Farewell to All That: Palestine Report comes to a close

This, sadly, is the last edition of the Palestine Report. Due to financial pressures it has simply ceased to be feasible to continue producing the Report to the standards we have tried hard to maintain for so long. Over the years, the PR has enjoyed the contributions of writers and journalists from all over the world, and the following are some contributors’ reactions to PR’s untimely demise.

A catalyst for growth

For eight years now, the Palestine Report office has been my second home. From starting as an inexperienced intern to the journalist I hope I am today, Palestine Report has been my vessel, a catalyst for my personal and professional growth. In these eight years, I have seen the report in black-and-white print form, the words “Palestine Report” typed boldly down the magazine’s side. In the name of change, our layout developed into a more sophisticated publication, which included pictures and caricatures. But as the funds continued to wane, so did our ability to continue the publication in this form. Thus Palestine Report Online was born in an attempt to keep our message alive.

The report has been part of my personal journey as well. In the eight years at Palestine Report, I married and had two children. Palestine Report has been my forum for telling our story - how we struggled to obtain birth certificates for our children from the Israeli interior ministry, how we are separated at Israel’s border crossings when traveling abroad and how life as a Palestinian West Banker in Jerusalem has sometimes become almost unbearable.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to Palestine Report. I have told countless stories of people who may never have had the opportunity to tell them elsewhere. This has surely been one of my purposes in life and I am saddened that this must come to an end. It has been a journey - one filled with lifelong friendships, laughter, tears and above all, hard work towards a goal of getting our message out to a world that is so many times deaf or ignorant to the realities of this place called Palestine. - Joharah Baker

A spirit of teamwork

A small, box-like office overflowing with people coming in and out, absolutely freezing in the winter. A spirit of teamwork, a tireless enthusiasm to get the message out, lots of communal eating, and crowding into yellow-plated cars to get to work from under curfews and around checkpoints. The urgency of reports coming in from activists in isolated villages with then-precious mobile phones, getting news out of events which otherwise would have been ignored, unknown, uncounted. Bearing witness, honoring people’s experiences and making sure that these were shared outside…

This is what I remember of the JMCC and the Weekly Report, which was to become the much more polished Palestine Report. So many lows — the Al Aqsa massacre, the murder spree in the Hebron mosque, the (first) Gulf war — were always offset by the highs — sitting with JMCC friends with tears in our eyes as we watched the very first peace conference in Madrid (despite the eventual failure of that process); ordering our breakfast of hummous, ful and falafel every day (despite colleague’s pleas for a change!); drinking that first cup of perfectly-brewed coffee in the morning; and above all, working with friends who were colleagues and colleagues who were friends. Thanks, JMCC. - Rose-Marie Barbeau

A window that shouldn’t close

I have been working with the Palestine Report for over a year. For longer than that I also followed the articles and analysis pieces that appear in the Report. I felt the Report offered a unique insight, all the more important for being in English.

Palestinians suffer from a weakness on our websites and in our media that address the West. But the Palestine Report site offered many articles and analysis that explained what was happening in the Palestinian territories in a professional, realistic and credible fashion in addition to its in-depth content.

Personally, I covered the Gaza Strip from political, security, economic and social angles. I have always been in contact with the staff of the Palestine Report and together we have carefully followed events in the Gaza Strip. I feel we have often been successful in portraying a truer picture of what was happening on the ground than I could find elsewhere.

I think it is a great loss to lose an important and unique forum such as the Palestine Report, because we will be losing a part of our ability to explain our situation and our ever-changing circumstances to the West and to the world at large. I am not exaggerating when I say this report was a window that should never be closed because it has played a major and important role in the field of media and journalism. - Ghazi Hamad

A great shame

Individuals always get lost in wars and conflicts, and Palestinians in particular, despite all the headlines they inspire and have inspired down the years, always seem faceless and are forever denied their identity, whether as individuals or as a nation.

