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Interview Archives

Between 2004 and 2010, Just Vision interviewed more than 80 Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders. The interviews in this archive represent a fraction of the civic leaders working in the field at a particular moment in time, and aim to provide audiences access to a range of perspectives and approaches.

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Nasser Laham

Nasser Laham was born and raised in Deheishe Refugee Camp near Bethlehem and is the Chief Editor at Ma'an News Agency in Bethlehem. He anchors a daily TV news program which translates the Hebrew evening news into Arabic for Palestinian audiences. Nasser promotes responsible media coverage of the conflict through humanizing the subjects of the news and reporting on both sides' reactions to events. Nasser served multiple prison sentences in Israeli jails during the first intifada before becoming a journalist.

  • Tell me a little about yourself and how you became involved in this work.

    I was born in Dheisheh Refugee Camp near Bethlehem and I grew up and live in Deheishe. I am from a village next to Ramle, whose inhabitants were expelled in '48. I found myself living in wartime. I was born in '66. I was named after Gamal Abd el Nasser, the Arab leader. The Yom Kippur War started shortly after I was born followed by the attack on the Litani River1 in southern Lebanon and the Lebanon War in '82. In '82, I was arrested for the first time due to my involvement in the PLO.I was arrested five times. The last time I served a five-year sentence.

    • 1Refers to a three-day Israeli military attack against southern Lebanon in March 1978 that involved artillery shelling and air attacks, in response to a terrorist bombing in Tel Aviv. Israel held southern Lebanon (the area around the Litani River) for three months before handing the region over to Christian militias that were allied to Israel. See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/march/17/newsid_2525000...

  • Why were you arrested?

    I was a member of the student council at Bethlehem University. There were demonstrations against President Carter and against Camp David. I was released from prison at the end of the first intifada in late 1990. I was no longer active in the PLO and started at the university. I studied Psychology at the University of Bethlehem and later specialized in Human Rights Affairs in Geneva. I then worked for a radio station in the Netherlands and completed my certificate in Hebrew/Arabic translation. I worked at the Voice of Palestine1 from 1990 to 1995.

    • 1A Palestinian radio station that is a subsidiary of the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation. It first began experimental broadcasts in July 1994, with a radio address by Yasser Arafat. The station broadcasts mostly in Arabic but also has foreign language programs in English, Hebrew, and French. The station appears to have been called the Voice of Palestinian Revolution before the Oslo Accords of 1993. See http://www.pal-soft.com/palestine/pbc.htm

  • Why were you demonstrating against Camp David?

    Many Palestinians, especially at the universities, felt deceived and cheated by the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. They felt abandoned and forgotten and left to live in tents in refugee camps.They were thrown into refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq or here in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Then [the Arabs] began peace negotiations with Egypt and Israel as if [these two countries] were at war with one another-- but the principle conflict was with the Palestinians. Arafat refused to acknowledge Camp David and Sadat got on his wrong side. We Palestinians were left to rely on our own devices during a difficult period from '78 until '87. It was really hard.  We were at a loss, politically speaking; however, in practice, something very different was taking place: membership in organizations became a widespread phenomenon. This was prominent among students ages 12-15. Israel reacted by imprisoning students, which was very stupid. I was 15 when I was imprisoned for the first time. I was arrested again in '81, '82, '84, and the last time was in '85, where I remained until late 1990. The Palestinian people reacted to the Camp David agreements and to the Lebanon War by starting the first intifada. They were looking for an end but there was no end in sight. It is connected to the Palestinians' approach to the conflict and how the Arab world looks upon these matters.

  • Do you mean how Arabs outside the Territories saw things?

    Yes, Arabs outside the Territories. People who live in refugee camps need peace more than others.  Some say that the wealthy make peace because they have money while the poor create conflict. I believe the contrary: it is the poor who need peace. Poor people living in refugee camps want peace yet don't know how to effectively pursue it. Sometimes it continues without end and is stupid. Part of being a journalist is relating to matters that concern the general population rather than focusing only on personal interests. This is difficult because if you make a mistake, you have misled the public; you have to be sophisticated, well read, and knowledgeable. Before you tell your listeners something, you need to process it in your mind before saying it aloud. You can't just grab the microphone and start talking. It is important to do this quietly, keeping your people and children in mind. I have four children; I think about their future and about the future of the Palestinian children in general. Nothing bad will come from talking about the future of Israeli kids too, or European or Iraqi children. It doesn't hurt and it isn't a disgrace. War is the disgrace; it is a crime. Some think peace is a crime but I believe peace is a human right; it's that simple.

  • When you say that you need to think before speaking to your people, what does that mean? What will you say, what won't you?

