Ayman Mohyeldin is a correspondent for Aljazeera English . He has been covering the Palestinian territories, specially Gaza for the past two years. Ayman and his colleague Sherine were the only international journalists in Gaza during the most recent Israeli war on Gaza.His reporting allowed the facts, images, and testimonies of the people speak loudly; as a result, more around the world came to know about the plight of the Palestinians. As I seek to be a Gaza-based English-language journalist, Ayman Mohyeldin has naturally become one of my role models.Today, I had the honor to interview Ayman and ask him about Gaza, journalism and future plans.
LFG: Two years reporting from Gaza, how can you wrap up your experience?
Ayamn Mohyeldin: Two years in Gaza have been extremely rewarding as a journalist and a human being, it’s been a very humbling experience. It’s been very moving; I have learnt a lot about the people of Gaza, about the politics of the region, about the resilience of human beings when they are put under very difficult situation by every measure of the word it has been an incredible experience, one which will stay with me forever for sure. Some of the best people I have known in my life I have met here in Gaza under very difficult circumstances.
LFG: You have spoken to many universities, how is Gaza perceived by different audience, especially in places where the mainstream controls information? Is there any shift of Gaza’s image in the minds of the people?
AM: unfortunately there still very negative misconception about the situation in Gaza. And unfortunately I don’t think that a lot of people who rely on Western media have a very good understanding of what the problem or what the crisis is, so there still a huge shortage of information and knowledge about the real situation on ground in Gaza for an audience in the West. There are people who sympathetic and there are people who are educated and aware, but I wouldn’t say that those who rely on the mainstream media understand the situation.
LFG: Many journalists covering the Palestinian Territories face Israeli polices extent to expulsion like Maan’s editor Jared Malsin, not to mention detention and interrogations, have you faced any difficulties during your coverage? And how journalists can defy these policies of censorship?
AM: In short, no I haven’t any kind of___. LFG interrupted: but you inhaled gas in one of the protests. AM: yeah, there’s the risk of the job which is always present, and you feel that every time you do anything really. But in terms of censorship, someone telling you can’t run a story or you can’t do the story, I have not come across any personal censorship of my own stories. But we do know that when you get accredited from the Israeli government, a press card, you do have to sign a censorship agreement . And that censorship agreement obviously which picks what you can and when you can report certain things that considered of national security interest to Israel. But that has not applied to me in my two years in Gaza.
LFG: Since you report about the other narrative, the Palestinian narrative, have you received any criticism of being pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist? And if you have , how do you counter these claims?
AM: Well, to be honest, I try to keep my reporting as factual as possible, so I think if some people may think that’s pro-Palestinian or in some places anti-Israeli or vice versa, pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian, the facts actually may produce that outcome, but in reality I don’t set out to be one way or the other. I am in Gaza, I am reporting on the plight of Gaza and what is reality is like of the people of the Gaza . I have never received any major complaints from either side about the reporting. I just let the facts, the pictures and the words speak for themselves.
LFG: How do you finish up a story where you can balance between your own feelings and the “objectivity” of bound by your job?
AM: I don’t necessarily think you have to remove yourself from the objectivity of the story. I don’t think that is necessarily in this deniage your insight and your context can be important to a story. I think sometimes there’s a misconception at being objective means that you give one minute to the Palestinian side and one minute for the Israeli side. And I think, unfortunately, that sometimes you can have two minutes of mistakes or bad information. Your job is really to take the information or the facts and try to analyze it and take information and process it and present it in a way that makes sense to the person you trying to share with. Of course, I have my own personal, political opinions and views, but when you are doing a story that’s concentrated around very specific subject, you just try to focus on that specific subject.
LFG: Gaza, we have scarcity in English-speaking journalists, how do you think we can develop our capacities in the absence of real support and training?
AM: I think yeah. But the most immediate way has become the internet which has decentralized or broken the exclusivity on who can write and what can be published; anyone with a camera and a web address can just write a blog. So, it’s important that Palestinians as much as they can and the people of Gaza do it, so they can document for themselves what their lives is like .And use whatever media platforms are literary available and accessible to them, So they can get the word out. So the first thing I would say is definitely the internet . The other thing I would say is education. The people in Gaza sometimes with all the challenges and the pressures they face can lose long term sight of how important it is to get your education. But it’s important to get educated and stay focused and improve their linguistic skills and think beyond current limitations. There is a great deal of media interest in Gaza and the region, so Palestinians can play an important role in shaping and communicating their massage to the outside world.
LFG: You have covered the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, what are the different challenges you face while covering these areas? Is Gaza the most challenging?
AM: All the three areas defiantly face a form of occupation in a different way. In the end of the day none of those areas have control or sovereignty over the piece of land that they are entitled to from their perspective, so they are not allowed to exercise sovereignty and free will over what they want to do. The difference is the way the control is applied. In the West Bank can be checkpoints and the permits, it can be raids, arrests, and detentions. In Gaza, there are no checkpoints inside, but you are confide to a specific area, you are subject to air strikes, attacks off the coast ,and electricity outages. So you controlled in some way slightly different manner. But I think there’s much more tangible humanitarian crisis as a result of the control that applied on the people here. In the West Bank and East Jerusalem the quality of life is slightly better ; there still a little bit of economic vibrancy there. There still a little bit of economic mobility for the people even though they struggle, but in the end of the day there is a very different humanitarian flavor to the catastrophe here in Gaza.
LFG: What’s next for Ayman? What future projects do you have?
AM: After Gaza I am probably going to go central Asia, I am going to report from Pakistan and Afghanistan and that areas. I hope I go back at some where there’s national reconciliation or elections.
LFG: what are your favorite places in Gaza? What do you do in your free time?
AM: The thing I have learnt about Gaza, it is not really where but who you are with. I have been to traditional coffee shops, and it has been the company of the people you are with that have been beautiful. Sometimes you are sitting on the coast, you have the most beautiful sunsets ,the beautiful view of the water and families on the beach. It’s really about the company more about where. I have come to appreciate and enjoy every part of Gaza.
There are many people who I would love to thank for helping me to get this interview done. On the top of them Ayman Mohyeldin who made some time for this interview. My brother Sharif H who came with me. And Ehab for his advice and Pawa for assessing the questions.