Palestine Report, under-funded, understaffed and overworked as it has been simply trying to keep up with the violence of the past few years, nevertheless always tried to present those stories that got lost amid the bombs and bulldozers. There was the 19-year-old athlete from Deir Al Balah whose talent and persistence took her from Gaza to Athens where she joyously bore the Palestinian flag at the 2004 Olympics opening ceremony and competed in the 800 meter race. There was the bravery of farmers in the West Bank, who would risk their lives to reap their olive harvests. There was the sheer pigheadedness of refugees in Rafah, forced to flee their houses in 1948, then again in 1971 and then in 2004, still building, teeth grinding, their fourth dwellings.

PR, at its best, brought these people to life in a way I have yet to see anywhere else. For that alone it was unique. It tried, and mostly succeeded, to engage in serious, credible and independent Palestinian journalism, bringing it to a wider audience by publishing in English. For that too, it was unique. It reported on Palestinian political life in a critical and informative manner not seen elsewhere. Unfortunately, PR was not a joint Palestinian-Israeli project. It did not aim to build bridges or indeed peace. It only aimed to inform and enlighten. As such, it fell beneath the radar of potential donors and funders.

It is a great shame that not more effort is exerted by the international community to encourage professionalism in the media and too much focus is devoted to outlandish joint media projects that often serve no other purpose than to provide slush funds for some individuals and ease the vaguely guilty liberal consciences of others. It is a great shame too that the value of serious and credible journalism, independent of any cause or agenda, is not appreciated either by the international community of Palestinian philanthropists, who unlike their Jewish counterparts that keep afloat publications like the Jerusalem Report, find no similar focus for their charity on the Palestinian side.

It is a great shame that the Palestine Report should close. - Omar Karmi

The light’s going out

There is an era that we study in the West that is like a concrete pylon of our shared history. It is known by various names. Here in America it is called the “fin d’ siecle” — undoubtedly because referring to that time in French makes us feel cultured. In England it is called “the Edwardian era.” We would call it thus, if only we knew who Edward was. Never mind: the “end of the century” was a joyous time of great calm. Impressionists dabbed large canvasses with bright umbrellas and painted proper people standing statuesque against verdant skies.

The calm was broken by a single shot, an accident really. On June 28, 1914 - a day when (we might imagine) ladies twirled their umbrellas calmly on the strand, Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princeps hunted but could not find the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. He missed his motorcade by a hairbreath. Princeps retired to a Sarajevo pub only to see his target - detoured to that precise place and moment by a bomb blast - pass by. Princeps put down his beer, stepped into the street, and shot the Archduchess and her husband, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Four years and 20 million lives later, the shot at Sarajevo was stilled. The ladies no longer strutted on the strand. Europe was a graveyard, its streets filled with millions of mewling orphans. June 28 and 9/11 have this in common: in the weeks that followed both days the world’s leaders might have been able to stem the rush to war, might have been able to calmingly step aside or back and reflect on the terrible shock. They did not. “Tonight, the lights are going out all over Europe,” British Sir Edward Grey said in August 1914. “They will not be lit again in our lifetime.”

So too it was after 9/11 - when many of us struggled to keep the lights lit. We argued understanding and “engagement” and focused on our inability to listen. No matter. We were told: “they” do not have “our values,” their religion “is broken,” “they” needed to be “taught democracy.” The truth was twisted and twisted again. “They” deserve to be occupied — “they” must disarm. Put simply: our leaders insisted that we would not set out on a crusade, and then set out on a crusade. And slowly the lights began to be extinguished. The Palestine Report was one such light, and now it too is being extinguished. A shame, that. - Mark Perry

A gateway to discovery

Palestine Report for me was a gateway to discovery. I had already bought my one-way ticket to Cairo, planning to continue overland to Palestine, when good fortune landed me what was supposed to be a temporary stint with the publication. Suddenly I had an excuse to introduce myself as a “journalist” and this opened many doors in a land where people are, for the most part, desperate for recognition by and assistance from the outside world. My initial quest to experience and gain a deeper understanding of this nation led me, thanks to my work at Palestine Report, to many far flung corners of the West Bank and beyond.

