Journalist Less Hostile to Israel after Learning Facts on the Ground

“No matter how socially unacceptable it was, I was willing to change my mind,” says a journalist who experienced the Israeli-Palestinian conflict firsthand. 

Former Huffington Post reporter Hunter Stuart grew up believing that “that Israel is unjustly bullying the Palestinians,” but changed his views about the conflict when he moved to Jerusalem in 2015 to report from there, he wrote in this week’s issue of The Jerusalem Report.

His views didn’t change right away. “I believe Israel should relinquish control of all of the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank [Judea and Samaria],” he wrote in a post shortly after moving into the Jerusalem neighborhood of Baka. “The occupation is an act of colonialism that only creates suffering, frustration, and despair for millions of Palestinians.”

Stuart regularly found himself getting into arguments. In one case, a roommate suggested that most Palestinians supported terror.  Stuart objected to the characterization. The roommate then showed him a 2013 Pew Research poll pointing to 62 percent support for terror among Palestinians. Furthermore, Stuart recalled, “the Palestinian territories were the only place in the Muslim world where a majority of citizens supported terrorism; everywhere else it was a minority ‒ from Lebanon and Egypt to Pakistan and Malaysia.”

While he refused to concede the point, “the statistic stuck with me,” Stuart wrote.

Soon after that incident, the so-called “knife intifada” began, sparked by charges that Israel was threatening Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. Stuart admitted that his initial reaction was to blame the Israelis for the violence, but the reality of the situation soon became much more real to him.

Taking Perspective Most News Outlets Wanted

One day, in the Arab neighborhood of Silwan, he was spotted by a number of Palestinian youth who started taunting him as “Yehudi,” or “Jew.” Noting that the group was approaching him “with a terrifying sparkle in their eyes,” he responded by saying that he wasn’t Jewish and that he “loved Palestine.” That stopped the group, but, he recounted, “the look in their eyes when they first saw me is something I’ll never forget.” An acquaintance, originally from Silwan, later told Stuart, “If you were Jewish, they probably would have killed you.”

After that incident, he admitted, “my attitude began to shift, probably because the violence was, for the first time, affecting me directly.”

While reporting on a terror attack soon afterward for the Jordanian news site al-Bawaba, Stuart “ended up writing a very sympathetic story about the killer… Writing about the attack with the detached analytical eye of a journalist, I was able to take the perspective that (I was fast learning) most news outlets wanted – that Israel was to blame for Palestinian violence."

He then learned that one of the people killed in the attack, peace activist, Richard Lakin, was a friend of a friend of his. “I felt horrible for having publicly glorified one of the murderers,” he wrote. His killers were paid 20,000 shekels ($5,300) to carry out the attack, and more than a year later, “you can still see their faces plaastered around east Jerusalem on posters hailing them as martyrs.”

Critical Treatment Israel Receives

Stuart went on to observe the uniquely critical treatment Israel received from the media, NGOs and European politicians:

“In almost any nation, when the police confront a terrorist in the act of killing people, they shoot him dead and human-rights groups don’t make a peep. This happens in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh; it happens in Germany and England and France and Spain, and it sure as hell happens in the US (see San Bernardino and the Orlando nightclub massacre, the Boston Marathon bombings and others). Did Amnesty International condemn Barack Obama or Abdel Fattah al-Sisi or Angela Merkel or François Hollande when their police forces killed a terrorist? Nope. But they made a point of condemning Israel,” he wrote.

The reason for this bias against Israel, Stuart wrote, is that it’s easier “to become outraged watching two radically different civilizations collide than it is watching Alawite Muslims kill Sunni Muslims in Syria, for example, because to a Western observer the difference between Alawite and Sunni is too subtle to fit into a compelling narrative that can be easily summarized on Facebook.”

“So, now, I don’t know what to think,” Stuart concluded.

“I’m squarely in the center of one of the most polarized issues in the world. I guess, at least, I can say that, no matter how socially unacceptable it was, I was willing to change my mind.”

Stuart is not the first journalist to have changed his mind about Israel after visiting the country. Zenobia Ravji explored her own, similar experience in the article, Yes, Many Journalists Choose Sides in a Conflict—and Often for the Worst Reasons, which was published in The Tower Magazine last year.

This article was shared with permission from United With Israel dated 2/20/17.