Middle East News Distorted, Says Arab Journalist: Interview with Khaled Abu Toameh

Recently, we blogged about award-winning, independent Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh coming to Canada as keynote speaker at the Canadian Association of Journalists’ annual conference.  Paul Schneidereit of the Chronicle Herald (Halifax) wrote a follow-up article:

Middle East news distorted, says Arab journalist

By Paul Schneidereit

Want to know what’s really going on in the Middle East, specifically the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Spend an hour listening to Khaled Abu Toameh, the Arab Israeli independent journalist whose uncompromising work can be found in everything from The Jerusalem Post and The New York Times to NBC News and the BBC.

I had that chance in late May, in Vancouver for the annual conference of the Canadian Association of Journalists, where Toameh was one of the keynote speakers.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard him speak.

Two summers ago, I had met Toameh while on a media tour of Israel with other Canadian journalists. His unvarnished review of the situation, and candour in criticizing all sides in the complex dispute, was enlightening and refreshing.

In fact, as a member of the CAJ’s board of directors, I had been responsible for inviting him to speak in Vancouver.

Enough background.

According to Toameh, the current efforts to once again revive the peace process – U.S. President Obama now pushing the infamous two-state solution – are ignoring a basic truth about Palestinian society.

As Toameh likes to joke, if he were Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he’d immediately agree to a two-state solution. Why? Because, says Toameh, Palestinians don’t even agree on that issue among themselves.

The man the West wants to be Israel’s partner, Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, can’t deliver the Palestinians, no matter what he promises or agrees to, says Toameh. In fact, if Israeli Defence Forces troops didn’t control the West Bank, Hamas would take control in a matter of minutes, says the 46-year-old Palestinian journalist.

Meanwhile, Hamas, whom Toameh says may be terrorists but at least have been consistent in their message since their foundation in 1987, an event he covered, cannot realistically be negotiated with.

“Negotiate? What are you going to negotiate?” he asks. “They’re never going to accept Israel’s right to exist.”

Toameh is against the Israeli settlements but calls them a side issue.

Most Palestinians want to live in peace, says Toameh, but they’ve been badly led, first by the corrupt Yassir Arafat, whose regime robbed their own people, then by Hamas, who endorse endless violence against Jews until ultimate victory.

Toameh predicted Hamas would win the 2006 elections. When the Wall Street Journal, which had asked him to write an article just before the vote, called to say that no one the paper had talked to – including all kinds of “experts,” as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s office and other White House sources – believed Fatah would lose, Toameh told the editors that he’d make them a wager. If he was wrong, he said, he’d quit journalism and open a grocery store in a Palestinian refugee camp and they’d never hear from him again.

The Journal ran the story. Hamas won in a landslide.

“The writing was on the wall,” says Toameh, disgust with the corruption of Fatah endemic on Palestinian streets. “But it was in Arabic.”

If another election is held, Hamas will win again easily, Toameh predicts.

The West gets distorted views of what’s happening in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza because of a failure of Western journalists, says Toameh.

Some Western journalists are naïve, he says. Others know better, but do nothing, or if they try, are often confronted by editors back home asking why their story is different than what everyone else is reporting.

The problem, he says, is that because it’s unsafe for Western journalists to travel in Gaza or the West Bank alone, many use Arabic-speaking locals who can arrange interviews and guide them. Many of these “fixers,” however, are Hamas or Fatah loyalists who mis-translate what’s being said or don’t tell journalists all sides of a story.

Toameh says it amazes him when he is confronted by threats from pro-Palestinian protesters when he speaks at campuses in the U.S. or Canada. These people, he says, seem “more Palestinian than the Palestinians.” Back home, he says, most Palestinians and Jews realize they have to get on with life, side by side, whether they like it or not.

Check Toameh’s reporting out by searching Google News.