The Daily Life of Kawther Salam
..: The King of Jerusalem :..
October 14, 2007
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The following speech was delivered in a slightly different form under the title "The Internet in the Mediterranean Region: Building A Bridge for Peace and Human Rights" at the 2nd Conference of Women Journalists and Communicators of the Mediterranean which took place at the localities of the European Institute of the Mediterranean in Barcelona on October 5 and 6, 2007 under the sponsorship of the Government of Catalunya, the City Council of Barcelona, the Association of Journalist Women of Catalunya, and the International Network of Women Journalists and Communicators.
In my speech I explore the possibilities and impossibilities for attaining respect for the human rights and a lasting peaceful coexistence in the Mediterranean region. I also remind the audience that the Royal House of Spain still reclaims the title to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and that King Juan Carlos in fact uses this title. The historical Kingdom of Jerusalem corresponds in its geographic extension grossly to what is today Palestine. Does this mean the we Palestinians are the subjects of the Royal House of Spain ? Does this mean that His Majesty Juan Carlos de Borbón is responsible for the safety and well-being of all Palestinians ?
In the absence of the will or the ability by any other power to implement peaceful and just conditions of living in my country, the question is more practical than legalistic, rhetoric or theoretic, and it arises from an urgent humanitarian concern: Palestinians are subject to measures of genocide and ethnic cleansing since over 60 years - the first recorded episodes of violence by jewish squatters from Europe even date back to the 1880's - and the world has looked away ever since then. Today, what is left of Palestine has been converted into two giant extermination camps by Israel, with the full knowledge of all governments of the world. When certain European politicians decided to share in the laughter about the "diet" to which Gaza would be put by Israel is well remembered. This clear measure of genocide must stop immediately, and who better to ask for a clear first step in this direction than His Majesty Juan Carlos, who claims the title of King of the very geography where these atrocities are being implemented ?
1- Before I start my brief, let me express my thanks to the Government of Austria for giving me political asylum and for their hospitality, to Montserrat Minobis of the International Network of Journalist Women and Communicators of Catalonia, to Maria Àngeles Roque, Director of the Magazine "Quaderns de la Mediterrània", to the European Institute of the Mediterranean, to the Association of Journalist Women of Catalonia, as well as to the Office for the Peace and the Catalonian Institute for the Women of the Generalitat de Catalunya, and, finally, to the City Council of Barcelona, who organized this conference and gently invited me to share with you my experience in the field of human rights on Internet. I also want to express my gratitude to the Major of Barcelona, Jordi Hereu, who recently expressed his solidarity with Gaza in the name of Catalonia. A special mention of gratitude goes to Tona Gusi, who convinced me to come once more to Barcelona.
2- I dedicate this speech to the memory of Anna Lindh, a brave European woman who probably had to die because she decided that Europe could no longer support the injustice against us Palestinians, after she saw the atrocities committed by Israel in Jenin in the year 2002. Anna Lindh was assassinated on September 11, 2003, by the crazy loner who appears under different names and at different times and places, but with the single purpose dictated to him by his "inner voices" each time when certain interests feel threatened by the imposition of peace and the respect to human rights somewhere in the world.
Journalism under the Occupation: Censorship from all Sides
4- Since the beginnings of my career as a journalist I worked for different Palestinian newspapers and TV stations. Most of times these were owned or directed by persons who were themselves from outside of Palestine, or who worked for organizations from abroad. It was never clear if these newspapers were private property, or owned by a government or other organizations. In 1994, I started working for the daily newspaper Al-Quds, which is owned since 1951 by Mahmoud Abu Al-Zulof, a rich Palestinian from Jerusalem, and his children. I lost my work with Al-Quds two years later, in 1996, after I reported in the English weekly "Jerusalem Times" about sexual abuses against women. Mr. Abu Al-Zulof said that I had "trespassed all the limits of journalistic freedom" and that I had "offended myself and his newspaper" because of my report in the Jerusalem Times.
