Amira Hass is an Israeli journalist who is very well versed with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has written about it since 1989. I had the chance to meet her and discover her own special way of seeing journalism.
Once you said that people in general, but especially journalists, should know their own place first and then know the world. Is this the reason that you moved to Gaza and lived there for some years?
First of all, I believe that the idea of journalism is connected to the urge of affecting a change. In order to do this, a journalist has to start changing what she or he sees around and where he or she lives in. Having said this, I don’t want to come out like one who does not care for the world, nor to undermine the importance of knowing how the world is doing, but what I mean is: if you are in Italy, taking information from websites about an earthquake that happened far away is not better than collecting information about an earthquake that happened in Italy, and maybe also seeing the human factor here. As an Israeli, it is my responsibility to know about Israel.
So, how would you describe in a few words the last decades of conflict?
In one sentence, if I want to summarize the last 25 years, which are crucial, they consist in process of making a Palestinian space into an Israeli State by the creation of Palestinian enclaves.
And how do you think that the situation will evolve in the next twenty years?
Do you want me to tell you the truth? I have a little crystal ball, it tells me everything that will happen, and I forgot it at home. All kidding aside, as a journalist I may say that I am a conservative one: I only talk about what happened and what happens. Then, as a leftist I would say that we only have to work in order to ensure that in twenty years there won’t be disasters, so there is always some hope. On the other hand, as a rational leftist I see that reasons for hope are dwindling. That’s why I prefer to rely on the crystal ball.
How do you interpret your job?
I do define myself a non-objective ethical journalist. I am not objective because I don’t want to give Israel more weapons to ridicule Palestine, just like the main medias do. They have a monolithic view of the facts but facts are not monolithic and can’t be flattened. I just want to show the many dimensions of reality and the complexity of people’s feelings. For example, once I interviewed a mother whose daughter had just been killed. While she was talking to me, she was devastated. Then, talking to the Palestinian television équipe, she was completely different and so proud that she said her daughter was in heaven. This witnesses that for example Palestinian mothers do have two faces when their children die and I have to face these things while main medias don’t. As a journalist, I don’t have to be as neutral as a referee in a football match. But this doesn’t mean that journalists don’t have ethic. My role is to be against all the oppressive powers and to give voice to occupied people, to the women among them and to the working class of the occupied too. I don’t have to hide anything, because truth is the most revolutionary thing. But at the same time I have to be sensitive and respectful and try to not do harm to people I talk about. Journalists should let people speak out through them but they should also understand that sometimes there are lies, about the intimate lives of people, which should be just respected and not said. For example, I remember that once I interviewed a man in a campus in the south of Bethlehem. He had just been shot at his knees, at 3 o’clock in the morning, by the army entering the campus. He said he was going out to buy ice cream. In Bethlehem. At 3 o’clock in the morning. I didn’t examine that thing.
As far as choosing what should be said and what should not is concerned, do you feel like you have a sort of internal censorship? And what can you tell me about the outer one, for example by the government?
Well, internal censorship is quite heavy but I would just call it a sense of fairness. As regards the external censorship, of course occupation is not a normal situation of government and thousands of articles haven’t been allowed to be published because of the military army. This problem doesn’t affect my job very much because it shows up especially if you talk about or reveal military plans. In general, you have a way to avoid censorship, for example using expressions like “according to the international sources” and similar. But once I published on the web something about military stuff and I asked the military to answer me; they told me they didn’t talk about military plans and in two or three days my article was cancelled on the web and I had no chance to publish it on paper. Then there is social censorship, too, but it is as affective as in every society.
Is there any sort of cooperation between independent Israeli journalists like you and Palestinian ones?
Yes. Very often they know they can’t write something in Palestine so they do call me to make that information come out. I don’t receive “scoops”; I just say for them something that they want Israelis to know. And I do not make their names if they don’t want.
Does being a woman help you in your job?
On one hand yes, because as a woman I am not suspected: in the past many journalists were part of intelligence and they were all men. On the other hand no, because in a patriarchal society I am not taken seriously as a woman.
How are your articles felt by Palestinian readers and by Israeli ones?
Look, first of all, I don’t have illusions and recognize that the majority of Israeli’s do not read Ha’aretz and in those who read Ha’aretz there are many who do not read me, even though I am addressing this to Israeli readership. Sometimes people ask me what is the most difficult thing in my work and I say that to write to the people who should read what I write, but don’t read it, is the most difficult thing. Then, you know, Ha’aretz is being translated in English and it’s read worldwide. It turns out I write for the world, for international readership and only accidentally to Palestinian’s so they don’t necessarily read what I write, it’s just accidental. But my main goal is to reach the ones who don’t read me.