    I have thought about this a lot. I have found that my people are in dire need of information; they want to know what is going on. In Hebrew there is a saying, "if you don't read, you won't be in the know." People must read and understand and then they will be able to decide for themselves.  In the past, I thought that I should be the one to decide but I was wrong, now I believe that the decision belongs to the people. I have a program on television where  I translate what the Israelis say, giving people information so they can make up their minds. I tell them what [Shaul] Mofaz says, what MK Aryeh Eldad (who is right wing) says—that he calls for the transfer of Arabs from here—I tell them what MK Fuad [Binyamin] Ben Eliezer says, I also tell them that he is an Iraqi Jew. I tell people about the anarchists 1 and about the existence of soldiers and officers [in the Israeli army] that refuse to attack the Palestinians. I talk about stories rather than figures.  If we replace the numbers with stories, it has a humanizing effect. Instead of saying, "Three Israeli Zionist  criminals were killed" etc., I say, "Yossi, a doctor age 28, was on his way from Hebron to Jerusalem and was killed by a Palestinian bullet. He was the father of three and supported peace." I say that Eyal, a soldier from Haifa, was killed in the Gaza Strip. His mother says, "Enough war. I don't want him to be a hero, I want him to return!" I want the Palestinian people to think, because we aren't talking about numbers. The Palestinian people are suffering, and the Jewish people have suffered. These are victims. There is no revenge, this is a political conflict. We are stupid to think about revenge. I do not relate to revenge, revenge is akin to spreading poison in your own kitchen. Maybe one of your children will take it and put it in his mouth. Revenge and hatred are toxic, who would be stupid enough to put out poison in their kitchen and then go off to work? We have young children; I don't want them to learn about vengeance, hatred or incitement. If the Israelis want that, it's not my problem—I'm not responsible for Israeli society. As a journalist and as a father, I am responsible for my children and for my society. Instead of teaching them vengeance, I teach them mathematics. Instead of incitement, I teach them physics.  Instead of teaching them how to kill, I am educating them in order to study at the university. I am giving them a cultured, more advanced society, this is fundamental. On my program, I don't narrate in the same way that I am now in this interview.  I don't explain things this way.  Since the second intifada began, I translate the news that is broadcast on Israel Channel 2, Channel 10,2 Army Radio, published in Yedioth Ahronoth, Ha'aretz and Ma'ariv3 everyday from 8 to 9. They wait for it, the fighters from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, even the president watches my program. I know that every mother, father, and child watches the program because they want to know who the Israelis are. We once said "they are the enemies." Now, if you ask anyone in Bethlehem or in other areas who the Israelis are, they'll tell you the difference between MK Ophir Pines and MK Arieh Eldad.

    • 1Mr. Laham is most likely referring to Anarchists Against the Wall, an Israeli group that was organized to protest the construction of the Separation Barrier. See http://www.awalls.org/. See also Just Vision's interview with Kobi Snitz of Anarchists Against the Wall: http://www.justvision.org/en/profile/kobi_snitz
    • 2Israel Channel 2 and Channel 10 are television stations.
    • 3Yedioth Ahronoth, Ha'aretz, and Ma'ariv are daily newspapers in Israel, which also publish online editions.

  • Why is it important to you for Palestinians to know the differences between Israeli political figures?

    It's extremely important! Life is in the details. When I hear the phrase "a Jewish woman," it always crosses my mind that I hate her, but now we meet, drink coffee, talk about life... Look, journalists are not the ones who create peace; journalists can talk about peace. Sometimes people ask us to be politicians and to create peace, but we aren't politicians. We can talk about peace and— this is very dangerous—we can speak about war. If we, as journalists, speak of war, that will mean trouble for both Palestinian and Israeli society.

  • Why is it troublesome for journalists to speak about war?

    Because people believe us, more than they believe the security forces and the politicians.  People put their faith in us, they think about every word we say, they take it seriously. It's very important.

  • Does the translation also influence the way you broadcast news from the Palestinian side?

    It affects both sides. If you are looking for reasons to wage war, you won't find them on my program, nor will you find ideas for short-term strategies. From my show, you will acquire ideas that change you into a responsible person, into a leader. Who is a leader? A leader is someone who possesses information, a lot of information, and as a result has the power to make decisions. Before my program, every person was a simple citizen, and everyone in Palestinian society knew that there was a security officer or a political leader making decisions, to a much greater extent than the average citizen. For example, let's say there's a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian generals at the Erez Checkpoint.1 Once, a Palestinian leader reported, "We told the Israelis to stop the occupation, and we told them to stop the violence," and we used to believe them.  Today, they know that Nasser Laham is translating the news and that he will tell people what went on there. If an Israeli general, or [Effie] Eitam the Russian says, "They [the Palestinian officers] requested batons and tear gas and VIP passes," then the Palestinian officers will stop - they'll either tell the truth or they will be silent. When it comes down to it, everything has a positive and a negative side. I am just translating. I think my people must know the details and that way they will be able to decide and not allow someone else to make a decision for them. I think that this will reduce the lying and cheating.

