Taking on the contentious issue of the relationship between Israel and Palestine, award-winning journalist Khaled Abu Toameh—Palestinian affairs producer for NBC and correspondent for the Jerusalem Post—spoke in Lerner Cinema Tuesday night in a discussion that oscillated between hope and pessimism.
The event, hosted by LionPAC, the Hasbara Fellowship, the Israel Alliance, Pro-Israel Progressives, and the Columbia University College Republicans, centered on discussion of why Toameh works for an Israeli paper, why the Israel-Palestine peace process isn't working, and what the future holds for Palestinians.
Toameh's father was Israeli, and his mother a Palestinian from the West Bank. He attended Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and began his journalism career as an affiliate with the Palestinian Liberation Organization. This background has afforded Toameh the ability to look at the bitter conflict between Israel and Palestine in a nuanced manner, he said.
"People ask, 'When did you become a Zionist Arab? What's your story?'" Toameh said. "I have no story. I'm a journalist. As a journalist, I have no problem working for any newspaper that provides me a platform and that doesn't interfere with my writing."
In his discussion Toameh refuted two major assumptions about the Israeli media: that it would censor Arab journalists and that Arab sources would not trust it.
"I've interviewed all the Hamas terrorists and leaders, and almost every Palestinian is open [to talking to the Israeli media], because this is the only way to get your message to the Israeli people," he said.
Toameh admitted that he does sometimes get angry when he picks up the paper in the morning and sees his articles, and people ask him, "What do these Jews do to your stories?" But, he said, the problem is often that his bosses edit too little.
"I'm not angry about that [censorship or over-editing]—they publish my stories with grammar and spelling mistakes!" he said, to laughter from the audience.
"We don't have a free media in Palestinian areas," Toameh said, resuming a serious tone. "The Israeli media is not 100 percent perfect, but everything is relative in that part of the world."
Later, Toameh shifted the topic to the peace process, which began with the Oslo Accords between Israeli president Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 1993. Toameh emphasized that he was not opposed to the process and believed in a two-state solution, in which Israelis and Palestinians would each get their own state.
Still, "Relations between Jews and Arabs have only deteriorated since the peace process began," Toameh said. "The idea of Oslo was not bad. The two-state solution is good, and ending military occupation is even better." But, he said, the Accords were fatally mishandled.
In recent years, he said, corruption in the Palestinian Leadership Organization—and its main faction, Fatah—has led Palestinians to turn to Hamas.
"This is not a power struggle between good guys and bad guys," Toameh said. "It is a struggle between bad guys and bad guys. I wish they were fighting over the future of the peace process, what is the best government for the Palestinians ... but they're only fighting over money and power."
And while Toameh mentioned many things the international community can do to improve the situation, he is not optimistic.
"It's not a very promising picture," he said. "We've raised an entire generation of Palestinians on glorification of martyrdom ... I don't see a moderate force emerging."