A Voice from Arab Jerusalem

May 11, 2010 by Henry Benjamin
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Khaled abu Toameh, who describes himself as an “Israeli, Muslim, Arab Palestinian” journalist and spoke yesterday to Sydney media…

His career started 27 years ago working as a journalist for the PLO at a time when Israel “turned a blind eye” to the publication of a Palestinian press within its borders.

Toameh 47, worked for the organisation for seven years before moving to the Jerusalem Post.  He told the meeting that foreign media is never threatened within Israel for writing anti-Israel material adding that the story was quite different for those journalists working within the Palestinian community. He said that the foreign media’s freedom in the West Bank and Gaza was curtailed for a number of reasons including lack of  easy access to Palestinian leaders, a need for translators and the need for a guide….all services he has provided for 22 years. Toameh has written for leading newspapers throughout the U.S. and Europe and has produced TV news ducumentaries for a world-wide audience including Australia’s “Sixty Minutes”. Nine years ago, he joined the Jerusalem Post as a journalist focusing on Palestinian affairs but continues to work with foreign media and is a correspondent for America’s NBC network.

Toameh has been accused of being pro-Israel. He told the meeting “I am not pro-Israel, I am not pro-Palestinian, I am not pro-American, I am not pro-Russian.” Toameh said that his main criterion was to work for an organisation where he had “a free platform”. He said: “As an Arab Moslem living in that part of the world, the only place where I can express myself freely is in a Jewish newspaper.” Toameh said that his work at the Jerusalem Post had not interfered with his connections with Hamas and Fatah in the West Bank and Gaza and that they are aware that “the best way to relay a message to the Israeli public is through the media.” He added that not a single member of Hamas or Gaza had denied him an interview because he was working for an Israeli newspaper.

He told the meeting that he believed in separation between Jews and Palestinians and in ending occupation. He criticised the international community for giving enormous amounts of money to the late Yasser Arafat in the belief that if he was funded, peace had a chance. He told the meeting that very little of the money had reached the Palestinian people. Between 1994 and 2001, Arafat received almost $10 billion, mostly from America. He said that a casino was built instead of hospitals and schools. “I tried to alert my foreign colleagues in 1995 amd 1996 to let them know that the funds were not going to the people.” Toameh reminded the meeting that he was working for Arafat at the time, and that the foreign media had questioned him as to whether or not he was “a Zionist agent”.

Toameh told the meeting that the foreign media’s answer was that Arafat’s corruption “did not fit into their narrative” and that an anti-Israel anti-occupation story would “make their lives much easier”.  He said that the Palestinian people did not benefit from the funds received by Arafat causing them to become disillusioned and radicalised. Hamas then become stronger, running their election under the banner of change. The Palestinians had nothing to lose by voting for Hamas. He said that the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas has claimed the lives of over 2,000 Palestinians. In July 2007, when Hamas won the elections, Fatah supporters tried to flee Gaza but the Egyptians closed the borders and “Israel was the only country in the world which sent help to stop Moslems being slaughtered by Moslems”.

UIA President Bruce Fink (l.) and NSWJBD President Robin Margo chat to Khaled abu Toameh pic: Henry Benjamin - Reality Media

He said that if Israel deployed its forces from the West Bank, Hamas would take over the area. On the subject if the peace process Toameh was critical of the U.S. president’s current initiative saying that the biggest mistake Obama is making is to attempt to drag the parties to the negotiating table when the gap between them remains as wide as ever. He told the meeting: “It would have been better to have a ceasefire in Gaza and to  improve the economy in the West Bank..and then just waiting. But to talk at the table at this time about explosive issues..it is only a matter of time before it explodes in our faces again. We have had a period of stability in the last year or two. Things have been calming down and there has been an improvement in the economy in Gaza.”

J-Wire asked him what he meant by waiting. Toumeh replied: “They should wait until things improve. Until the economy in the West Bank is strong. This will have a moderating effect on the people which will lead to them be more willing to make compromises and concessions for peace in the future.”

Media members asked him how he saw matters panning out over the next ten years. He replied that he could not even judge what will happen over the next ten minutes.

Khaled abu Toameh visited Sydney under the auspices of the United Israel Appeal the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council. He addressed Sydney’s major media outlets, universities, the Jewish community and political identities. He will also visit Canberra and Melbourne.

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