  • Was there ever anything that you didn't want to translate?

    Many times. For example, once I thought about translating something connected to what the Germans, the Nazis, did to the Jews. I thought about this two years ago, and I said to my friends here, "What's the harm in this? Let the Palestinians know that Jews suffered too and that Hitler committed many crimes against them. My friends said to me, "Do you know what you're saying?! That this won't happen?" It won't happen here, God willing. I thought about my people, I am proud of who they are, I am proud to be an Arab Muslim, proud to be Palestinian. I am proud of being a refugee, of living in a refugee camp in Deheishe, but I support peace. I decided to try it. As I translated, I began to regret my decision because Ariel Sharon had said, "We will not forgive. There is no forgiveness, and we will not forget." I translated what he said at the Western Wall and then also at Yad Vashem.I translated it and wanted to write about it in the newspaper too. The next day all these people came to me and said, "Did you hear, Nasser? Did you hear? They said 'we will not forget, we will not forgive' so we won't forget and won't forgive." That surprised me, the fact that people listen to and understand every word. Now you see how important it is to me to consider every word before I tell my people? Even about peace. Speaking with five years' experience behind me, I find that it is really important to speak about new vocabularies using a new lexicon. I have found that the Palestinian people are deeply disappointed by the word peace and that they don't like to hear it. Peace is related to someone who cheated them numerous times. They don't like the term "Road Map" because they don't like to hear terms used by politicians who have only caused damage. I discovered that people prefer new words that are calming, not grand.  So I say, for example, that every Arab and Muslim forgives and even if Ariel Sharon says, "we don't forgive," it isn't a disgrace to say that we do. People here accept this because deep inside they know that Ariel Sharon is not someone they elected. He is not their leader but the Israelis' leader, so what he says won't dictate what they think. I regret what I did and didn't explain to my viewers. I was taken by surprise, this was the first time that I was really affected by what the Israelis were saying. I really thought about what was said there at Yad Vashem; I too was surprised when Moshe Katsav, Ariel Sharon and Moshe Ya'alon said, "We won't forgive or forget." 

  • But this statement referred to the Holocaust.

    That's right, but you must know that the Palestinians think that they are going through a holocaust also, so they take this seriously. We have to take this into account.  

  • How would you have expected them to understand this?

    I don't have any suggestions even though I do have some thoughts regarding the matter. I told you that a journalist can only talk about peace but can't create peace. They would be crazy to think they can make peace. A journalist can speak of peace but from my perspective, it isn't that simple. This is very important because it creates a certain atmosphere, and that constitutes the logic for war or peace.

  • When did you begin to translate the Hebrew news?

    It was September 28, 2000, the same day that Ariel Sharon went to the Temple Mount.

  • What was the reaction that day?

    I had a daily program at the time. The news that day was that Palestinian fighters were firing at the Gilo neighborhood. The next day every Israeli newspaper wrote about what happened, and many stories were written about the Tanzim in Bethlehem. They named who was shooting and who wasn't.  All of a sudden, I noticed that one newspaper published the head of Tanzim in Bethlehem's mobile phone number! What was said to the settlers (I remember this, I still have the clipping) was, "If you are suffering from the shootings at Gilo coming from Bethlehem, here is the head of Tanzim in Bethlehem's mobile phone number. Call him, his name is Abdullah Abu-Hadid, and ask him to stop firing." I read it in disbelief. I called up Abdullah Abu-Hadid and told him what was published.

  • Which newspaper published this?

    Either Yedioth Ahronoth or Ma'ariv. He said, "No—you're joking!"  I told him I was serious. He said, "Nasser, get out of here!  How did it happen? They published my mobile number in the paper?! Now I understand why so many settlers have been calling me and telling me to stop firing!  I told them it wasn't me, and they said, 'Come on Abdullah, stop firing!'" Suddenly he understood what had happened. An Israeli woman, a mother, called him up and said, "Shame on you, I have daughters and sons." He told her that he wasn't the one doing the firing and she told him, "Come on, really. We know it's you." This came as such a surprise, because even I, as a journalist, hadn't thought of this. The Israelis are just as crazy as the Palestinians. Really, both people's heads are messed up. So my friends said I should report this, that it will create a commotion. They said to me, "How long do you think this intifada is going to last? A week, maybe two, a month at most?" I said that I would translate the Israeli papers into Arabic. I thought, how long could all this last—two days, three days... I thought George Tenet would come and put an end to all of it. I went to the studio, and I did it. I said, "This is what is written in Yedioth Ahronot and Ma'ariv," etc.  The second surprise was the viewers' reactions. People were calling and requesting that I continue to translate. Leaders called—from the Left, from Hamas - they said, "Come on, tell us what they said in the editorials. We want to know."  A Fatah leader came to the studio and said people wanted to know what the Israelis are saying about the shooting at Gilo. I went back and translated the news.  It took 90 minutes. People said, "Don't forget to do it tomorrow too!" The third surprise was the cab drivers who called because they knew I didn't have a permit to enter Israel and offered to go to the settlements to buy me newspapers. I said, "But why?" They said, "So you'll translate it for us!" I thought the situation would change after two or three weeks, that George Tenet would come and stop the intifada. George Tenet left, Shimon Peres left, Ehud Barak left, Abu Ala left, Sharon left, and Netanyahu did too. It became serious. I didn't think this would go on for five years.

