| The Middle East | | UN

‘‘The baLL is now in isRaeL’s CouRT’’
Mr Nasser Laham, of the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, talks to SIGNAL about the situation on the ground for Palestinian journalists and where he sees potential for progress in the 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 was established in 2005. I have worked in the field of media since 1996 as both anchor and correspondent. I have served 5 years in Israeli jails. I have a BA in psychology and sociology from Bethlehem University 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 an independent Palestinian news service, we try as much as we can to be impartial and objective when we report on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Hamas-Fatah conflict. We are open to criticism and we keep trying to improve our performance to become as close as possible to professionalism, objectivity and impartiality. When we report about the two major conflicts in our region, we try to make sure we give both sides opportunity to comment. We have good relations with Israeli journalists. We quote Israeli media outlets and they quote us as an independent news service. How hard is it for Palestinian journalists to provide balanced and objective commentary on events in the region? Palestinian journalists nowadays are mature enough and professional enough to give a balanced and objective coverage of events, especially independent journalists. They learned quite well how avoid inciting language and how to use moderate terminology acceptable by international standards. However, in certain cases, like the latest Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip, journalists find it very difficult to hide their feelings when innocent people including children, women, and elderly people are being killed, and journalists are human at in the end of the day. With the current rounds of talks at a standstill, what is your view on the Palestinian position at present? I am sure the Palestinian leadership will insist on its position and will not resume negotiations until Israel stops all settlement activities. Just as the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat refused at the last moment to make any further concessions, President Abbas will not make more concessions. The ball is now in Israel’s court. With the building of the ‘Wall’ continuing - what is your response to Israeli assertions that it is being built purely for security reasons? The best answer I can think of for this question is that given by former US president Jimmy carter in his “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid”. The Israelis use security as a pretext to annex more Palestinian territories and the proof is very clear and simple; most of the wall’s route deviates from the Green line [the border between Israel and the Palestinian territories recognized internationally] into the occupied Palestinian territories, which Israel annexed illegally

after the six-day war in 1967. I don’t need to remind people that the International Court of Justice ruled that the wall is a violation of international law. If a landlord decides to build a fence around his property or home, it is self-evident that the fence will be built on his property and not on the neighbours’ properties. Furthermore, if the Israelis are that careful about security, why do they deploy such a large number of troops at the hundreds of checkpoints spread across the West Bank inside and between Palestinian cities and villages. Palestinians who suffer everyday and internationals who visit the West Bank and have the opportunity to travel from southern West Bank to central and northern districts know that the security claim is nonsense. Have you noticed any improvements on a civil/professional basis between Israel and Palestine? Is there professional respect between Israeli and Palestinian journalists for example? Palestinian and Israeli journalists have matured enough to show professional respect to each other. Israeli journalists visit Ma’an repeatedly, and we hope Palestinian journalists can have the opportunity to visit offices of Israeli media outlets, but that seems difficult because they need permits from the Israeli authorities and they are

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very difficult to get. Over ten years, I have presented a very popular TV show called “review of Israeli press” which indicates that both Palestinian journalists and audience are interested in Israeli media. How do you think the West Bank can unite with Gaza to become a cohesive and stable state? That unity seems difficult to achieve especially when both rivals insist that they never erred. A real sign indicating that unity is possible has not been seen yet. That sign can be seen, and unity can be achieved if Hamas and Fatah leaders, who caused that rivalry and enabled it to increase, stand up and confess that they have erred and harmed their people. That is the only way to reach unity; if rivals start to reconsider what they did and where they erred and look for ways to make up for their wrong doings.

What are your views on the Hamas Government in Gaza? I have always described the Hamas takeover in Gaza in June 2007 as a “coup” and each time I said that Hamas’ hard-liners were angry. I never said that Hamas staged a coup before 14 June 2007 because what was happening then was armed conflict between trends within Hamas and Fatah while the Palestinian Authority’s police and security services were still sovereign in Gaza. An Israeli journalist told our magazine that “Operation ‘Cast Lead’ was very effective and destroyed the desire of Hamas to fight.” What is your view of this? Either that commentator is one-sided, or he is fooling himself or hiding the truth. The fact that Operation Cast Lead failed to free or even find any information about captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit gave Hamas enough catalyst to boast its abilities. Neither could that offensive prevent the firing of projectiles from Gaza into Israel. On the contrary, Hamas gained more support at international and Arab country level, and Israel lost more and more of its deterrent power which the Israelis have always boasted about.

Above: The destruction of a mosque in Gaza, during Operation ‘Cast Lead.’

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What is your view of the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese conflict? Do you believe further conflict is inevitable with Hezbollah openly rearming and Israel constantly gathering intelligence on the Lebanese situation? Further confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah is still expected and the weird part of it is that Israel views Hezbollah as Iran’s wing in the region, while Hezbollah views Israel as the US’ wing in the region. Thus, the two are fighting on behalf of Iran and the US, so to speak. Where do you see the Palestinian State in the next 5-10 years? I don’t see a Palestinian state within the coming 5-10 years, but I rather see a Palestinian entity subordinate to Jordan or Israel in the West Bank, and another Palestinian entity in Gaza, which will be subordinate to Egypt. Do you believe the international community, particularly the EU, could do more to help in the current situation? The international community, particularly the EU can facilitate the separation of the Palestinians from Israel which is something inevitable because the alternative for that will be one state for both the Palestinian and the Israeli peoples.

Top: A checkpoint at the Israeli security barrier. Above: Palestinian journalist reporting from Gaza City.

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