London’s Arab media ‘give a distorted view’

By Rachel Fletcher, May 2, 2008

Arab journalists in London have been criticised by a leading Israeli Arab activist for giving a distorted view of Israel.

Wafa Fahoum, who runs Israel’s oldest co-existence project, Bet Hagefen, spoke out after meeting the Muslim and Arab media in the capital last week.

She said: “One woman said, as though there were no debate, that there is apartheid in Israel. I was surprised. I told her that there was a big difference between fighting for equality and shared citizenship and apartheid. I want my rights, but it’s not apartheid.

“We want equality, compensation for the land we lost, dignified life, to see the Palestinian-Israeli conflict resolved.”

But she noted: “The Arab community does have less chances and opportunities because of the conflict. Their identities are complicated. They belong to Israel as citizens but their roots are Palestinian.”

Mrs Fahoum is known in Israel as a tough talker who will go to great lengths to improve relations between Jewish and Arab Israelis.

One of her major successes has been her work with security staff at Ben Gurion airport to improve their treatment of Arab passengers.

This was sparked after her then nine-year-old daughter was repeatedly questioned at the airport more often than her Jewish peers.

“I found it very frustrating. She travelled many times and had the same attitude displayed to her. Eventually, it got to the point where I had to change it.”

While not wishing to compromise security, she said: “I want to show the airport staff that not all Arabs are their enemies.” Now every new intake of security staff at the airport gets a briefing from her — and feedback suggests that things have improved as a result.

Her latest scheme is an education programme with the Israeli army, which she hopes will become part of basic training and produce “better soldiers, better human beings and better citizens”. The syllabus is likely to include a Palestinian history of Israel.

Mrs Fahoum, who was brought to London by Bicom, will join her 18-year-old son, Fahoum Fahoum, in marking Israel’s 60th anniversary: he has been selected to carry a torch at the Har Herzl celebrations.

“He will light a flame and give his belief, that we, Arabs and Jews, are here, so now let’s utilise our lives for the best.”

Last updated: 3:45pm, May 13 2008