Ms Alibahai-Brown arrived a few minutes earlier, and I had the opportunity to exchange a few words with her before her lecture, in which she spoke about her 30-year-long journey as the first non-white national newspaper columnist in the UK and her 11-year-long work as a columnist.
I asked her if as a Muslim, had she been wearing Hijab when she applied for her job that might that have affected her chances of gaining employment. I also asked her what she thought would happen now with an identical situation.
Yasmin, as honest and faithful to the mission of journalism and its ethics as she has always been. answered in complete sincerity, “No - I was lucky myself that someone believed in me and gave me a chance, now things are a little different. They would not employ a woman wearing Hijab in TV of course, but she might be employed in journalism…not necessarily to write a column, but maybe as a reporter.” She added that there was another Muslim journalist that has been employed…she explained that the mentioned journalist was wearing a Hijab at one time but now she does not.
I respected her honesty and the point she raised, that we all need that one person who would believe in us and give us a chance to prove ourselves.
But there was another important comment Yasmin made when she asked me prior to her lecture about Palestinian women. Yasmin has always been defending women’s rights, so the first thing she asked me was this, “I am concerned that I hear about honour killings in the Palestinian territories are on the rise.”
This comment was very interesting for more than one reason. As a celebrated journalist, Yasmin would have already known that children killed by the Israeli forces are on the rise, people dying due to the roadblocks and detainment at checkpoints, thus denied access to medical treatment are also on the rise, attacks of the settlers on the Palestinians who try to harvest their olive groves are on the rise, attacks on journalists while trying to film the attacks on civilians are on the rise, the areas of stolen lands from Palestinians are on the rise, attacks on foreign peace campaigners are on the rise, the number of students who are denied travel to join their universities are on the rise… The list of bad things that is considered a breach of all human and international laws by the Israeli state is on the rise. But my colleague who I admired very much for her humane stands picked the least significant number of incidents in this entire list of crimes and expressed her concern.
I am sure that she was concerned of all the above breaches of international law, but we did not have enough time to talk further, we agreed that we should exchange emails later.
I thought of sharing this email with everybody, because I felt guilty after meeting Ms Yasmin for many reasons…at the top of the list is because I am a Palestinian journalist. I must have done a terrible job not to notice what the media is doing to camouflage the real crimes. They are using women, dead and alive, to ride their agendas - saddling their stories on our backs.
I felt guilty for not having enough time to tell her that the honour killing crime is there unfortunately, but very limited in number, this does not mean that I am not outraged with this crime. But to explain to her and others that this kind of crime was blown out of proportion to cover the killings on political grounds, any activist can be killed and this will be considered as an honour killing. I myself received emails that had fabricated stories about women activists who were killed and then the distributed lie was that it was an honour killing.
Colleague journalists should read between the lines and analyse what is happening on the ground. Why has a new kind of crime suddenly appeared like the foam on the surface of every cup of media gossip and is distributed fresh, tickling the noses of propaganda weavers? And why has news of this kind of crime been travelling faster than the spilled blood of thousands of innocent Palestinian children and women killed inside their own homes in their own beds? Why now … indeed.
I have been receiving lots of emails from our fellow women colleagues, journalists in Palestine who are suffering career oppression besides fear for their lives and reputations. Israeli forces are not their only enemy; they are fighting corruption, misconceptions, social and traditional old rules, besides political views. Sometimes oppression comes from their own gender; women are oppressing other women within their own profession for different reasons.
Last month the supervisor of a women’s empowering organisation in Gaza dismissed a young woman journalist arbitrarily. She was also reported to have used words that offended the young journalist personally. Such comments had nothing to do with perfecting her profession as a journalist, but rather it was described by some local journalists as a kind of media hooliganism happening before an audience. The argument had nothing to do with her journalistic skills; she was accused of being “divorced”. For those who do not know much about the Middle Eastern societies and its sensitivity towards divorced women, I guess they ought to read a little bit more. For being a divorcee is more like being accused of a crime, divorcee is a swear word in some societies.
Women in Palestine have to fight the oppression of the Zionist state; and lack of justice of the society towards women in general and against journalists in particular. When I asked why no one cared to correct the situation, the reply was that the lady in charge has strong “authority”, and members of the board feared her anger especially since she is a “lawyer”. Here I feel how privileged we are in the UK and how lucky that we have a constitution, we enjoy many rights that we also take for granted. Wherever the legal system needs a crutch to lean on, crime will flourish.
The lawyer mentioned above is the Director of the Centre for Women and legal guidance assumed to be in charge of resolving issues facing battered women. Expelling the young female journalist arbitrarily is just one of many examples I receive every day. And this example shows clearly that women can be victims of other women too. The lawyer mentioned above is running a centre that receives financial aid to support women, not to oppress them.
One wonders why no one from the Palestinian syndicate or the Union ever dared to confront or question such personalities, or do some justice by filing an investigation.
This case was not an isolated incident; I have read an article written by a Palestinian colleague journalist by the name of Ahmad Arar who tried to raise such issues online, because there is no freedom of the press. If you are not supporting A then you are supporting B, or worse you are a mole for C. No one cared or dared to follow such matters any further through the media, this is why we only hear about honour killings. Honour killing is an excellent escape door, and as usual, women are the perfect victims.
Even though Palestinian women are known to celebrate relatively better liberties and status in their society compared with other Arab societies, we know perfectly well that the female Palestinian journalist is fighting a fierce battle to prove her presence as a professional. Besides the fact that some female Palestinian journalists suffer sexual harassment, discrimination in employment opportunities, and pressures from their own society, added to all that is the suppression and the oppression by the Israeli forces.
Palestinian female journalists have to deal with censorship from political, religious and social sources. Besides being a target or killed, they are caught in the crossfire between the fighting factions, and the fires of the Israeli soldiers, added to all that are the restrictions on their movement, and suffering low wages and many other challenges.
All the above issues are under-represented in the media, except honour killings. When International organizations and watchdogs witness such phenomenon, they must know immediately that they are witnessing the symptoms of corruption. The president of the Palestinian journalist syndicate was never elected, nor does anyone recognize any prior work from him as a journalist. He was appointed. Knowing such facts might direct us to a very important issue. The journalists are the best candidates to help their communities, for they know the obstacles facing their colleagues and their people.
I hope colleagues in the UK can monitor such media manipulations with a deeper analytical eye.