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2 Gulf journalists describe harassment they faced for backing peace with Israel

In webinar, editor of UAE newspaper, head of Bahraini journalists’ association say they faced blowback for taking part in online forum with Israelis last month

A screen capture from a webinar hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on October 2, 2020. (Screen capture: YouTube)
A screen capture from a webinar hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on October 2, 2020. (Screen capture: YouTube)

A pair of journalists from the UAE and Bahrain said Friday they have faced vicious criticism, including from Palestinians, for taking part in an unprecedented online forum last month that brought together more than a dozen Arab media people and Israeli journalists and government officials. One said she was called “an enemy of humanity” for participating in the event.

The September 21 video conference, which focused on the role of the media in promoting peace in the Middle East, came on the heels of Israel’s agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to normalize diplomatic ties. Along with participants from the UAE and Bahrain, citizens of Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Algeria — where any action seen as “normalizing” ties with Israel is still considered a crime — also took part.

“Starting just last week, when we participated in a public gathering with Israelis… as a result we found ourselves being attacked and targeted and stamped and branded as normalizers,” Mohamed Al Hammadi, the editor of the UAE-based Alroeya newspaper, said during a webinar hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“As you all know, that word, ‘normalizer,’ has a very, very negative connotation in our region,” he added.

Ahdeya Ahmed Al-Sayed of Bahrain, who also took part in the video conference, said it was “deeply encouraging” to have had a statement from President Reuven Rivlin read during that meeting. Rivlin invited all the participants to visit Israel.

“But after this meeting we were seriously attacked,” said Al-Sayed, who is the president of Bahrain’s journalists’ association.

She said the Palestinian journalists’ syndicate asked those who participated in the webinar to apologize.

“I got a text from the Palestinian journalists’ syndicate asking how would you feel to lose your own children,” she said. “[Critics] called us enemies of humanity. I feel threatened by that. By calling me an enemy of humanity it’s like putting a target on our heads because we expressed freely what we think about the peace agreement.”

Al-Sayed also said her name was published in a media outlet run by Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that controls the Gaza Strip.

“It is a direct threat when your name is published by a media entity of the Hamas leadership,” she said.

“We have been called many names but we continued because we believe we have a mission,” Al-Sayed added.

She also called for those who support peace and outreach to Israel to band together.

“The more we stand together in solidarity, the more we spotlight this behavior, the sooner we will bring an end to it,” she said of the harassment by those who oppose normalization.

Ahdeya Ahmed Al-Sayed speaks during a webinar hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on October 2, 2020. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Also taking part in the Washington Institute webinar were Saudi broadcaster Sukina Meshekhis and Sudanese journalist Ismail Sayyid Ahmad.

Meshekhis recalled the positive responses in the Arab world and in Israel to an article she wrote in 2018 calling to advance peace with the Jewish state.

“But after that, I was surprised to be threatened by a person in the workplace who said that if I continue writing that sort of thing I’ll lose my job,” she said.

Meshekhis said there was a “silent majority” who support peace but are afraid of speaking out.

“They’re afraid that they’ll lose their jobs or not be accepted in their workplaces,” she said.

Ismail Sayyid Ahmad speaks during a webinar hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on October 2, 2020. (Screen capture: YouTube)

In his remarks, Ahmad said he saw a shift in attitudes toward Israeli among younger Sudanese.

“They strive to break the barrier of the boycott for the sake of development in their country,” he said.

He said the issue of normalization with Israel is “so hotly discussed today” in Sudan, amid signals the country could move to establish ties with the Jewish state. He also asserted the influence of those opposed to normalization with Israel “is not as strong as it was in the past.”

After the UAE and Bahrain, Sudan is widely seen as one of the Arab countries that could next normalize relations with Israel.

On Friday, a senior Sudanese leader said that while Khartoum favors ties with Jerusalem, these would likely be short of normalization, in a sign of solidarity with the Palestinians.

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