Reporting from Ramallah – An Israeli Journalist in an Occupied Land

Amira Hass – MIT Press (2003)

Amira Hass

Amira Hass

Amira Hass is the only Jewish Israeli correspondent living in the West Bank among the people about whom she reports. I’ve been following her writing in Haaretz for some time.  Her newspaper bio says:

Born in Jerusalem in 1956, Hass joined Haaretz in 1989, and has been in her current position since 1993. As the correspondent for the territories, she spent three years living in Gaza, which served of the basis for her widely acclaimed book, “Drinking the Sea at Gaza.” She has lived in the West Bank city of Ramallah since 1997.

Reporting from Ramallah is a compilation of her columns grouped chronologically from 1997 – 2002. Each is short and covers different topics, with the sharp reporting skills of a professional.  She has an eye for details along with the intelligence to connect the dots and put the issues into a larger context for the reader.

I don’t know whether she is widely read in Israel proper. If she is, then there’s no excuse for Israelis to claim ignorance of what’s happening in their name just across the line in the occupied Palestinian territories. My hunch is that she probably doesn’t have much of a following back home because there would be a massive case of cognitive dissonance among that population.

Here’s a sample:


“This is the fifth house I’ve demolished today,” the bulldozer operator told MK Naomi Chazan. Over the past two years [this was written in July 1998], the Israeli authorities have destroyed an average of one Palestinian home every two days. In 1997, 249 Palestinian homes were demolished in the West Bank and Jerusalem, according to data compiled by Qanun (LAW), the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment. From January 1st to July 25th of this year, 92 homes have been destroyed. During the two years of the Likud government, some 400 homes have been destroyed.”

“True, the homes were built without the required permits. ‘Illegal homes,’ officials call them. From 1997 through March 1998, 775 such illegal homes were built in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli security and civil control. The authorities were quick to issue 689 demolition orders in the same period. The rate of demolition has been rising in recent months, and now stands at one house per day on average. Twenty-two houses were destroyed over the last three weeks.”

“When the law is violated with such desperate audacity, one has to take a closer look at the legislative and executive authorities. Soviet Jews learned Hebrew despite prohibitions; until the 1960s, laws in the southern United States forbade blacks to ride at the front of the bus; nineteenth century statutes prohibited slaves from learning to read and write; in Ceausescu’s Romania, listening to foreign radio stations was considered a serious crime. People have always broken laws that contradict the basic principles of justice and equality.”

“The Civil Administration and the Jerusalem municipality present each house as an individual crime: this one was not eligible for a building permit because it was constructed on agricultural lands, and this one was constructed next to a road that leads to a settlement, and a third structure (a school, for instance) was built outside the master plan. Thus, it is possible to sweep under the rug the fact that there has been a systematic policy, over many years, to restrict Palestinian building. One tactic is intolerable foot-dragging in granting building permits. Another tried and true method is refusal to increase the area defined in old master plans as permissible for building, despite natural growth. Since the land reserves of almost every Palestinian community are located in Area C, which makes up about 70% of the West Bank, Israel continues to control and manipulate the Palestinians’ right to proper housing – all under the guise of the rule of law.”

Amira Hass knows how to do her homework, and I imagine she knows how to ask the tough questions (unlike most journalists these days). Her writing will someday be used to document the pattern and practice of occupation.  I’d like to be an “Amira Hass” in Gaza for the New York Times. Do you think they might hire me?






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