  • But why do the translations only during the intifada?

    I had no idea, I didn't think it was important; but now I think it is really important.

  • What were the differences between the way the news was reported on the Israeli side and on the Palestinian side?

    First of all, Israel is the occupier and decides the content and details of Palestinians' lives. For example, a teacher from Beit Jala called me to ask me not to go abroad. I asked her why and she said that because of me they know whether they will have school the next day or not. If the Israelis threaten with a closure, school is cancelled. So she and her students wait to hear whether or not the suicide bomber came from Bethlehem. If he was from Bethlehem, people know to buy sugar and bread because the children will get hungry during the closure. People believe me and rely on me to give details about our life.  People listen in order to know whether there has been an attack, whether there is peace, whether there is a ceasefire; in order to know those things you must listen to what Israel says, because it is the occupier. On the other hand, the Israeli press discloses a lot of information; they talk and write about many things that we do not. For example, we don't write about what takes place during the talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. We only write in our papers that the Israelis said such and such and that it wasn't good. The Israelis publish a lot of details and use names. For example, if there was a suicide attack in Tel Aviv, they would report that so and so from Tulkarm, who belonged to Islamic Jihad and talk about how he came in - that he and his friends traveled from Tulkarm to Nablus. They have a lot of details which they get from the Israeli Intelligence Service, while we don't have a security branch that can give us names. Even if they do have names, they don't give them to us. We don't know any details except what we learn from the Israelis.  Basically, this didn't motivate me, because I don't have much of an interest in knowing a bunch of names. What did motivate me was the Palestinians' need to know. The people have to know, it's their right to know whether a person is from Hamas or Fatah, whether he is a refugee or from a city. It's their right to know and up to them to determine what matters. Maybe people will decide that they don't want to know.

  • Why don't they write this level of detail in the Palestinian press?

    I don't know, but it's true throughout the Arab world. Information is part of a leader's legacy: the leader's heir and security branch keep the information with them. Information is very important and because of that, the Arabs cannot make choices. I give them the information and it's up to them to decide. Believe me, the people's right to know has been taken away. If you don't know things you cannot make choices. They will decide the results of the polls, the democratic elections, with their ballots. So I inform them. If the Israelis seek information, I will inform them too. I have many Israeli friends who are journalists and when they ask me questions I answer them. They have faith in me that I won't lie to them. For example, a prisoner was killed after being captured. My Israeli friends thought it was a lie. I told them I had proof that he was killed and later they found out it was true. So if Israelis ask, I give them information regarding the Palestinian people. The Palestinians don't know because their right to be informed has been taken away. The question is, is there a program in Israel about Palestinian news?

  • Is there one?

    Tzvika Yehezkeli of Israeli Channel 10 television is my friend. He talked about my program and many programs have been made about it. He thought it was very important; for the past six months he has been dedicating seven minutes of every show to current events in the Arab world and in the Palestinian news. But from the start, he's limited to seven minutes, so that requires censorship. He picks what he wants to say. I take people from page one to the newspaper's last page. I translate everything. Now, I don't like Effie Eitam, but when he says something, with all due respect, I translate him. Because when he is on Channel 10 or Channel 2 and he says that the Palestinians are so and so, I translate it without regard for my personal preference. If people ask me after the program, I share my opinion, but I don't do that during the program. I want my elderly mother and father, my children and my wife to know what he is saying, not what I think.

  • How does he [Yehezkeli] decide what to report?

    I don't know. I asked him, and he said, "Take it easy. We talk about Saudi Arabia for one minute, about Libya for a minute, two minutes about the Palestinians." You know, in Israel they are concerned with the program's ratings. Ratings show the viewers' interest and are published. I said, "But this is a conflict, we are losing our youth, there are casualties, this is a serious matter." He said—and I wrote about this—"Israeli television and newspapers seek rating. If ratings are low, if there are no viewers, even if it is a serious topic, they will not talk about it. Like AIDS in Africa. This is an important issue, but on Israeli television they don't talk about it much; on Palestinian television they don't talk about it at all. Why? Because it isn't of interest.

  • Do you also have to take rating into consideration at your station?

    No. We have a very difficult, serious economic problem. We have checkpoints and closures. We have 8,800 prisoners. We're not looking for ratings; we're looking for life, for freedom, and not for ratings. It's not because we're better than the Israelis but because we are in a difficult situation, so we don't think about it.

