In March, 1988, during the first Intifada, Israel closed down Wafa’s operations inside the country. A Reuters dispatch on the shutdown described Wafa “as the main source of information for the foreign press on the 16-week-old Palestinian uprising in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.”
The emergence of something like the Palestinian news service paralleled a larger development, the growth of a distinct Palestinian national consciousness.
Separate from all of these factors, there is another element, which cannot be ignored. Palestinian militant organizations, no match for the Israelis in conventional warfare, embarked on a campaign of terrorism, executing acts designed to be and which were, in fact, stunning.
What should and did shock the conscience—kidnapping and murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, blowing up buses filled with civilians, murder of a wheelchair-bound cruise-ship passenger—could also, perversely, stimulate the conscience about the underlying issue. Terrorism may be effective to some degree because those who are repelled by an act might simultaneously be made curious as to what could drive people to commit such horrifying deeds.
When Hundley was stationed in Israel, he never had any doubt that no matter how good a correspondent he might prove, his stature in Israel would never come close to that of the Times’s correspondent. “The Times correspondent lives in a house that is, in effect, like an embassy,” he said. “And the correspondent is, in some ways, treated better than a diplomat, sometimes like royalty.”
Allan M. Siegal, a former assistant managing editor at the Times, said that Teddy Kollek, who was mayor of Jerusalem from 1965 to 1993, “knew every executive at the Times by first name.” And Times editors who visited Israel, Siegal said, were generally “treated like visiting royalty.”
The experiences of three different correspondents demonstrate some of the special issues that may arise in being the paper’s Jerusalem bureau chief.
David Shipler served from 1979 to 1984 and used his experience to write a book, Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land. It won 1987’s Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction and was praised in the Los Angeles Times as “deep and powerful,” the equivalent of an immersion course in the emotional language of the conflict between the two groups.
Shipler said that there were two occasions in which he believed his writing from Israel was mishandled because of editors’ politics. The more notable one involved an assignment for the book review section on Jacobo Timerman, the Argentine writer and human rights figure who had emigrated to Israel.
In an interview, Timerman told Shipler that he had “buried” his Judaism as an Argentine dissident, reasoning that he was already reviled by the government and didn’t want to have his stance mingled with any potential anti-Semitism.
He said that in Israel he was able to “dig beneath the tombstones” and found he was proud of being Jewish.
But he was stark in another of his observations: while he was suddenly proud of his Jewishness, he was, he said, ashamed of being an Israeli because of how the nation treated the Palestinians.
The book review editor, Shipler said, told him that the piece was unsuitable; the Times could not and should not run a piece with Timerman castigating Israel.
Shipler had his piece sent over to the foreign desk where he hoped it would be salvaged, but it lingered there. He was questioned by an editor as to whether he had accurately represented Timerman’s views. The question was offensive to a seasoned reporter. The interview also had been tape-recorded.
Sometime later, Timerman visited the Times in New York and expressed the same views of Israel to editors who earlier had been skeptical that he could think that way. Shipler said Timerman, who died in 1999, was surprised at what he said was the censorship of his views at the hands of the Times.