When I first moved to the United States from the Middle East after working for numerous media outlets including Al Jazeera in Qatar, I managed to secure a phone interview with someone from CNN about a possible junior position. Before I'd opened my mouth to explain what I could offer, the woman who was interviewing me went on a tirade about CNN's objectivity, about how they "are not like Al Jazeera" and "cover both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." She voluntary offered this piece of information before she'd asked me anything. I fumbled and didn't know what to say. Why would she say that before asking me any other question about my skills, experience, etc.? Did she think that my ethnicity precludes me from neutral reporting? I never got the job.
This experience early in my American career life was an eye-opener. After this incident I mostly avoided the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while working for American media outlets. "It is a losing battle and a career killer," I kept telling myself. Instead I focused on covering media development, technology and other events in the Middle East.
During my working years in the nation's capital, wars between Israelis and Palestinians came and went, and I didn't fret. "There is nothing I can do," I kept telling myself, until this war happened. This war is different. This is the war on children, and I'm now a mom. So far, over 200 Palestinian children have been killed in this war. The images of these children while alive, displayed on the Web as part of an online project called Humanize Palestine, have been haunting me for weeks now. Many of the kids killed were preschoolers just like mine. In this online memorial you can see pictures of the dead children when they were living their lives to the fullest. There are pictures of some on the beach, and of others in the park. Others are seen smiling and running around. Their facial expressions and mischievous looks are jarringly similar to those of my kids. They could have been mine. I couldn't ignore this war anymore. It is the war on children.
My social-media interactions these days are mostly about the war. I have been sharing news items and engaging in mostly civil discussions with journalists and my followers. I even dared to write about the war for an American-based site, albeit from mostly a media-development perspective.
There is another reason I'm speaking out this time around. It is the fact that social media has changed the rules of the game, and those who have been silent before are speaking out, including celebrities such as Selena Gomez, Madonna, Zyan Malik of the British boy Band One Direction, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. If Javier Bardem can do it, why can't I?
Dare I say that discussing the Israeli-Palestinian issue (especially when you are a U.S.-based journalist of Arab origin) is no longer a taboo? Would people look beyond my ethnicity when discussing my objectivity? Maybe. After all, NBC kept its Arab-American correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin in Gaza after he was pulled back briefly following concerns about his objectivity.
I try to keep my neutrality as a journalist while discussing this war and mostly focus on the victims, the innocent children, in this case. Although I can't say the same about other veteran journalists like Bob Schieffer, who went on an on-air tirade blaming Hamas for the deaths of children and quoting Golda Meir, who said "Arabs" are forcing Israelis to kill children.
I will continue to highlight the stories of the children whose lives were cut short, who were brutally murdered when instead they should have been making sandcastles on the beach, climbing monkey bars at the playground, discussing superheroes with their cousins, and arguing with their parents about eating vegetables. I will continue to highlight the fact that at this age and time children are being killed in the hundreds and the perpetrators are just simply getting away with it.
I wonder: If I talked with the same CNN woman who interviewed me a decade ago, would she still lecture me about objectivity? Would she still feel that journalists from the Arab world could never be neutral, while at the same time never questioning the objectivity of CNN and other Western journalists like Bob Schieffer? Has the war on children changed her mind about what is considered neutral and what is considered biased?
I don't know, but children are dying, and we shouldn't stay silent. We need to cover the story as it is and let the audience judge for themselves.