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“Western journalists are cowards:” The Western abandonment of Palestine

Give Over hosted a panel discussion in London about Palestinian journalists left to die in the dark - watch now.

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Panellists at the Conditional Solidarity event hosted by Give Over, 9th March 2024.

Sally Zarzour

This panel was organised to discuss the conditional solidarity which has meant that Western journalists have been a complicit audience watching Israel target and kill Palestinian journalists and their families.

We gathered to discuss how any Western journalist, whether working for a legacy outlet, or an independent outlet, is inextricably linked to journalists being killed for being journalists that document what’s happening in Palestine. The pointed silence from many of our colleagues here in the UK is a silence that is built on conditional solidarity.

What is solidarity worth if journalism as a whole cannot, or more accurately, will not, come together to condemn and dismantle Western powers and their culpability in killing our colleagues in Palestine? Instead, it is our Palestinian colleagues who are dying in the dark because Western research, capital, and power is raining bombs onto their heads.

We were delighted to welcome Palestinian journalist, co-founder of We Are Not Numbers and Border Gone, outreach officer for the EuroMed Human Rights Monitor, Ahmed Alnaouq; Palestinian journalist and writer from Al-Quds City, Mustafa Abu Sneineh; NUJ Ethics Council representative and Al Jazeera Correspondent Mariam Elsayeh; and freelance journalist and researcher Afroze Zaidi.

The following is an excerpt from each speaker’s remarks to the panels. You can also watch the full panel event.

Ahmed Alnaouq

"The organiser told me that most of you here are journalists or people who have worked in media and I want to say - you are lucky because unlike me you chose this field of work. You wanted to be journalists, or you wanted to work in media, unlike me. I'm a journalist, I worked as a journalist in Gaza before I came here, but I have to say that I did not choose journalism - journalism chose me. And this is because in Gaza, someone like me who spoke English before getting to the field of journalism or work, or starting a career, I feel that we Palestinians who can speak English we have a moral and ethical responsibility to report the news because we have been failed over the past 75 years, not only in Gaza and Palestine, we have been failed by the Western media. Thus, any one of us who could send a message to the world, they have a moral and ethical responsibility to do so.”

Mustapha Abu Sneineh

“I'm probably being a bit harsh here, but I think Western journalists are cowards, they are absolute cowards. If you read biographies or autobiographies about journalists in Africa or in Afghanistan or in the Middle East, you see this spirit of adventurism - that journalist who can go behind the front line and sit with the dictator or deal with the secret service and dodge them…when it came to Gaza, they are a bunch of cowards. This is the sixth month, name me a journalist who in the spirit of Western adventurism attempted to cross to Gaza. Name me one journalist - there are none. All of them sheepishly will be taken by the Israeli forces, including Jeremy Bowen who I respect, I think he’s an amazing journalist, and you go there and you report what the Israelis will allow you to report and they will view and supervise, basically censor, the footage you took in Gaza, and then they will otherwise revoke your permission…where is that spirit of Western journalists who are adventurers, who go and chase the story, and scrutinise the facts, and challenge the leaders, sit with Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein and ask them the hard questions?

What happens when you sit with Netanyahu? With Neftali Bennett, the former prime minister who even the Israelis consider him weak and like a sheep? When those [Israeli] officials speak, all those in the Western media, presenters or journalists become like doves, cowards. I’m probably being harsh here but this is the reality and I’m wondering, six months into this war, who dared to cross into Gaza? When Russia invaded Ukraine how many journalists went to Poland and Romania? I know some of them personally who travelled from the US and from the UK and landed in Romania on the front line to report.”

Mariam Elsayeh

“In January one of the very very very shameful events happened, I believe it's not only in the Western world but in the whole world - even in our oppressed countries and dictatorships didn't have such an event - six people were arrested after The Express newspaper tipped off police about an alleged action by the Palestinian Action Group. The Palestinian Action Group were designing a shutdown for the stock market on Monday [15th January 2024]. A journalist, instead of protecting his source, jeopardised all of our work and he exposed them [the activists] and sent them to the police. So are we, here. supposed to pay [for] what he did because technically the people who are actionists or activists in oil or all these controversial action events are going to have fear to send journalists to events? So we are not going to be able to cover these issues because one Express journalist decided to expose this source, which is ethically - I have never ever ever heard about some incident like this. It's really shocking that for all the British values and Western values of freedom of expression and freedom of speech and press freedom have been fooled in this war in a way that we would take years researching [to report on actions].”

Afroze Zaidi

“What is happening in Palestine is not separate to what is happening to Palestine solidarity activists in the UK. What is happening in Palestine is a direct manifestation of Islamophobia on a global scale in a way that what is happening to support for Palestine is a manifestation of Islamophobia in the UK. I think that's quite important to acknowledge - we've talked in the panel about some some examples of the ways that Islamophobia has manifested by Palestinians stories not being believed, as opposed to, again, we can compare this to the stories of people from Ukraine, and demanding condemnation of Hamas, by default treating Palestinians as supporters of terrorism unless they declare otherwise, a deliberate agenda of humiliating Palestinians even if they're given a platform their story is not being heard, and so on. The beheaded babies example is clearly an Islamophobic trope - this idea of Muslim terrorists as just senselessly violent and irrational and basically having like a beastly animal-like quality because of being dehumanised to such an extent, and the dehumanisation, again, is what contributes to this ongoing genocide and the justification of this genocide."

"I just kind of wanted to conclude by saying that for years and years even the most left-wing journalists and politicians have given credence or legitimacy to the idea of ‘Islamist terrorism.’ Discussions around it happen with the understanding that this is a valid threat that must be addressed at the expense of people's civil liberties, at the expense of greater power given to the police, and so on and so forth. Really, I would go so far as to say that what's happening now in Gaza is the logical outcome of the demonisation of Muslims through the idea of Islamist terrorism. I don't believe that it's possible to have a good faith conversation about ‘Islamist terrorism’ or alleged terrorism perpetrated by Muslims that is not inherently Islamophobic. I think that is something I would really like people to go away with from my contribution today, is that I’ve heard even the most left-wing journalists going ‘okay, but what about Hamas’ and we really need to do away with this idea that anything that Hamas could have done justifies Israel’s actions.”

Learn more

Palestinian journalist Alaa Chemali kindly sent Give Over a clip showing his current situation in Rafah, and explained his work as a journalist over the years - this clip is available to watch here. If you’d like to support Alaa’s GoFundMe, you can do so here.

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