Through Palestine Report, I met a toothless old woman under an olive tree who told me her son had been arrested the day before protesting the separation wall’s usurpation of their land. I had a slumber party with teenagers from the Balata Refugee Camp when Israeli road closures stranded us in an unfamiliar town and our taxi driver took us in for the night. I was invited to munch on cucumbers salvaged from a farmer’s field the Israeli army had bulldozed the night before. I was guided by youth on rooftops and a woman ducking out of her besieged home to make my way through Hebron under curfew. And I was, of course, treated to uncountable cups of tea, fed copious amounts of food, and readily granted the privilege of hearing the stories of Palestinians from all walks of life.

But Palestine Report took me across borders as well. In Jordan, I heard the tales of those who had fled there on foot in 1967, and was asked to carry simple gifts back to long lost relatives across the river. In Egypt, I was welcomed into the homes of political activists and the offices of human rights organizations, and I shared a Ramadan feast with the late Fathi Arafat at the Palestine Hospital. In snowy Belgium, I had the honor of standing beside veteran writer Atef Saad when we were recognized as runners-up to a human rights journalism award that Atef should have won many times over.

I assume, and hope my assumption is correct, that Palestine Report has likewise been a gateway to discovery for its readers. I am saddened that the digest is closing not only due to my personal nostalgia and indebtedness, but because the publication is such a unique and essential window onto all that is Palestine.

When the Cairo Times magazine closed last year due to a publisher tired of and unwilling to treat a longtime financial crisis, its staff made the effort to procure outside funding and established a successful new weekly of their own. I wish a similar creative solution to Palestine Report’s untimely end. Given the enduring significance of Palestine as a land and a people, for its own sake and for its relation to the rest of the world, the particular door to discovery that is Palestine Report should remain opened. - Jennifer Peterson

People’s stories

It is hard to say goodbye to Palestine Report. Every month I would write two articles or features on a certain topic, a certain hardship, a certain event. But instead of the people in the story seeking pity, they try to overcome their problems. I have always tried to portray people, not as only “martyrs” or as statistics, but as people with a story.

Like the story of the two brothers, Samah and Jihad, who found themselves alone with their elderly grandparents after their father and mother were arrested for aiding an armed operation inside Israel. Or the story of the teachers who had to walk more than seven kilometers in a closed military zone to reach a besieged town and teach their students. Or the story of the owners of an apartment demolished by Israeli forces who were then forced to come together and rebuild.

Over the past few years, the Palestine Report has been a means of communication and connection to relay the message of so many people who have no other way of having their voices heard. Such was the story of the farmers of Qalqilya, whose livelihoods were swept away by rain floods last March, only compounding their suffering after the separation wall had been built across their fields. This story caught the attention of a donor organization which gave this issue a priority on their agenda.

One friend once asked me about an article about Nablus and about the chaos that had been governing it. When I asked him, he said a friend in the United States had told him. I was shocked that my friend in the US knew more about my own city than me. This friend had been following what was happening in the West Bank and Gaza through the Palestine Report.

The Palestine Report has been unique in that it covered the stories and news of many people, bringing them closer to those who are distant, portraying their suffering, their hardships and their homeland. It showed non-Arab readers that the Palestinians in the occupied territories are people with dreams, people who feel pain and joy because they too love life.

It is hard for me to say goodbye to the Palestine Report at a time when the Palestinians are in desperate need of arming themselves with tools, language and skills to tell their story to the world. This is what was said during an international symposium on the Palestinian media this month. It is clear that those in charge of the symposium and the presidency have not heard of this unique media outlet, to which we are forced to bid farewell. It seems they are uninterested in the fact that closing down Palestine Report means closing a very contemporary media window.

Last but not least, I would like to thank Palestine Report because it allowed me and former colleague Jennifer Peterson to participate in the competition for the Natalie Prize for Journalism in November, 2004. Thank you, Palestine Report staff. - Atef Saad

This article was first published on 28 September 2005 in Palestine Report Online, a project of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center in Jerusalem, and is reprinted with permission. Palestine Report Online is a continuation of the print Palestine Report, which was established over twelve years ago as a means of informing English-speakers about Palestinians and their daily lives in the context of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.