  • But how does the television make money?

    With advertisements. And don't they need to see that you have high viewer ratings? I'll tell you. My program has the highest rating and ads during it cost the most. So that gives weight to the argument that you can have a serious show and still get high ratings. You can be both serious and have high ratings. If you broadcast a belly dancer instead of discussing a difficult situation, that won't work. You can talk about a difficult and serious situation in an interesting way and get good ratings.

  • Are there Israelis who work here at Bethlehem Television?

    Whenever I need footage from the Knesset, there are Israeli cameramen who we work with and give it to us. Maybe we are the first Palestinian organization that has done this, because we relate to journalists as journalists. We treat them with respect and acknowledge that they are professional and self-respecting people who discuss what is in their people's best interest, while still remaining professional. There are some people I work with that I have no problem with. I have a problem working with someone who hates other people. If the journalist doesn't hate others, in my opinion, they deserve respect and every chance to work and make a living. I don't want to name names here, but when Israeli journalists have come to my office, often the security situation was very bad. I would call up the Al Aqsa Brigades and ask them to protect someone when I had a Jewish Israeli journalist coming as my guest, even if they were right wing— big names, journalists who write front page pieces in Israel. When they came, the Israeli Army prevented them from entering Bethlehem, so I told my guest, an editor, not to be afraid of the armed men with M16s. He walked behind the checkpoint and they took him in their car and brought him here. He photographed them, interviewed them, left and published the piece. They watched out for him and then left. That took place in 2001. From 2002 until 2005 this continued. If someone has to come here, I call the Al Aqsa Brigades and request them to guard my guest. They say, okay; they go with their guns, bring him, take care of him, do the interview, bring him back to the checkpoint and wish him good luck. 

  • Was it necessary to do this for the journalist's safety, or was it because he wanted to interview them?

    They have to hear from me that there is a Jewish person here - otherwise someone might suspect he is from the Shabak. They respect me, I was with them in prison, and I know them. I tell them, and rightfully so, that I have an Israeli guest coming to my office and ask that they respect him. They respect my request; they take care of him, give an interview, have their photos taken, and leave. The first time it happened it surprised the Israeli journalists, but afterwards they called and asked to come again. At first only the left wing journalists agreed to come but later everyone came and understood that our people's fighters were victims, they were security officers, soldiers... you know, it's important to know that people here also thought the intifada would last three or four days and George Tenet would come and put a stop to it. They are still waiting. No one thought it would last for five years. Why do I agree to stick my neck out to host Israelis journalists? Because I want them to have access to the source, to see us, the people they are writing about, with their own two eyes. Let them meet with the people who are wanted by the Israeli Army, the orphans, the women, and the leaders. I want them to talk about both the good and the bad. I never ever told them not to interview a person. There is a great Israeli journalist who writes front page articles for an Israeli newspaper. After he went through the armed guard experience he invited me to come to Jerusalem. I said to him, "What are you talking about? For heaven's sake! I can protect you in a refugee camp, but if a border policeman arrests me in Jerusalem, you will only be able to look on as they take me to the Russian Compound. He thought for a moment and told me I was right. He couldn't believe that I, under occupation, could see to his safety while he, a [Israeli] journalist in a democratic country, couldn't see to mine.  When he spoke to my children, my daughter told him she had never seen the sea because we are forbidden from leaving this area. He told me to bring her and we could go to the sea together; I told him we would be arrested and that he wouldn't be able to help us then, he would be powerless. I want the Palestinian people to see what a bus is, what a school is. Mohammed Dahlan said that 90% of the residents of Gaza have never left the Gaza Strip and don't know another people. Ninety percent of the people don't know what a bus is, what a school is, what a traffic light is, they aren't familiar with Rishon LeZion, Hadera, they don't know about the Dolphinarium— they have no idea at all what a Jew is!  They only recognize the settler, the bastard, the maniac that fires at them every day.  They only recognize Israeli tanks, not even the faces of the soldiers who fire at them. That's all.  So I am addressing such people and explaining things to them; I don't live in London, Hadera or Bnei Barak.  I broadcast for people like that, people who, since the start of the first intifada, haven't left their prison - their houses. 

  • Do you ever have doubts that you are not doing the right thing? If someone lives under occupation, does it make sense to try to write about things that have to do with normal life?

    I am not looking for normal life. I am looking for the truth; I am not a man of peace, I am a journalist. I am looking for the truth. Though the truth hurts, I continue to seek it. For me personally, I also want to know the truth, whether the Israelis want peace or not. I really want to know, just as my viewers do. I see that there is no majority party and they [the Israelis] cannot decide; they are lost, politically speaking. From my perspective, I see three governments in Israel: the first and the strongest one is the mafia; the second is the settlers; the third is the government. 

  • What are you referring to as the mafia?

