Amira Hass; a beacon to us all

One of Israel’s finest journalists, Amira Hass, has won the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour described Hass as “one of the greatest truth-seekers of them all.”

This is her acceptance speech:

Allow me to start with a correction. “Ah, how impolite,” you’d rightly think. But anyway, we Israelis are being forgiven for much worse than impoliteness. What is so generously termed today by the International Women’s Media Foundation as my “lifetime achievement” needs to be corrected, because it is failure. Nothing more than a failure. A lifetime failure. Come to think of it, the “lifetime” part is just as questionable. After all, it is about a third of my life, not more, that I have been engaged in journalism. Also, if the “lifetime” part gives you the impression that I am soon going to retire, then this impression has to be corrected, as well. I’m not planning to end soon what I’m doing.

What am I doing? I’m generally defined as a reporter on Palestinian issues. But, in fact, my reports are about the Israeli society and policies, about domination and intoxications. My sources are not secret documents and leaked-out minutes which were taken out of meetings of people with power and in power; my sources are the open ways by which the subjugated are being dispossessed of their equal rights as human beings.

There is still much more to learn about Israel, to learn about my society and about the Israeli decision makers, who invent restrictions such as: Gazan students are not to study in a Palestinian university in the West Bank, some seventy kilometers away from their home. Another ban: children above the age of eighteen are not to visit their Palestinian parents in Gaza, if the parents are well and healthy. If the parents are dying, Israeli order-abiding officials would have allowed a visit. If the children are younger than eighteen, the visit would have been allowed, as well. But on the other hand, second-degree relatives are not allowed to visit dying or healthy siblings in Gaza. It is an intriguing philosophical question, not only journalistic. Think of it. What, for the Israeli system, is so disturbing about reasonably healthy fathers or mothers? What is so disturbing about a kid choosing and getting a better education? And these are but two in a long, long list of Israeli prohibitions.

Also, when I write about the progressively decimated and fragmented Palestinian territory of the West Bank, it’s not just about people losing their family property and livelihood that I write. It’s not only about the shrinking opportunities of people in disconnected, crowded enclaves. It is in fact a story about the skills of Israeli architects. It is a way to learn about how Israeli on-the-ground planning contradicts official proclamations, a phenomenon which collectivizes the acts of all Israeli governments in the past as in the present.

In short, there is so much to keep me busy for another lifetime, or at least for the rest of my lifetime. But, as I said, the real correction is elsewhere. It’s not about achievement that we should be talking here, but about a failure. It is the failure to make the Israeli and international public use and accept correct terms and words which reflect the reality, not the Orwellian Newspeak that has flourished since 1993 and has been cleverly dictated and disseminated by those with invested interests. The peace process terminology, which took reign, blurs the perception of real processes that are going on: a special Israeli blend of military occupation, colonialism, apartheid, Palestinian limited self-rule in enclaves, and a democracy for Jews.

It is not my role as a journalist to make my fellow Israelis and Jews agree that these processes are immoral and dangerously unwise for all of us. It is my role, though, to exercise the right for freedom of the press in order to supply information and to make people know. But as I’ve painfully discovered over the years, the right to know does not mean a duty to know. Thousands of my articles and zillion of words have evaporated. They could not compete with the official language that has been happily adopted by the mass media and is used in order to dis-portray the reality, official language that encourages people not to know. Indeed, a remarkable failure for a journalist.