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Unsettled, with Amira Hass

I am learning the art of interview while crawling with those who have been walking for years. This time with award-winning Israeli journalist, Amira Hass. An excerpt from my piece in Guernica Magazine below:

When it comes to her coverage of Palestinians, Israeli journalist Amira Hass is one of a kind. Yet she blends right in at the Canadian bus station where I pick her up. Vancouver is the second stop on the nationwide speaking tour organized for her by the advocacy group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. She greets me with a warm smile and lifts her small but heavy bags into the trunk of the car. Hass is used to taking care of herself while traveling, doing it weekly as she navigates through Israeli military checkpoints while tracking a story or simply trying to visit a friend. Before I can help her with her bag, in fact, she helps me with mine. When she sees me struggling with my bag outside her lecture venue, she takes it from my shoulder, laughing, “I know. I do it too.”

Hass has worked for the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz since 1989. She left her academic roots during the First Intifada and started her media career there as a copyeditor. A few months later, she convinced the paper to send her to Europe to cover the Romanian revolution. In Romania she proved her skills as a writer, and in 1993 her editors assigned her to Gaza. She had become familiar with the area while volunteering with a group that had her visiting Gazans to deliver money they were owed from Israeli employers who’d withheld their pay. It was during this time that her “romance” with Gaza began.

No one encouraged Hass to live in Gaza; in fact, she was specifically told not to. But determined to learn about the occupation from the inside, she moved there in 1993 and made a permanent home in the West Bank in 1997. This initiative made her the only Israeli journalist to live and work among Palestinians full-time.

For the past seventeen years Hass has reported extensively on Israel’s policies in the occupied territories, exposing their devastating effects on Palestinians. But the divided Palestinian leadership has not escaped her scrutiny either, and both governments have tried to impede her reporting using various intimidation tactics. But the unrelenting Hass has continued regular critiques, which she has collected in two books. She is regarded internationally as one of Israel’s most prominent journalists, and in 2009 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Hass was invited to Canada to lecture about Israel-Palestine. But unlike others who speak on the subject, she gives a different talk in each city and resists flashy rhetoric in favor of hard reporting. Prior to the lecture, while searching for a restaurant, she tells me she will not talk about the region’s basic history because the audience will likely be informed. So for forty-five minutes she speaks about the Israeli policy of “closure,” the ongoing fragmentation of Palestinian territory and the severing of Palestinian control of governing activities such as changing addresses or registering newborns. “It’s not like killing, but it affects everybody,” explains Hass. “If a baby is born in Gaza and is not registered with the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, that baby does not exist, it does not count,” she tells the audience. “I get very annoyed when my Palestinian friends complain, ‘Why didn’t they give me a permit, I am not a terrorist,’ because it is not about the person, it is about a policy that people can’t articulate because there is no discourse to explain the political intention behind it.”

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