    Crime. I can buy arms from the mafia, the Shabak, and the Mossad and none of the Israeli soldiers can stop it because it's about money. We said this at the beginning of the intifada but no Israeli believed us. This was also a point raised during the Arab League summit in Beirut. The Yemenite president Ali Abdullah Saleh said, "Give the Palestinians money, and they can [work] with the Israeli mafia." And Israelis didn't want to understand it. The strongest government in Israel is the mafia. The second government is the settlers, who strike and spit in soldiers' faces in Hebron. The Israelis ignore this and don't want to publicize this information. The Israeli people and their children don't know that while there are Israeli soldiers are protecting the settlers in Hebron, these settlers hassle and assault the very soldiers who are protecting them. The third and weakest governing force in Israel is the Israeli government. We began negotiations with the third, the weakest government in Israel overtly, but there are covert negotiations with the first government in Israel.

  • What have you learned about the Israeli people through your work?

    I learned that they are in dire need of assistance. I truly believe that the Israeli people are victims; they are victims of Herzl and Ben Gurion because they told them that Israel is the safest place in the world for them. When they were brought here they spoiled and sullied this place. Israel is now the most dangerous place in the world for the Jews and is the opposite of Zionism. I think that the Israeli people need the Palestinians' help; if we say we forgive them, then the whole world will forgive them—not because we are very important, but because we are weak and wretched. We are a tiny people, like the Israelis are. The Israelis want to emerge from this cycle but cannot because it is their generals that make the decisions. What difference is there between you and a person in Gaza or Khan Younis? What differences exist between you and some poor guy in Dheishe Refugee Camp? Why should he harm you or detonate a bomb aimed at you or your husband? There is no reason for it. When I speak with Palestinians and tell them that there is an Israeli woman who talks this way, they applaud her. The Israelis want to emerge from the cycle; they tried once, twice, three times, but they failed. Failure is the result of someone having a vested interest in war. When Palestinian refugees see that every settler received half a million while they lack food, what are they supposed to think about themselves and about the world? The Palestinian people need assistance, but the Israeli people need it even more.

  • You say that you are not a "man of peace" but rather are only looking for the truth, however there must be a reason for seeking truth...

    The reason is peace. I don't define myself as being from the peace camp; I don't call myself Martin Luther King or Uri Avnery. I am not Mubarak Awad. I am not King Hussein. I am a simple man, a journalist; I live in Dheishe Refugee Camp, yet I have more influence than the people I mentioned above because people believe me. They know that I am one of them, that my children live with theirs. People believe me because I believe them. I am looking for an opportunity to emerge from the cycle; I'll do it. I'm searching for a way to help my people.

  • How can you help your people, and how can you help bring peace?

    I can help them by telling the truth. I am not afraid of the truth; I think the Israeli leadership is afraid but the people aren't. The Israeli people are more important than Kofi Annan and the UN. A big problem arose within Israeli society, with its people, following the lynching in Ramallah. This was a mistake. 

  • Did you write about this?

    Of course. I said on Palestinian television, "We were wrong." So yes, we made a mistake and lost something as a result. We lost the Israeli people, but that was not the end of the road. War is war. We sustained most of the damage, but the lynching in Ramallah hurt the relations and the trust between the Israeli and Palestinian people. The most significant damage inflicted upon the Palestinian people by the Israelis was done in Rafah. The way they destroyed Rafah is maddening. There aren't many questions. There is just one question: should we continue or cease? It is simple. I am sure, in my innermost self that Israelis are looking for life. They are looking for quiet, for neighborly relations but the question is, how? It is not with shells, nor planes, nor Dan Halutz, really, not Dan Halutz! Have the Israelis forgotten Hayyim Nahman Bialik? "Arise, come forth from the desert, still the road is long and the war is longer." Have you forgotten? Every people has wishes, beliefs, culture and sensitivities, just like the Israelis, we do too. The Israelis have the poet Bialik just as we have Mahmoud Darwish. People have lost their minds. Is whoever kills the most children the biggest hero?!

  • How did your life change since you began doing this work?

    Since I had my children, since I became a father, I am a changed man. When my son called me "father", I understood that every person who has a child seeks his or her safety. When I became a father, I became a person. I hope that all people can live in peace and prosperity. 

  • I mean, did your life change in any way after you started doing the translations?

    Now I suffer from pain and frustration. I'm depressed because after five years of reading Israeli newspapers, watching Israeli television and listening to Army Radio for six hours every day (in my car, at home on TV, in the office) I have discovered that I no longer believe in the two state [solution]. My friends have told me I've changed. I asked them, how? They said I stopped talking about 'two states for two peoples''. I hadn't noticed. In the fourth year, they asked me whether I believed in a two state solution, and I said, "It's impossible." After talking to my wife and my friends, I realized this is because of Israeli television and the Israeli news that I don't believe in the two-state solution. The media and television has such an effect on people and that's how I came to understand why the Israelis don't want a Palestinian state. Every day I listen to what the Israeli media has to say; I stopped dreaming because I found that it's impossible. My friends got very angry, because they know that I had believed in two states for two peoples. I said to them, "It's impossible. You are dreaming." When they asked what was wrong with me I said, "MK Arieh Eldad said this, and MK Effie Eitam said that, and Jabotinsky said so and so; in his book Netanyahu said this and Menachem Begin said that..." They said, "What has that got to do with it?" I say it's impossible this way. It makes my heart ache. I don't like knowing this; I want to keep dreaming.

