Amira Hass, one of Israel’s most courageous journalists, has received the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation, which said: “For almost twenty years Hass has written critically about both Israeli and Palestinian authorities. She has demonstrated her ability to defy boundaries of gender, ethnicity and religion in her pursuit of the truth in her reporting. In covering the Palestinian Occupied Territories, her goal has been to provide her readers with detailed information about Israeli policies and especially that of restrictions of the freedom of movement.”
Hass, who writes for the daily Ha’aretz, is the author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege (2000) and Reporting from Ramallah: An Israeli Journalist in an Occupied Land (2003). In 2008 Haymarket Books published Hanna Lévy-Hass’s Diary of Bergen-Belsen: 1944-1945, the account of her mother’s time in a Nazi concentration camp, with a new foreword and afterword by Amira Hass.
Below is Hass’s acceptance speech.
Allow me to start with a correction. How impolite, you’d rightly think, but we Israelis are being forgiven for much worse than impoliteness.
What is so generously termed today by the International Women’s Media Foundation as my “lifetime achievement” award needs to be corrected. Because it is failure. Nothing more than failure–a lifetime failure.
Come to think of it, the “lifetime” part is just as questionable: after all, it is for only about a third of my life, not more, that I have been engaged in journalism.
Also, if the “lifetime” part gives you the impression that I am soon going to retire, then this has to be corrected as well. I am not planning to end soon what I am doing.
What am I doing? I am generally defined as a reporter on Palestinian issues. But in fact, my reports are about Israeli society and policies, about domination and its intoxications. My sources are not secret documents and leaked minutes taken at meetings of people with power and in power. My sources are the open ways by which the subjugated are being dispossessed of their equal rights as human beings.
There is still so much more to learn about Israel, about my society and about Israeli decision makers, who invent restrictions such as: Gazan students are not allowed to study in Palestinian universities in the West Bank, some seventy kilometers from their home. Another ban: children above the age of 18 are not allowed to visit their parents in Gaza if the parents are healthy. Israeli order-abiding officials will allow a visit if the parents are dying or if the children are younger than 18, but second-degree relatives are not allowed to visit either dying or healthy siblings in Gaza.
It is an intriguing philosophical question, not only journalistic. Think about it: what, for the Israeli system, is so disturbing about reasonably healthy fathers or mothers? What is so disturbing about a kid getting a better education? And these are but two in a long, long list of Israeli prohibitions.
Or when I write about the progressively decimated and fragmented Palestinian territory of the West Bank. My reporting is not just about people losing their family property and livelihood; it’s not only about the shrinking opportunities for people in disconnected, crowded enclaves. It is in fact a story about the skills of Israeli architects. It is a way to learn about how Israeli on-the-ground planning contradicts official proclamations, a phenomenon that characterizes the acts of all Israeli governments, in the past as in the present. In short, there is so much to keep me busy for another lifetime, or at least for the rest of my lifetime.
But, as I said, the real correction is elsewhere. It’s not about achievement that we should be talking here, but about failure. It is the failure to make the Israeli and international public accept and use terms and words that reflect reality, not the Orwellian Newspeak that has flourished since 1993 and has been cleverly dictated and disseminated by those with vested interests. The “peace process” terminology, which took reign that year, blurs the perception of real processes that are going on: a special blend of military occupation, colonialism, apartheid, Palestinian limited self-rule in enclaves and a democracy for Jews.
It is not my role as a journalist to make my fellow Israelis and Jews agree that these processes are immoral and dangerously unwise. It is my role, though, to exercise the right to freedom of the press, in order to supply information and to make people know. But, as I have painfully discovered, the right to know does not mean a duty to know.
Thousands of my articles and zillions of my words have evaporated. They could not compete with the official language that has been happily adopted by the mass media, and is used in order to distort reality–official language that encourages people not to know.
Indeed, a remarkable failure for a journalist.