5- Under the Israeli occupation, the Palestinian media was and is censored by the Israeli military censorship, which controls everything that is published in our daily newspapers, including even advertisement. But after the foundation of the Palestinian Authority, things became even worse: the Palestinian media was now controlled by four censorships: The Palestinian Ministry of Information, the editors-in-chief at the Palestinian newspapers, the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), and the Israeli military DCL offices which exist in the Palestinian cities and towns.
6- Under the PA we were allowed to report about the violations of human rights under the Israeli occupation, but we were not allowed to report about the violations of human rights committed by the Palestinian Authority itself. We were not allowed to report about the corruption in the PA, or about sexual abuses against women and children, or about the many cases of incest, about the honor killings, about the many cases of women killed because of inheritance fights, and about the violence against women inside the family. These issues never found their way to the Palestinian media under the PA.
7- Any mention of violence against women was off-limits: former President Arafat once gave orders to confiscate all copies of a monthly magazine from every shop in Ramallah one hour after its appearance, because the magazine had reported about cases of sexual abuse of PA workers in the offices of the Palestinian National TV. An official from the office of former president Arafat threatened me that "the blue flies will never find your body" if I reported about certain cases of sexual abuse in the PA itself.
8- The Israelis on their part were allergic to any reports about the crimes and atrocities committed by the IDF and the colonists: Daniel Seaman, director of the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), conditioned my Press Card (as well as that of all other journalists) to how I reported about the Jewish colonists in Hebron. But reporting about the PA was allowed and even desirable if it made them look bad. These were my working conditions in the Palestinian media.
The Internet: Journalistic Freedom at a Heavy Price
9- In October of 2001 I found my way to the Internet through Israeli friends, peace activists, who suggested that I write my diary on their Website. The problems, restrictions and difficulties which were imposed by the Israeli occupation and the PA on the media totally disappeared since then. But the advantages of publishing without submitting to the censorship came at a high personal price: the very fact that I started posting my diaries on the Internet was one of the reasons why the Israeli occupation rescinded my Press Card and expelled me from my homeland in Hebron. By disregarding the censors, I had challenged them directly, and I have suffered the consequences.
10- Since those simple beginnings many years have passed, and I have collected experience in using the Internet to write about human rights. I now have a website with a growing international audience, and in the meantime I am posting reference material and documentation in addition to the articles which I write. The work involved in keeping a political website is not different from that done in traditional media: it is a full-time job which involves research, documentation, writing, editorial work, but it also means taking care of the technical details and post-publishing issues like reading and responding to emails, and moderating user comments. Where this work IS different is that I do not receive a salary for doing it.
11- These are important consideration for anybody thinking about starting a political website or a Blog: Writing is a full-time job, and keeping up anything beyond a simple Blog in one of the many free platforms means that there will be costs involved. The biggest challenge for any person who intends to write about political issues on the Internet, directly after dealing with censorship and other forms of suppression, is not only to cover the costs of one's Internet site, but to cover one's living expenses as well. In other words, to generate one's own salary.
12- If one does not have a stable situation, or friends or family who support one's activities, there are few alternatives: to run advertisement is often not viable for sites with a limited readership, and a finding sponsor is difficult. And, both advertisers and sponsors, when one has the luck to find them, often mean that one must accept compromises. Every political writer on the Internet knows when she can accept compromises and when not. The cost of accepting compromises in what one writes is credibility. The commercial media are the best example of what happens to journalists and journalism when too many compromises are accepted.
13- The WWW and other convergent media have become increasingly important, not only in bringing information about human rights issues to interested audiences, be they individuals, organizations or governments, but it has become an indispensable tool of research, it offers the fastest way to communicate with others with similar interests. Since I started writing on the Internet, I have often been invited to speak about the Palestinian issue, I have found many supporters (and some detractors) from all over the world, many of my articles are copied or linked to, in some cases by thousands of sites, and I have reason to think that one of my more recent articles had to do with the demise of a much-hated thug from the Abbas regime. Last but not least, my presence here today is also due to my Internet writings.
