reporting, but is very much Pro-Israeli. But, no I donít. If anything it may not be consistent reporting, they donít have someone in Gaza. Right now, someone is a freelancer whoís reporting out of Jerusalem.

Taghreed El-Khodary: I mean surely you donít want an American media to focus only, thatís the challenge, with one narrative. And that is why, if you listen to FOX, that is only one narrative, that is the Israeli, and I donít think the others are following FOX. The challenge is how to cover both narratives equally. Thatís the challenge. You can say that you succeeded as a reporter if both sides are unhappy.

Shepard: No, I donít think that. I think thatís way too simplistic to say that if there are complaints about both sides, I just think that we have to understand that people listen to the bias of their personal beliefs, and thatís why they can each hear the same story and say ĎThat story is so pro-Palestine,í or ĎThat story is so pro-Israel.í

Dr. Edmund Ghareeb: Yes, go ahead.

Question: Thank you for being here. My name is Mayada. My question to you is there are becoming more and more peaceful demonstrations, which for Americans, the Palestinians were considered terrorists, and now there are more and I want to verify if thatís true. And second, is it true that a lot of peaceful demonstrations, the Israelis are actually jailing these people? I mean, thatís a story. Palestinians do want a peace process, and I donít think the American media, and I wondered if thereís any way that that can happen, where Americans understand that there is a peace movement going on in Palestine, but theyíre being arrested.

Taghreed El-Khodary: There is this documentary that came out, ďBudrus.Ē I just saw it, and it touches upon this factor.

Shireen Abu Aqleh: Let me just comment on that. In the West Bank, every Friday after prayers there are peaceful demonstrations that come out in Bilíin, which is a very small also a village that the wall was built on its land, Budrus, Nilíin, and near Bethlehem there is Al Masra. There are a few small villages that come out in peaceful demonstrations, and every Friday Ė I donít know how frequent you hear about those Ė and in these marches, usually, there are many people who are working for the International Solidarity Movement who are from the United States, Europe and Israelis who believe in peace and they come to support Palestinians and they were many times arrested. And whenever there are people from the States or Europe [they] would be arrested and then they would be deported. And I think now they are facing problems in going back to Palestine. These are all very peaceful demonstrations in which the Israeli army uses whatís called rubber bullets, which is very dangerous, and many Palestinians were killed during those demonstrations. And [the Israelis were] using tear gas, which is getting really, very hard to breathe because Iím covering these demonstrations and Iím telling them ĎThatís it. I cannot take it anymore.í with the kinds of gas they are using, sometimes you are about toÖ you are suffocating whenever you smell this gas. Sometimes they are between the houses of the people and using itÖbut how many people know about that?  Yeah, people are going to this kind of peaceful demonstrations in Palestine.

But yet, you brought up something very important when you said that you look to Palestinians as terrorism. Too bad after 9/11 things got up in a way that Ė Palestinians are not fighting Israelis because they want to fight them. Itís because there is occupation, and this is resistance. So, people just now donít differentiate between resistance. Whenever someone is taking your own land, and is not allowing you to go to work, sometimes to schools even, those are some stories we did cover. When young children cannot go to their schools because there is a wall, and a soldier is standing by a gate, and if he decides not to let those small boys go to their schools, then they donít go. So people are trying to find ways of resistance that could be more peaceful now, but I donít know how much itís spread.

Question: Ahmed Ayish.  My question is directed to Shireen. You, Al Jazeera, report the news in a very fair way, but sometimes I think you go overboard. For example, a kid walking in an open field and the Israelis shoot him down and kill him. The Israelis say he was on his way to plant a bomb and thatís what you report, ĎIsraelis said he was on his wayÖí But you never follow the kid to where he was shot and killed to see that he wasnít carrying a bomb or doing anything of that sort. So you are too quick to report what Israel says, rather than defend the situation.

Question: Asísalaam alaikum. Ismi Mike Springman. Could you expand on your answers to earlier questions about how, what rate the government calls Ďthe fawning corporate mediaí spikes your stories on the region and how, or why, well we all know why, but actually how they spike the stories? Do they discourage your reporting on what the Israelis are doing? Do they simply spike it out of hand? Do they give you guidelines on what not to say and how not to say it?
Shireen Abu Aqleh: You mean our own channels?

Mike Springman: No. Iím talking about The New York Times, CNN, ďzioĒ Fox News, things like that. You have the story. Rachel Corrie, for example. Murdered by an Israeli bulldozer, but she was killed in Palestine. That kind of thing.

Shireen Abu Aqleh: So let me first go to go to the first question, and thank you for bringing that up, this is very important for us. First of all, yeah we do report what the Israelis say. Sometimes itís the only story that we have because sometimes when a boy is killed, and there is no one around, and he was killed by an Israeli soldier, what we have [is] only what the Israelis have to say. So what we do is we try sometimes to go and try to look for whether people are around. Is there a Palestinian story? Sometimes, usually the quickest narration comes from the Israelis, because there is always a reaction from the Israeli side and thatís the easiest thing to get out. So they are so quick and very well organized, and they control the area Ė itís so simple. When we were even reporting on the flotilla, the first stories that came out, because everyone on the ship was arrested by the Israelis, so how would you get the other story? You couldnít get the other story until the people came out of the detention, and sometimes that can be too late. So we try our best to look for the Palestinian story, but too bad, sometimes you donít get it in time. This is really a problem that we have in the West Bank with some of our Palestinian officials, especially Fateh. Itís sometimes very hard to take reaction from them Ė it comes but itís late. They donít have the sense or importance of timing, and that is why after a few hours itís no more a story, or the second day, itís no more a story. [Taghreed El-Khodary: We have a deadline.] But we do. We do try our best to look for any other narration, even if itís from an eye-witness, and we would refer it to our source that it was an eye-witness. But you are right, Israelis are well organized, and they are very quick.

Click here for Covering Conflict in Palestine: A Panel Discussion (Part 2)
Shireen Abu Aqleh is the Palestinian Occupied Territories and Israel correspondent for Al Jazeera.  Taghreed El-Khodary is a former Gaza correspondent for The New York Times.

This transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Cente

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