The Palestine Unlocked festival, which ran in Oxford throughout much of the month of June, showcased some famous names and faces, such as the Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert, who gave nightly reports on the casualty situation during last year’s bombardment of Gaza, and Mustapha Barghouti, a leading Palestinian spokesperson and advocate for using peaceful means, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, to end the military occupation.
But it was the story of a lesser known photojournalist from Nablus, Abed Qusini, as told by Katherine MacAlister through a front-page article in the Oxford Times Weekend, and in interview with BBC Oxford’s Kat Orman that arguably did most to get across the reality of daily life for Palestinians.
Abed, who came over at the invitation of the Oxford NUJ branch, talked about a community yearning for normality, the chance to lead an ordinary life, where people can go where they want, when the want, to do what they want, and be who they want, without fear or restriction. But he talked too about the dangers of working as a photojournalist in an occupied land; of seeing his closest friend and colleague targeted and shot in the head as they stood side by side; of his mother’s pleadings that he give up his work; and of why he decided he had to carry on documenting what is happening in his homeland – the good and the bad.
The wider question of how ‘news from Palestine’ is reported was discussed at a packed meeting chaired by Paddy Coulter, the former director of the Reuters Foundation Journalism Programme, with David Hearst, editor of Middle East Eye and former leader writer for the Guardian speaking alongside Abed Qusini.
It offered a rare opportunity to talk about the ‘other front line’ – the battles fought in editors’ offices and newsrooms over how stories about the Palestinians and their country are presented. David Hearst talked about his feeling that the Guardian’s editorial stance on Palestine had shifted when the paper focused its efforts on building its base among US readers, effectively narrowing the range of views that could get published. Abed Qusini talked about being part of a Reuters team that reports from both Palestinian and Israeli perspectives, and about his relation with the Israeli press – the liberal/left press sometimes use his photos because none of them have their own people reporting on Palestinian issues.
The presence of veteran reporters from the BBC World Service, The Times and the Financial Times added valuable historical insight to the discussion, and in particular on the way the BBC, at national level, seems to have ceded control over decisions about what constitutes balance when reporting on Israel/Palestine.
Journalists have a responsibility to tell stories from all sides using the same ethics and professionalism as they bring to all their other work, was the general conclusion. Our Oxford journalists did a great job in showing how it’s done.
The Oxford Times piece can be accessed here
The exhibition of Abed Qusini’s photos will be on display at the Friends Meeting House, 43 St Giles, Oxford between 10am and 5 pm until Friday June 26th
Our thanks to The Friends Meeting House for hosting the exhibition and meeting
Our thanks to the Oxford and District Trades Union Council for their generous donation towards the costs of the meeting and exhibition