This is not the issue that I intended to edit on the Palestine/Israel conflict. I set out to produce a magazine that focused on the historical aspects of the dispute. What is it about? How did it start and why? My aim was to let the protagonists talk for themselves. This magazine was going to give an evenly balanced picture.
But somewhere along the line my position changed. ‘If a reporter comes out of a situation with the same story she intended to get, she has not done her job properly,’ a journalist friend once told me. And when I flew to Israel in mid-April, the situation was not as I expected.
As I travelled around interviewing people, trying to unravel the historical threads that led up to the present conflict, it became impossible to remain neutral.
For one thing both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis have different if equally tragic histories. There are very few common meeting points. Trying to convey the two perspectives was a balancing act which involved weighing one story endlessly against the other. Who was right? Who was wrong?
In the throes of this agonizing exercise, the gravity of the present situation started to hit me. Israel’s political climate was more right-wing than I anticipated. Talk of expelling Arabs from Israel or the occupied territories was commonplace. A discussion about whether Arabs should be exterminated or not, was the subject of a front-page article in The Jerusalem Post after a lone Palestinian stabbed several people in Jerusalem.
Many of the Palestinians I met had been detained by soldiers without charge. Some had been tortured. What is a balanced picture in such circumstances? I don’t know.
I faced a choice. Either I proceed with my original plan – or I try and produce a magazine with an emphasis that reflected what I was discovering. It was a very difficult decision. For a time I continued with the plan. This required that I include the story of a Holocaust survivor which would explain Israel’s significance to him or her. I talked to several. One said that the Holocaust had showed just how much Jews needed a homeland. Another that the Holocaust revealed how never again could Jewish people be victims.
Finally a survivor from a Polish ghetto broke down in tears. ‘I think that many of us who have survived the Holocaust cannot cope with the fact that every day there is a Palestinian child killed by us,’ she said. ‘It is happening because how long can Palestinians go on living like they are – in refugee camps?’ A survivor of Belsen convinced me: ‘What is relevant is what is happening in Israel today.’
I decided not to have an article about a Holocaust survivor. Instead there would be an analytical piece about the way the Holocaust is affecting attitudes in Israel today. My magazine would reflect the present as much as the past. It would contain as many articles by Jewish people as Palestinians. There would be an historical emphasis. But the issue would take a strong line about what is happening in the region at present. And it would also suggest a way forward.
This is what I have tried to present. My thanks go to Oxfam and the World Association for Christian Communication who enabled me to travel to Israel and the occupied territories and to put the magazine together there. I am grateful also to the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre who gave me so much help and support.
For the New Internationalist Co-operative