Monday, 5 May 2003

Israeli journalist gets World Press Freedom prize

An extremely well-deserved award, as long as people like Amira Hass are allowed to speak their minds hope is not lost.

Israeli Jouranlist, Amira Hass, who for the last decade has been living and fearlessly writing stories from the Palestinian communities in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, was honoured with the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom prize at King's House on Friday.

Hailed as "a beacon in the field" and a "true role model for aspiring journalists", a teary-eyed Ms. Hass accepted her medal and the accompanying US$25,000 first prize, to sustained and thunderous applause.

The award, named after Colombian journalist Guillermo Cano, who was murdered in 1987 for daring to criticise the activities of his country's powerful drug lords, was created to honour the work of an individual, organisation or institution that has best defended freedom of expression anywhere in the world, especially in dangerous situations.

Speaking with The Sunday Gleaner afterwards, the soft-spoken Ms. Hass said she was touched by the recognition and was pleased that the work she has done in the occupied territories over the past decade has been well-received by the rest of the world.

"People in general are not truly aware of what takes place in these refugee camps in Gaza and other parts of the occupied territories," Ms. Hass said, her eyes revealing the pain of someone who has seen and experienced terror firsthand. "People do not begin to understand the system of control which is practised by Israel...to restrict the freedom and movement of Palestinians...to get them to surrender."

She noted that in her 12 years living in Palestine and working for one of Israel's most respected newspapers, Ha'aretz, she has come to have a better understanding of the daily plight of the Palestinian people.

"There are restrictions everywhere," she said."The roadways are manned...very difficult to cross...people at times have to wait for permits...the Palestinian communities are very much under siege."

The child of Holocaust survivors, Ms. Hass was born in Jerusalem in 1956 and studied history in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. After working as a teacher, she started her journalistic career in 1989 as a staff editor at Ha'aretz and began writing about the Palestinian territories in 1991.

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