14- The risks of professional journalism are known. The important lessons from my work in the area of conflict, and probably from the activities of other journalists who work under similar conditions, is that tyrannic regimes hate it when their activities are made public, and that making these activities public causes change in their behaviour. Legitimate and democratic government exhibit similar behaviour.
Internet as a Bridge towards the Common History of our Region
15- In order to speak of the Internet as a bridge for Peace in the Mediterranean region, we must speak of the peoples who live around the Mediterranean, about the common historic past of all our countries, about the political and cultural conditions present in the region and in each one of the countries, and about the will and ability of the governments of all Mediterranean countries to implement change for the common good. Last but not least, if the Internet is to be a bridge for peace, it must be accessible to the wide masses in all countries around the Mediterranean, instead of just small elites, as is the case in the southern countries at the present time.
16- There has been interaction between all the peoples living around the Mediterranean since prehistoric times. The Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks and other historic civilizations used this sea for trade, migration, or for wars. The Romans spanned their empire around it and came to called it mare nostrum or our sea, today's Italians look so remarkably similar the people in my country because of the many slaves which the Roman empire imported from what then was the province of Siria Palestina.
17- In more recent times, 800 years of Arab rule have left an indelible mark in Spain, the many Christian crusades are still remembered in our countries, Napoleon (and others) found it necessary to invade Egypt, they left the French language there and brought back an important part of the exhibits in the Louvre, the English have meddled everywhere and still do so ... and as a result of this all, many have emigrated across this sea in search of better conditions of life.
Two Observations about our Common History, and a Contradiction
18- All this and more has had two results which can be observed today. The first result is the partition of the Mediterranean littoral in two blocks, north and south: to the north, between Greece and Spain, are the comparatively rich countries which are today in the EU, which enjoy democratic rule, freedom of speech, education and relative prosperity; to the south, the less fortunate countries in the half-moon between Turkey and Morocco, which can be characterized as being ruled by regimes colored in various shades of disregard for basic human rights, the extremes being Turkey on the one side, which now appears to be attempting to better its image after decades of repression against the politically and racially undesirable, and Israel, which can only be characterized as being ruled by a succession of incorrigibly criminal regimes. Between these two extremes, as many shades of respect for the law exist as countries are in the region.
19- The second, and in my eyes more important result of the history of our region, is that the historic events have contributed towards creating a relatively homogeneous culture in all littorals around our sea: we the peoples who live around the Mediterranean have developed similar cultures, which are based on making life worth living in simple ways, respect for our neighbours and being welcoming to foreigners. We can be said to be industrious and enterprising as a rule, we have traditions based on agriculture and the commerce with its products. If we had a common currency, it would probably be the olive. This is our common cultural heritage.
20- Two question arise: how do we understand this contradiction, that on the one hand our common history has given us enough common ground for peace and prosperity, but that on the other hand this obvious split in two politically different regions exists ? And how do we reconcile this contradiction ? The answer to these two questions is simple enough: we must learn about our common history, not only about the history of our own countries, but also about each other. We must investigate who gains by keeping us apart and foreign to each other, and we must learn what brings us together.
21- And this brings us back to the Internet. We can use the Internet as a bridge for peace and human rights in the Mediterranean if we use it to learn about our common past and about each other. If we use it to tell each other about the good things about us, but also to tell about our problems in a sincere way and to tell the truth about those who suppress our heritage for their own purposes and engage in building a wall of separation between the peoples around the Mediterranean, we will be laying the foundations for a common culture and better understanding between the peoples of our region. The Internet is a great and indispensable tool for communicating and researching information, but this does not mean that by itself it will bridge our differences. If we want to use it as a bridge towards a common future, we must be careful also to protect it from the hindrances towards this role.
