The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Ashraf Khalil on reporting on Palestine

Please go NOW to Mondoweiss and read my friend Ashraf Khalil's account of reporting for the Los Angeles Times on what happened to Mohammed Omer, a Palestinian journalist who was returning from a European tour where he received an award for his work. Omer came back through the Allenby terminal between Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, at which point something happened: as Ashraf puts it, "He emerges from the terminal in a wheelchair, semi-coherent, and is never quite the same again." The rest is how difficult it was to get what clearly was an important case of abuse in the American press:

I was just a few months into what would turn out to be a one-year run as Jerusalem correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. Perhaps my more seasoned colleagues recognized quickly what I was still too new and naïve to grasp. Put simply, the story was a swamp—something that would require months of investigation to properly unravel, then prompt a horrendous clash with their editors and probably never see daylight in any kind of satisfying form.
And that’s exactly what it turned out to be.
I couldn’t prove what happened to Omer inside the Allenby terminal, so I didn’t even try. What I COULD prove, after months of digging, was that the resulting Israeli investigation of the incident was a threadbare joke.
The official Israeli report on the incident essentially called Omer an attention-seeking liar. Omer’s claims were “found to be without foundation” and the report expresses “doubts about the sincerity of the situation.” Translation: he made it all up.
But the Israeli authorities never even attempted to interview Omer, and never interviewed the paramedic who brought Omer from the Allenby terminal to a nearby hospital. As far as I could tell, the Israeli government basically interviewed its own officers. One Israeli official told me with a straight face that they didn’t really need to interview the victim of the alleged assault since they could just read his account in the various news reports.
So after fussing over the story for more than a month, knowing that something like this had to be airtight to protect against a CAMERA campaign, I filed a story calling the Israeli investigation of the incident “insincere” and “deeply flawed at best.” My editors hated it, prompting a several-week staring contest while the story sat in limbo. One editor (my single favorite editor on the foreign desk and someone I would love to work with again) found it to be hopelessly biased. I argued, to no avail, that if the exact same set of circumstances and evidence surrounded a Los Angeles Police Department investigation of a high-profile abuse allegation, we would have crucified them on the front page.
In the end, the truth of what happened to Mohammed Omer was sacrificed on the altar of the false deity known as “balance”. He’s hardly alone, and the basic steps of the process are grindingly familiar to all observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
*Alleged Palestinian Victim X makes such and such claims of abuse, discrimination or torture.
*The Israeli government “investigates” and releases an official report on nice shiny letterhead concluding that the alleged victim’s claims are unfounded.
*It all just fades away into the murky mists of “conflicting accounts.”
But here’s the thing: Can it really be “conflicting accounts” if one of the sides is lying and you can prove it?

Go and read it all. It should be noted that the LA Times' current owner is Sam Zell, a major pro-Israel donor.