KB: I wanted to talk a little bit about the challenge journalists face when reporting on conditions in international affairs that are outside the definitions that are set forward by the governments where their newspapers are located. For example, the American government labels Hamas as a terrorist organization. Do you think it’s a challenge for journalists to throw off those labels that governments put on things and re-examine them, or do you think that it’s something they can’t overcome?
PM: Oh, they can, and they have to. Most journalists would tell you that it’s one of their objectives on a daily basis, to attempt to explain the story behind, the story that illuminates the policy position by various governments. Recently it has been very hard in some ways to do that, because you couldn’t get into Gaza. There was a deliberate decision to prevent the media from going into Gaza during the war. Reporters always need to be looking at the labels that politicians and policymakers use, and to be assessing them to see whether they are the only labels. Invariably, you hear of Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, the Fatah leader, being described as a moderate. But he is a moderate in terms of what? He is a moderate in terms of the militants in Hamas, but in the eyes of the Palestinian people?
You have to come back to how Palestinians perceive his moderation, and how Palestinians perceive the militancy of Hamas. If you inject some of that into a commentary or an analysis piece, you leave your readers with a different sense. To simply state that somebody is a moderate or somebody is a militant, and expect the reader to use that as the sole description or descriptor of an individual or an organization, doesn’t deliver all that could be delivered. You’re talking about Hamas? Hamas are militants, yes, they are militants who appealed to Palestinians at an election that was supervised by Western observers and deemed to be fair, and Palestinians chose the militants not necessarily because of their militancy, but because of their belief in them on a whole range of issues. And then you have to ask, “if they’re militants, if they are terrorists, how did they get to be allowed to contest an election? Who let them contest an election?” Israelis allowed them to contest the election, Americans allowed them to contest the election, Fatah allowed them to contest the election.
Right up until that first election that Hamas contested in 2006, Hamas had been saying, “We represent about fifty percent of Palestinian public opinion, therefore we should be accorded that level of representation in various Palestinian forums.” And everyone laughed, and said no, that’s not true, that’s not right, and so they allowed them to contest the election. Even though they had refused to renounce violence. There’s not too many militant or nationalist or liberation groups that have been allowed to contest elections without renouncing violence. They were allowed to do so, and they won the election. That has to count for something in your assessment in where Hamas stands in Palestinian affairs, and in the region.
KB: In your reading, have you noticed any mistakes or shortcuts that reporters or publications have taken that you feel are steering the story in a wrong direction?
PM: You see it, and, look, my stance that I try to convey to you is that I don’t see it as a deliberate thing, I see it as one of the pitfalls of the cut and thrust of the daily story. You simply see that things are not being as fully explained as they might be. And some people fall into the black-and-white delineation without trying to grapple with the extensive grey in the whole crisis.
KB: Can you think of a handful of points that you wish were reiterated even in these kinds of from-the-frontlines reports, points that would sort of indicate to readers a greater subtlety in the situation?
PM: Well, the one thing that is not grappled with as often as it should be, and it’s one of the gravest elements of the story from the Palestinian perspective, is the whole Fatah-Hamas conflict. It is reduced simply to moderates versus militants. How it plays out on the ground in the daily lives of Palestinians and what it means is something that needs to be articulated more clearly, much more clearly.