Mr Nasser Laham, of the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, talks to SIGNAL about thesituation on the ground for Palestinian journalists and where he sees potential for progress inthe short to medium term.
What is your own personal and professional background?
I am Editor-in-chief of Ma’an News Agency (MNA) since it wasestablished in 2005. I have worked in the field of media since1996 as both anchor and correspondent. I have served 5 years inIsraeli jails. I have a BA in psychology and sociology from BethlehemUniversity and an MA and PHD from Lahaye University, Netherlands.I speak English and Hebrew fluently.
Could you explain the work of the Ma’an news agency?
MNA publishes news in Arabic, English and Hebrew. As anindependent Palestinian news service, we try as much as we can tobe impartial and objective when we report on the Arab-Israeli conflictand the Hamas-Fatah conflict. We are open to criticism and we keeptrying to improve our performance to become as close as possible toprofessionalism, objectivity and impartiality. When we report aboutthe two major conflicts in our region, we try to make sure we giveboth sides opportunity to comment. We have good relations withIsraeli journalists. We quote Israeli media outlets and they quote usas an independent news service.
How hard is it for Palestinian journalists to provide balanced andobjective commentary on events in the region?
Palestinian journalists nowadays are mature enough andprofessional enough to give a balanced and objective coverage of events, especially independent journalists. They learned quite wellhow avoid inciting language and how to use moderate terminologyacceptable by international standards. However, in certain cases,like the latest Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip, journalistsfind it very difficult to hide their feelings when innocent peopleincluding children, women, and elderly people are being killed, andjournalists are human at in the end of the day.
With the current rounds of talks at a standstill, what is your viewon the Palestinian position at present?
I am sure the Palestinian leadership will insist on its position and willnot resume negotiations until Israel stops all settlement activities.Just as the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat refused at thelast moment to make any further concessions, President Abbas willnot make more concessions. The ball is now in Israel’s court.
With the building of the ‘Wall’ continuing - what is your response toIsraeli assertions that it is being built purely for security reasons?
The best answer I can think of for this question is that given byformer US president Jimmy carter in his “Palestine: Peace NotApartheid”. The Israelis use security as a pretext to annex morePalestinian territories and the proof is very clear and simple; mostof the wall’s route deviates from the Green line [the border betweenIsrael and the Palestinian territories recognized internationally] intothe occupied Palestinian territories, which Israel annexed illegallyafter the six-day war in 1967. I don’t need toremind people that the International Courtof Justice ruled that the wall is a violationof international law. If a landlord decides tobuild a fence around his property or home,it is self-evident that the fence will be builton his property and not on the neighbours’properties.Furthermore, if the Israelis are that carefulabout security, why do they deploy such alarge number of troops at the hundreds of checkpoints spread across the West Bankinside and between Palestinian cities andvillages. Palestinians who suffer everydayand internationals who visit the West Bankand have the opportunity to travel fromsouthern West Bank to central and northerndistricts know that the security claim isnonsense.
Have you noticed any improvements on acivil/professional basis between Israel andPalestine? Is there professional respectbetween Israeli and Palestinian journalistsfor example?
Palestinian and Israeli journalists havematured enough to show professionalrespect to each other. Israeli journalists visitMa’an repeatedly, and we hope Palestinianjournalists can have the opportunity to visitoffices of Israeli media outlets, but thatseems difficult because they need permitsfrom the Israeli authorities and they are
‘‘The baLL is now in isRaeL’s CouRT’’
The Middle East