  • So what do you want to have happen here? What is your vision?

    I don't know. I used to have a vision, but now I don't anymore. Is that a disgrace to say that I don't know? I really don't know. I wish I did, and then perhaps I would be able to explain things to my children. The hardest questions come from them. I have 13 year old twins. They say to me, "Dad, what about Israel?" I'm as silent as a mule. I can't explain things to them because it pains me. I don't know what to tell my son - whether he should carry on and build a family or stop; whether there is hope that the Israeli people will make decisions or the generals will continue to decide; whether Dan Halutz will decide or rather you will; or my friends in Israeli society, the journalists, will. I don't know. Sometimes I think that I have nothing to explain to my people. I hope that this will end quickly so that I will know what I myself think and what my people are looking for. After the Wall, I don't know... But I think that Qassam rockets will soon be in the West Bank. I see them as clearly as I see you. I see Qassam rockets falling on Kfar Saba, on the Knesset, on Tel Aviv, on Ben Gurion Airport and on Jerusalem; everywhere. I think the war hasn't really started yet. If you ask me who is capable of stopping or preventing it my answer would be Abu Mazen. I trust him, but I don't trust the situation. I am worried that he is sick and that he won't endure many months or many years.

  • Are you talking about his health?

    Yes, he is sick. I know he has heart problems. I think that we'll miss Abu Mazen a lot after he is gone. Maybe Israelis don't miss Arafat, but we miss him a lot because he was like a grandfather to us. I think there is nothing for me to explain. I have no answers to the difficult questions. I asked an Israeli journalist, a friend of mine, I said, "Listen, these things happened to me. Five years ago I believed every word, and I was optimistic. My eyes were merry and now you see me like this." He said to me, "Nasser, what you've been through is not easy. I remember coming to your office when there was shooting in Deheishe Refugee Camp; you were crying for those who died and crying for your children because they were throwing stones. This is not an easy thing to have happen to you and to live every moment and every day in a war. You are living this war, for five consecutive years you have been talking constantly of arms and enemies, of two sides who are enemies who want to kill themselves and each other." I said, "Well what do you suggest?" He told me to go abroad for two months and leave all this. I don't know whether this is a good idea or not. We all have to know and provide our children with some answers. If we don't have answers... I don't have answers. I am afraid that if I give my son an answer, if I justify my answer and he believes it and then the situation changes he'll think his father lied to him. I am not willing to let this happen. I don't want to tell him that there will be peace and then there not be peace. I tell my son, "There is war and there will be peace." I don't want to wager.

  • Can you talk a little about how you think a person can be a leader in this situation?

    They need to tell the truth and have the ability to make choices, choices between life and death, between past and future, between weapons and flowers, between their children and money. If you have the ability to make a decision - and not everyone can do this - and if you tell the truth without earning money off of the words you say, people will believe in you.

  • What is the truth for you?

    Look, there is no single, absolute truth but there is a difference between truth and the issues that we focus on here. All of us, Israeli and Palestinian media, discuss the issues but no one talks about  the truth; if they do talk about truth, they claim the truth belongs to them. It's funny because the Israeli and the Palestinian truths are different. If the Israelis want to live in peace and the Palestinians want to establish a state and seek peace, we must conduct negotiations with live coverage. It would take ten minutes this way—not the way Shimon Peres did it, in secret, covertly. In these negotiations, the head of the Israeli delegation would ask the Palestinian side, "Are you willing to stop the violence immediately, yes or no?" If they say yes, fine. Then the head of the Palestinian delegation would ask the Israeli, "Are you willing to withdraw to the borders of 1967 and for a Palestinian state to be established immediately?" If the answer is yes, then there will be peace. We don't need more than ten minutes for this. There is no need to travel to Luxemburg, Oslo or London! I don't know why they look for every corner of the world to carry out their talks. It needs to be out in the open. Yes or no? If the answer is yes, they should announce that they don't want more war and the Israeli and Palestinian people will understand this. It's their right to understand this. If the answer is no, perhaps people won't want to go on living here, maybe they'll prefer to pack up their children and go live somewhere else. They have a right to know.

  • Have you thought about leaving? Trying to live somewhere else?

