The experience of a journalist working in one of the most conflicted regions of the world is unusual. It is even more rare when that journalist is both Israeli and Arab, and writes for a Hebrew paper.
Monday night, Khaled Abu Toameh, editor of Palestinian affairs for the Jerusalem Post, spoke to over 100 students and members of the surrounding community about his work through his unique position.
Toameh, the son of a Palestinian father and an Israeli mother, was born in Tulkarem, Palestine. Though he is Muslim, he was educated in a Hebrew school.
Toameh went on to write for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), though he makes it clear he was never a member and was not affiliated with them. Feeling stifled by the authority’s control over the media, Toameh went to work for Israeli and foreign news outlets.
In 1988, he became a producer for NBC News’ coverage of Palestine, and soon after, he began writing for a Hebrew paper, where he became the only Palestinian writing about Palestinian issues in Hebrew. His friends wondered what was wrong with him.
“As a journalist, I don’t have a problem writing for any paper,” Toameh said in his speech.
Toameh found many of his colleagues being placed behind bars, being beat up and having their offices torched. The independent Palestinian journalists had offended the region’s powerful PLO.
“We still don’t have a free media,” he said. “We didn’t have one in the ’70s, not in the ’80s, and we still don’t have one in 2006.
Toameh went on to discuss current issues of the region, such as Mahmoud Abbas’ succession of Yasser Arafat and Hamas, a violent Islamic resistance movement.
“(Abbas) ran on the platform ‘Vote for me and end anarchy, vote for me and dismantle Hamas -,’” Toameh said.
Though Abbas promised stability and reform for the region, little has changed.
“Nothing has changed. It is the presence of dictatorships that drive people into the arms of Hamas,” he said.
Those attending had many questions for Toameh. Most pressing were questions regarding the future of the region.
“(Palestinians) need to build a proper institution where Arafat failed. We are all suffering the results of the peace process,” he said.
Toameh also explained the problem with physically dividing a nation where Arabs and Jews live so closely together. He explained that they live beside each other and on top of one another, that the result of a fence leaves everyone feeling trapped.
“(Toameh) was actually one of the best speakers Hillel has brought (to Cal Poly),” said Omid Haghighat, a philosophy senior. “He was completely unbiased and was not trying to push an agenda. Though, the audience seemed to have lost the point of his speech.”
“Students at Cal Poly are fortunate to hear a journalist of this quality,” said Samuel Vengrinovich, a public policy graduate student. “(Toameh) gave a deep and through analysis most people don’t get from just reading newspapers.”