|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
28 June - 4 July 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
The great debateSir- I have just returned from a visit to Atlanta, where I had been invited to attend the CNN World Report Forum. The annual event brings together around 400 reporters and heads of TV news departments from around the world. On our first day at the CNN Centre, as we were finishing breakfast, we were informed that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would be talking to us via satellite feed from Jerusalem. Minutes later, Sharon appeared on a huge screen and read his address to the delegates. He stated that two Israelis had died that morning and reiterated that the Israelis want peace. More than once in his short speech he referred to the Palestinians as terrorists.
The reporters were then urged by CNN's Mike Hanna to step up to the podium and ask Mr Sharon questions. The whole session was being aired live on CNN. Naturally, I had a few questions to ask Mr Sharon, so I was amongst the first to step forward. I introduced myself as representing Egyptian TV and, very calmly, reminded Mr Sharon that he had given us the figures for the Israeli casualties but had apparently forgotten the Palestinian casualties, who far outnumber the Israelis. I went on: "You claim you want peace, but since becoming prime minister, you've been bombarding them with mortars, artillery and F16s while they have only got stones to defend themselves." A nervous Mike Hanna interrupted me, urging me to state my question , so I asked: "What kind of peace can be achieved in such conditions?"
The cynical smile on Sharon's face had disappeared and was replaced by a frown. But more was yet to come. I quickly added: "You say you have no reservations on the Mitchell report but refuse to stop the building of settlements unless the violence first stops. Why must Israel put preconditions every time a possible peace initiative is in sight?" There was complete silence in the hall as the reporters waited for Sharon's response. For half a minute the Israeli leader could only manage a nervous cough. When he finally opened his mouth to speak he kept stuttering and simply accused me of repeating the "same lies that come from my region." I looked around and saw several of the delegates trying hard to suppress their laughter at such a ridiculous reply. Ted Turner, who had earlier been greeting me with "Hello, my Egyptian friend," had no trouble remembering my name after that morning.
Fortunately, I have not met with the same fate as Lebanese journalist Raghida Dergham, who has been indicted for high treason in her country for debating an Israeli Mossad operative in Washington. I call on my fellow journalists to carry out their obligations with conscience, express themselves freely and make the Arab viewpoint known whenever they get a chance to do so.
There in spiritSir- Sir- Maybe Puccini was amongst the 300,000 people lining the streets of Milan at Verdi's 1901 funeral procession. Surely Rossini and Donizetti were not: they died respectively in 1868 and 1848 ("In Verdi veritas," Al-Ahram Weekly, 21-27 June).
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