Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The changing face of Egyptian foreign policy

Under President Mubarak, the four year closure of the Rafah border represented Egypt’s decision to put its partnership with Israel and the United States above supporting Muslims living inside Gaza. This changed on Saturday 28 May 2011. Egypt no longer enforces Israel’s blockade over Gaza.

The decision by Egypt to flex its regional muscle is demonstrated not only by the reopening of this boarder, but also by it facilitating the reconciliation pact between Fatah and Hamas. Both of these events are a reminder of how things are changing between Egypt and Israel post Mubarak. There is a tangible shift by the Egyptians away from Israel and toward the Palestinians.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Acceptance Speech of Dov Alfon: Winner of the Peace through Media Award

Dov Alfon is editor-in-chief of Haaretz. This article is based on a speech thanking the International Council for Press and Broadcasting for selecting him as a recipient of the Peace through Media Award 2011.

The recommendation for the award, written by the president of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Sami Michael, focused on his commitment to combative journalism for peace in the Middle East, his launching of the annual issue of "Haaretz shel sofrim" (The Writers' Haaretz), and his meticulous work and full editorial independence during these difficult times for the printed press.

The award was presented at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London last month, at a ceremony hosted by the Next Century Foundation and co-presided by its general secretary, the former publisher William Morris and by Lord Stone of Blackheath.

“I am delighted to see in the audience colleagues from the British and international media whom I admire and esteem. I imagine you will agree with me that we are engaged in one of the strangest professions in the world. I don't know how many calls The Times, the BBC or Reader's Digest received today, but Haaretz has been getting calls all morning from an angry man named Julian Assange, who claims that someone leaked us the Israel file of WikiLeaks without his knowledge or authorization.

This is truly unprecedented, a leak without authorization. In Hebrew, there is a Talmudic proverb that says: "Who steals from a thief goes unpunished." Still, it is difficult to understand the gripe of this specific complainant.

The criteria for the publication of a report in Haaretz are quite straightforward: We will publish whatever is true, does not violate the law and is of public interest. Still, every morning people
get up and insist that they deserve their own special criteria.

You cited three grounds for the award, one of them being upholding Haaretz's editorial independence. This is without any doubt both the supreme and most complex obligation with which I am entrusted. It is a mission with which my predecessors as editor-in-chief were also charged.

Lately, however, this mission has come under a new threat: namely, the fact that the few remaining quality newspapers in the world are being sought out by tycoons and oligarchs thirst for a bit of respectability.
In light of the steep decline in the profits of the printed press, you would think they would no longer be the targets of hostile takeover attempts. Yet, in practice, we are witnessing a global phenomenon of independent newspapers being purchased for preposterous prices, in much the same way that titles of nobility used to be purchased from bankrupt families in this city, and all to provide for the instant laundering of an insufficiently clean image.

If the first reason cited by the judges is preserving editorial independence, then it should be clear that I am accepting this award first and foremost in the name of the paper's owners, the Schocken family, who have safeguarded Haaretz from this existential peril for three generations. It is they who bear this cross, to cite the rather gloomy yet accurate description of the publisher, Mr. Amos Schocken, published in an interview in The New Yorker in March.

I must also comment on the second reason for the award: the annual issue of "Haaretz shel Sofrim" or "The Writers' Haaretz.". Indeed, once a year, on the day that Hebrew Book Week begins, our news reporters get a day off and dozens of writers and poets from Israel and abroad fill in for them.

In response to the marvellous texts prepared by Etgar Keret and Margaret Atwood, Nurith Gertz and Jonathan Safran Foer, Zeruya Shalev and Jamaica Kincaid - just to name but a few of our regular contributors - I am asked by readers every year anew: Why only once a year? Why shouldn't writers do the paper every day?

The answer is that there is a profession known as journalism, and to be a journalist, it is not enough to have a talent for writing. Writers have contributed to Haaretz since its first day, and great writers have made a living by working for the paper. Over the years, the paper has bolstered its standing as the natural home of Hebrew literature, and in recent years, writers who left Haaretz in favor of competing newspapers -among them, prominent peace advocates like David Grossman, Meir Wieseltier, A.B. Yehoshua, Sami Michael and Amos Oz - have once again begun to publish in our pages.

But only a journalist could obtain the Israeli file of WikiLeaks or the secret archive of Kafka; only a journalist could expose irregularities in the establishment of the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem or the illegal incarceration of African refugees along the border with Egypt, the minutes of the General Staff meeting that addressed illegal assassinations in the territories, the double-billing system of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, or the procedure that prevents Ethiopian children, because of the color of their skin, from attending a school 20 minutes away from the Ministry of Education in Tel Aviv.

That is why Haaretz has Yossi Melman, Ofer Aderet, Nir Hasson, Dana Weiler-Polak, Uri Blau, Gidi Weitz and Or Kashti - the reporters, respectively, whose stories I have cited. And I could mention dozens of other journalistic achievements which came about solely because of persistence, curiosity and resourcefulness - the basic qualities of a reporter.