    Many times, but I couldn't. I don't know why. I went to America, and I found that people in America love two things: money and food. I love neither, so I returned here right away. Really, they talk so much about money and food, and I don't like talking about money and food. I thought to myself, I prefer the Israeli occupation to money and food. I went to many places in Europe. You know, in my new book, Tel Aviv, a City without Secrets, I found that I don't like Tel Aviv. I like Damascus, I like Amman, and I like Baghdad (I visited there when I was a kid). I like Baghdad and I like Beirut, but I do not like Tel Aviv because in every corner they are on the lookout for me; put your hands up, pull down your pants, and I don't know why. There is no respect. In Baghdad there is respect, in Amman too. In every capital the countries in the region there is respect, except for Tel Aviv.

  • What do you think the roots of the conflict are?

    The West used the Israelis against us. The Jews are like us, miserable, waiting for life. Believe me, Israelis are not Europeans, they are like us. They have been used against us, and they have used us against them and they should understand that maybe one day another nation will be used against Israelis the way the Israelis have been used against us. Jews looked at death. Despite the violence they have experienced - dogs were used against them - now the Israeli army uses dogs against us. They put a mark on the clothes of every Jew in the camps. Now in Gush Katif and in the Knesset they are making the Palestinian workers wear a piece of fabric on their arms,1 like the Nazis did. Everything used against Jews they are doing to us. It was only 60 years ago, have they already forgotten? It happened to their children, their women, and their babies. Don't do this to us, it's forbidden. In the Torah it doesn't say to, neither does it say to do this in the Koran too. Sixty years is not that long.

    • 1Just Vision could not find information to support this claim.

  • But the Israeli army is not gassing the Palestinian people.

    That's true. But we can't be sure they won't. In times of conflict one says, this is war, right? I don't know for sure that Palestinian fighters won't use gas against the Israelis. One will tell others to do it and they will. 

  • You said the word peace has become a disappointment, why?

    I am looking for a new word. The word peace is like a whore, it belongs to everyone.  I am looking for my own word, a word for my people and also for the Israeli people. I don't hate the word peace, but I found that neither my people nor the Israeli people believe in it anymore. Take a walk down Dizengoff Street [in Tel Aviv] and ask people what peace is; they will laugh, argue, or burst into tears. Go to Amr Mukhtar Street in Gaza and say to people, "Good morning, what is peace?" They will laugh, cry, or argue. It is no longer a nice word; when people hear this word, they hear something that hurts; it denotes American-style peace, Oslo Accord peace. I am searching for a word, the way the word t'adia [Arabic], calm, is now used instead of ceasefire. People want new words, a new lexicon, so I must think of a new word instead. I think that if there is peace here, I will find this new word; I won't use the word peace, I don't want the same results.

  • Is there anything else you would like to say?

    I would like to say that, if I were Israeli I would think twice about the media because it's a shame, especially for the children's sake. It was difficult for me to translate from Hebrew to Arabic and figure out how to explain to my people the information the Israeli press publishes. It's hard and would have been easier to just talk about our heroes, then I would have been a hero too. The Israeli media must not continue this way; Israelis have to know what's going on. When they report that a terrorist was killed in Rafah, the Israelis need to know that he was 13 years old, that he had a backpack for school, that his name was Mohammad, and he is his mother's eldest son and that she cried and cried and cried. When a house is demolished it takes the bulldozer ten minutes yet it will take me ten years to put a stop to the cycle of vengeance. I will waste ten years telling people that we are not seeking revenge. Ten years work because of ten minutes. A house costs 35,000 dollars to build. People earn maybe 200 dollars a month; calculate how long it will take to make 35,000 dollars. It takes me ten years to convince these people, whose houses have been demolished, not to take action. I tell them that demolishing the house is wrong, but I also tell them, "Don't make this mistake and destroy your lives." In the end, Mofaz said, "We'll stop destroying houses." When? At the beginning of the intifada we said, don't destroy houses. We are not like the Israelis, we don't have other buildings. Destroying a house destroys a life. If the Palestinian people are given the choice between life and death, they will stop committing suicide operations but they need to see just one difference. I told my Israeli friend, a journalist, about the closures and he said that in Tel Aviv, people don't know what a closure is. I think there is no other choice: a closure should be imposed on Tel Aviv so that people there understand what it means. Give people the choice between life and death and they will choose life, I am certain.

  • When you report or translate an Israeli report of a suicide bombing, how does it impact your Palestinian audience - to hear about it from the perspective of the other side?

    They'll hear it from all of the Arab and Muslim media, who will tell about a hero, a martyr, who committed suicide in the center of Tel Aviv, and about a triumph over Israeli security. If they listen to my translation, they will hear a story and not figures. They won't just hear numbers - "Eighteen Israelis were killed in a suicide bombing at the Dolphinarium disco in Tel Aviv" - rather, they will hear that these are people who went dancing, they will hear about this pretty girl, and look at her photo. They'll get a story and it has an impact. We have a story, and they have a story. Let's listen, it won't hurt. End.