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Guerrilla Journalism: Reporting from Palestine

SNA (Tokyo) — In Episode 3 of Guerrilla Journalism, we speak to Ibrahim Husseini, a Palestinian video journalist covering the Arab-Israeli Conflict and other issues from his base in East Jerusalem.


Michael Penn: Welcome to Episode 3 of Guerrilla Journalism, the show that takes you to the frontiers of the news media industry. Israel, Palestine, the Occupied Territories: it’s a small patch of land, but it produces more than its fair share of global news. But would you really want to be a freelance journalist there? Well, some people do. Our guest today is Ibrahim Husseini. He’s a freelance video journalist who works with AP and other news outlets. Here are excerpt from our interview. First of all, how do you get around out there? How do you put yourself in the spot where the news is happening?

Ibrahim Husseini: If the work is in Jerusalem and it’s walking distance, I carry my equipment and a lot of it is carrying my equipment. For example, going to the Old City or nearby. It’s easier than going by car because there’s a lot of traffic and where are you going to park the car and so on. If, of course, it’s in Ramallah or Bethlehem or somewhere else, then I take my car.

Michael Penn: What kind of special challenges are you facing to get started as a freelance video journalist out there?

Ibrahim Husseini: I’d say getting a press card isn’t the easiest thing from the Israelis. From the Palestinian side, it’s pretty much straightforward. A letter from the employer would suffice. From the Israelis, no. I had one press card because the AP helped me with that. Now, it has expired, so I am waiting to do an application one more time and I don’t know how long it will take.

Michael Penn: Isn’t it particularly difficult to cover a story, to cover a conflict where there’s such strong emotions on all sides?

Ibrahim Husseini: Covering the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis, there’s always this question of getting a balanced story. That means interviewing both Palestinians and Israelis and getting both perspectives. Of course this varies and this depends on which media you’re working with. Some certain media would like to have both sides of the stories. Others wouldn’t really insist or wouldn’t mind getting one side or the other.

Michael Penn: Are there any special considerations that you keep in mind when you’re out in the field filming?

Ibrahim Husseini: In a demonstration, we have to be very careful not to film the protestors because that may put them in danger. The police will track them. That’s a challenge. Many times, people will come to me and tell me, “Have you filmed us?” Sometimes aggressive, sometimes less aggressive. Again, it depends on the experience and how confident you are in the field. You have to know how to speak and how to act in this environment. In a particular situation, you know what to say, what not to say, what to ask, what not to ask.

Michael Penn: With so many different views, do you ever get challenged on the accuracy of the reports that you’ve been making from the field?

Ibrahim Husseini: I’ve learned from experience now to film what the Israeli police are doing because many times they will say, for example, that they haven’t used live ammunition and it turns out that they have used live ammunition and they will keep denying until you show them the tape. Look, this is a guy firing an M16, there’s no attachment for a rubber-coated bullet.

Michael Penn: Obviously, covering such a conflict means you’re putting yourself at some physical risk. Do you take any measures to try to reduce the amount of danger that you’re facing?

Ibrahim Husseini: I’ve taken one security risk assessment class a few years ago, but I also gained experience in the field, though sometimes I don’t really follow it. For example, let’s say you’re covering a protest where kids are throwing stones at the police. Many of the journalists will choose to be on the police side because the chances that they’ll get an incoming stone is low, while if you stay with the demonstrators, you’re going to get either a live round or a rubber-coated bullet and lose an eye or something. I find myself naturally drawn to be among the protestors, filming them from the back. Of course I will get the tear gas and so on. Sometimes I can’t get to the protestors side. It’s just because, logistically, it’s not possible. You’re in a zone that is hard to get to. It’s not very safe. Many times you will be in danger. Many times, it’s just luck that you’re not hit. A couple of years ago, there was a big protest here in East Jerusalem and I got a rubber bullet ricocheting and hitting my thigh. If it had hit my face, I would have been seriously injured.

Michael Penn: Generally speaking, how are the economic conditions of being a freelance journalist out there?

Ibrahim Husseini: Working as a journalist is barely paying the bills. I suspect many other journalists have different sources of income to help them live, unless you’re a big CNN correspondent or Al Jazeera correspondent and you make 7, 8, 10,000 dollars a month. If you’re doing a few pieces of radio here and a few pieces of print here and a few pieces for AP here, you’re not making a lot of money.

Michael Penn: Okay, so you’re facing the prospect of serious injury and you’re getting paid very badly for doing so. Why do you continue being a freelance journalist covering this conflict?

Ibrahim Husseini: I love being in the field. I love to speak to people, to know what’s going on. I couldn’t do anything else. I have a degree in business and I have no idea why I obtained this degree. Realizing now, I graduated with more than 144 credit hours. The extra hours were in history and political science. But I was just a boy back then when I was in college. I am very interested in the conflict and history. But more, I just like to know the story. I don’t want to be in an office pushing papers. Sure it’s dangerous, but it’s exciting. I think it’s an important thing to tell the story—whether from an Israeli perspective or a Palestinian perspective.

Michael Penn: News gathering seems to be becoming an increasingly dangerous profession for freelancers in particular. Budget cuts mean that people are often operating alone and without optimal equipment. This means that the news which we’re getting in our newspapers and online is often coming from people who are taking substantial physical risks on behalf of all of us in order to cover the global story.

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