Censorship, those who need it, and how to confront them
22- Censorship in all its forms is heavy in the countries on the southern half-moon of the Mediterranean. I and others know that speaking the truth carries grave dangers for life and liberty in these countries. But the tendencies towards censorship are also present in the countries of Europe, because truth always endangers the powerful, no matter where. Other hindrances towards a peace-supporting role of the Internet in our region is the possibility of access by the people, what I already mentioned. As part of the censorship in our countries, access to the Internet is not only restricted by economic factors, but it is under heavy surveillance and censorship itself.
23- One example from my own experience has to do with an article about Israeli atrocities in Beit Hanoun, which I published last November. Many pictures from Palestine reach the Internet, but these particular pictures made the true dimension of the crimes of Israel clear, and they reached enough people to become an embarrassment. After it was found out that the person who had provided me with the information and pictures which I used in that article had used an Internet Cafe in Gaza to contact me, many Internet Cafes in Gaza were destroyed by Israeli infiltrators posing as "radical militant Islamists".
24- My most important message to all those who write about the political issues of their countries on the Internet, is to continue writing. To be scared is natural and human, and they live of this fear. But the only possible answer to their bullying is to expose each one of their attempts at scaring us, and to expose them and their crimes even more. Disdain for human rights, corruption, violence against women, ethnic cleansing and other crimes of the regimes in our countries, as well as the support for the activities of these regimes by certain European elites are, without exception, crimes against written laws and against the law which is the universal human morality. We are never wrong by exposing these crimes and those who perpetrate them. In this way, each time when we don't back down, we will have contributed one more stone for a bridge to unite the Mediterranean in peace.
The King(dom) of Jerusalem, the Common Heritage of Spain and Palestine
25- I will refer to an episode from the common heritage of Spain and Palestine to end my speech today. This is a heritage from past times, when political conditions and the understanding of the rights and duties of a regent in our region were different from today. This inheritance has the potential to place the foundation for a bridge of understanding between our peoples.
26- Because of this heritage, His Majesty Don Juan Carlos is not only the King of Spain, but among his many other titles he carries the inherited title of King of Jerusalem. The right of the Royal House of Spain to this title has been confirmed by historians. Today, the city of Jerusalem is supposed to be the capital of all Palestinians, and of the Israelis as well. Because of this, because of the geographic boundaries of the ancient kingdom of Jerusalem, and because even a honorary Kingdom has subjects, we Palestinians can regard ourselves as the subjects of the King of Jerusalem, His Majesty Don Juan Carlos.
27- If His Majesty is willing to recognize us as the subjects of his Kingdom of Jerusalem, if the full weight of the words and the will of His Majesty is behind this title, then I respectfully ask that His Majesty use his political influence to protect us from the criminals who accost us every day, to pressure Israel to respect international humanitarian laws and to stop this genocide. Because we are not allowed to have a government which is able or willing to protect us, and because we are viewed as sub-humans undeserving of any consideration by the invaders, I respectfully ask that His Majesty allow all Palestinians who are victims of grave injustices caused by the criminality of Israel, to seek and obtain just and ample redress for our grievances in the civil and criminal courts of justice of Spain, his other Kingdom. I am confident that my words will reach the ear of the King.
Peace is still a Far Dream
Finally, I want to say that everybody around the Mediterranean wants to live in peace and justice, but, as things are now, true peace, or building a bridge to peace in the region, are far dreams. The injustice is too big in our region, and where injustice exists peace is impossible. While there is occupation anywhere around the Mediterranean, there will no peace. We must think seriously about how to put an immediate end to this occupation as a key to peace and justice in our region.
The governments who keep injustice in place, not only in our region but in all the world, are dominated by men. In order to change things we must use the Internet to bring about peaceful revolution by women, and we women must aspire to be part of all decision processes.
P.S.: Some pictures from my visit to Barcelona can be found here.
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