Review: “Reporting from Ramallah” by Amria Hass

This is really disappointing. I’ve long respected Amira Hass’ reporting from the occupied West Bank and Gaza. And there’s is no question that, as the only Israeli reporting regularly from Palestine these are historically important news reports, taking us through some of the darkest moments of the second intifada.However, in retrospect, Hass frankly supports her “own side” too much here. The worst example of this is when she describes the second intifada as “the war the Palestinians have declared on us” and “Israel’s defensive war”, while her own reporting of events shows that it was the Israeli army who began shooting at unarmed demonstrators at the beginning of the intifada, escalating it into an armed conflict. Worse, there are moments that betray a frankly colonist mindset, the most egregious example of this being her description of Palestinians in a Hebrew class as having “lapsed” back into Arabic during discussions with her (a fluent Arabic speaker herself). It is possible that this is a bad choice of words by the translator, but somehow I doubt it. Instead of implicitly criticising the Palestinians for daring to speak their own native tongue, she should take a look at how many Israelis outside of the secret police take the time to learn Arabic. Again, she unambiguously describes the execution of Palestinian collaborators by Palestinian fighters as “murder” while at the same time describing in very neutral language “the shooting of children” by the Israeli army.

No doubt this is all typical Israeli terminology, but I thought Amira Hass was supposed to be “radical”? Maybe the selection of articles is bad (the editing of the volume is frankly pathetic with several amateurish typographical errors). But this still does not excuse the problems such as those described above.

On the plus side, her reporting has some very good moments. The best article here is probably the one in which she famously grills an Israeli sniper, extracting the news that they are told to shoot dead 12-year-old Palestinian children since they are considered adults: “he’s already had his bar mizvah”. Her reports on internal Palestinian issues are also very good, such as the interviews with unemployed workers and the families of those detained by the PA. Her report from Jenin is very good too. For moments such as these, the book gets three stars.

Reviewed 22 March 2008.

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