I am accepting this award today also, and primarily, thanks to the dozens of correspondents, columnists, photographers, designers and editors of Haaretz. For a newspaper is not the product of the chief editor's skill, but of the accumulated skills of its finest journalists. This award belongs above all to them.

That leaves me with the third and final reason this award is being given to me - namely, for being the editor of a newspaper that "fights for peace."

I do not feel that we are fighting for peace. We just refuse to be part of the blind game leaders on both sides are playing, and we insist on addressing the situation in the only way open to us: through courageous, inquisitive and stubborn reportorial coverage of the truth, however absurd that truth may be.

It is difficult to talk about events in the Middle East in this magnificent hall, in a club which dates back to a meeting of intellectuals in London in May 1830. But we have to try.

As we speak, the Israeli army has bombed Gaza today. The attacks killed terrorists and innocent civilians alike. The bombing was in retaliation for a barrage of rockets fired by Hamas at southern Israel earlier, including a lethal mortar attack on a school bus.
When will this conflict end? The history of Italy tells us a curious and tragic story. During the war between Siena and Florence, in the 13th century, residents of Siena had been hurling heavy rocks into Florence relentlessly, so the Florentines decided to retaliate with a new invention - a full-fledged biological weapon: dead donkeys.

They tried to spread diseases in aggressive Siena by catapulting donkey carcasses over the city wall, and they succeeded: The assault of the dead donkeys ended only when the diseases began to spread in Florence as well, after the direction of the wind had changed.

One cannot resist comparing this absurd story to the fighting on Israel's southern border. Hamas engineers are constantly upgrading hunks of scrap metal in order to turn them into powerful rockets, while Israeli engineers have invented a virtual roof of protection which bears the blatantly unlyrical name of "Iron Dome."

Nor should we forget the latest chapter: Israel's abduction of an engineer from the other side, in the heart of Europe. All these engineering feats, all this inventiveness, all this ingenuity - will they one day be channeled into the pursuit of peace instead of war?

Today, it is possible to travel from Siena to Florence, through a breathtaking landscape, without encountering even one catapulted dead donkey. I am convinced that the day will come when this will also be the case along the stunning beachfront stretching between Ashdod and Gaza.

Until then, Haaretz will continue to cover the reality as it is, in all its absurdity. That is why you decided to bestow this distinguished award upon me.

On behalf of all the employees of Haaretz, one of the world's most formidable newspapers, I thank you”.

2011 International Media Awards Winners

The International Council for Press and Broadcasting Seventh International Media Awards

The International Media Awards ceremony was held at a gala night in central London on Saturday 9th of April. Western, Israeli, Arab and Asian journalists from across the Middle East gathered for the seventh International Media Awards.

The Peace through Media Award

.DAOUD QUTTAB is founder/general director of AmmanNet and director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University
.DOV ALFON is Editor in Chief at Ha’aretz.

The Cutting Edge Award

.FALAH AL THAHABI is an Iraqi journalist and the current managing director at Alhurra TV.
.DILAWAR KHAN WAZIR is the BBC Urdu Service Correspondent for the tribal areas and Waziristan.
.NADA ABDEL SAMED is a Beirut based broadcaster for BBC Arabic.
.AYMAN MOHYELDIN is a correspondent for Al Jazeera.
.ADEL ZANOON works for AFP & ANN, Gaza.

Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting

.JACKIE ROWLAND is a field correspondent for Al Jazeera English

The Breakaway Award

.ALICE FORDHAM is a Baghdad based freelance journalist working for The Times, Christian Science Monitor and as a correspondent for The Economist.

Outstanding Contribution to Peace Award

.LINDA MENHUIN is a founding member of the Society for Peace with Syria and an advisory board member of the Smart Middle East Forum.

Press Freedom Award

.FERAS KILANI is a journalist for BBC Arabic
.GOKTAY KORALTAN is a cameraman for BBC Arabic
.CHRIS COBB SMITH is a production co-ordinator for BBC Arabic

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The changing dynamics of Israel and Palestine

Netanyahu will be visiting Washington imminently to discuss the stalled peace talks with Obama. Recent developments in the region, such as the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, will make these talks tense. Netanyahu does not want to negotiate peace with a Palestinian side, that should it form a government, would encompass a terrorist organisation that fails to recognise the state of Israel.

Netanyahu said at the opening session of parliament in Israel “A government, half of whose members declare daily their intention to destroy the State of Israel, is not a partner for peace.”

However the rapidly unfolding nature of events sweeping the Middle East highlights the fact that Israel can no longer stall the peace talks. The number of Palestinian protesters (living in Syria, Lebanon Gaza and the West Bank) that demonstrated on Nakba day shows how Palestinians have caught the “revolution bug” when they marched onto Israeli borders from four directions. Of particular significance was the breaching of the border fence on the Golan Heights which has been quiet for years.

This recognition that the status quo between Israel and the Palestinians cannot last is demonstrated by the increased willingness by Netanyahu to concede the vast majority of the West Bank in return for a demilitarised Palestinian state.