Guest contribution by Deanna Othman
As Palestinians prepare to mark the 65th anniversary of al-Nakba on May 15, the date that symbolizes the beginning of the methodical dispossession and oppression of Palestinians, they have been greeted with a slap in the face by Washington, DC’s Newseum in another attempt to delegitimize and stifle their struggle.
The Newseum, which features exhibits both on news history and contemporary media technology, announced the names of 82 journalists who died covering the news in 2012, and added them to the Newseum’s Journalists Memorial in a ceremony held May 13 in the Journalists Memorial Gallery. Among the honored were Marie Colvin and Anthony Shadid, who both died in Syria.
Absent from the list of 82 journalists were an additional two names originally slated to be included — Hussam Salama and Mahmoud Al-Kumi, who were doing camera work for Al-Aqsa TV when they were killed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza in November 2012.
The Newseum announced Monday that the museum will “re-evaluate their inclusion as journalists on our memorial wall pending further investigation.”
Although many held out the hope that the Newseum would stand by its decision, it is a grave disappointment, but not a complete surprise, that yet another institution that purports to celebrate diversity of voices has caved under Zionist pressure.
After the announcement of the names of honored journalists, pro-Israel groups began urging the museum to remove the Al-Aqsa cameramen’s names, employing the logic that Al-Kumi and Salama should be branded as terrorists because Al-Aqsa TV is affiliated with Hamas.
In a press release Sunday, Abe Foxman, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Director, said, “It is a dark day when members of a terrorist organization advancing their agenda through murderous violence are honored as part of a tribute to journalists killed in the line of duty.” Foxman added, “This decision flies in the face of the founding mission of Newseum to ‘educate the public about the value of a free press in a free society.’ Salama and Al-Kumi were terrorist operatives working for a network that routinely promotes anti-Semitism and incitement to violence. These men were working for a propaganda outlet, not a legitimate news organization.”
What remains baffling about Foxman’s assertion is his promotion of a free press in a free society for Americans, yet his failure to recognize the need for a fair press and free society for Palestinians, whose voices are systematically muted by the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., and by the Israeli occupation in Palestine itself.
In a statement this past December, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said that the two Al-Aqsa cameramen were journalists and therefore should not have been targeted during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense during November 2012.
“Just because Israel says a journalist was a fighter or a TV station was a command center does not make it so,” said Whitson. “Journalists who praise Hamas and TV stations that applaud attacks on Israel may be propagandists, but that does not make them legitimate targets under the laws of war.”
Israel, the occupier, the aggressor, the perpetrator of the vast majority of the deaths among the Israelis and Palestinians, is granted the license to decide who is and who is not an actual journalist? Are Palestinians telling their own stories with their own voices automatically delegitimized?
The Palestinian narrative is not Israel’s (or the U.S. Treasury Department’s) to tell; it is not Israel’s to manipulate and define. The removal of the cameramen’s names from the Newseum’s display in essence validates and reinforces Israel’s usurpation of the Palestinians’ story from the Palestinians themselves, and subjects it to strictures by the very force they are speaking out against.
If this would have occurred in Israel, it would have made more sense. However, for it to occur in an independent institution in the United States is more deplorable by far.
Critiquing the Newseum’s decision, Tom Scocca of Gawker writes, “Al-Aqsa is run by Hamas, and so by the transitive property is officially listed by the United States Treasury Department as a terrorist organization.”
Does this transitive property apply to journalists from other backgrounds, in other parts of the world? Judging these two men, who died doing their jobs, based on their employer being a “state-run” station, with Hamas being the “leader” of that “state,” is problematic on many levels. If we were to judge all journalists working for “state-run” media outlets based on the affiliations of their “states,” we would run the risk of discrediting and dishonoring journalists from North Korea, China, Qatar and even Israel.
Palestinians are denied their own independent state, with all the amenities that come with a state, including the protection of media. And even in the absence of such protection, they are also apparently forbidden from expressing their independent voices, and thereby deemed unworthy of the honor of having died to try and represent those voices.
Assuming the Newseum’s conclusion is not final, as a spokesman stated they would re-evaluate and investigate the decision, let us hope they approach the issue with impartiality, unaffected by the duress of special interest groups.
Deanna Othman is a Palestinian American from Chicago, IL. She currently works as the assistant editor of Islamic Horizons magazine and serves on the editorial board of the Chicago Crescent. Deanna is also a member of the Chicago Executive Committee for the American Muslims for Palestine. Follow her on Twitter at @deannaothman.