An Israeli journalist declared he was able to enter several cities in the Arab and Muslim world without revealing his identity in an attempt to convince authorities to lift the blockade imposed on Israeli journalists in the region.
Eldad Beck, who works as a correspondent for Israel’s daily Yedioth Aharonot, complained that restrictions are imposed on Israeli journalists in the region even though Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt and Jordan.
“This makes it very difficult for me and my colleagues to stay in Arab and Muslim countries long enough to cover events that take place there, whether they are political, economical, or even sports related,” he told the Israeli daily Haaretz.
Beck pointed out that there are several cities in the Arab and Muslim world that Israeli journalists are not familiar with because they are not allowed to get first-hand information about them. The most prominent of those are Dubai, Damascus, Tehran, Karachi, and Djakarta.
“Israeli journalists only get to know about the Middle East and the Muslim world through foreign press agencies, journalists from other countries, or even Hollywood movies.”
Hiding his true identity by using a foreign passport, Beck was succeeded in visiting Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Pakistan, and Afghanistan where he roamed unnoticed, strolling in marketplaces, visiting mosques, and hanging out in cafés.
“Although my name sounds Israeli, authorities in all the countries I visited only look at the nationality. In fact, many Israelis have other nationalities.”
Beck started publishing his account of the visits as serialized stories in Yedioth Aharonot. He then collected all the stories in a book entitled Behind the Border, released in October 2009.
“Through this book, I tried to shed light on what life is like for Israel’s neighbors. Israel lives in isolation and, therefore, Israelis have rigid stereotypes about other countries in the Middle East and they are not aware of who the real enemies of peace are.”
In addition to writing about the places he visited in each country, Beck also makes a survey of the newspapers published in Arab and Muslim countries from the early 1990s until the year in which the book was published.
He used Iraq to illustrate politically-biased journalism comparing papers issued during the rule of Saddam Hussein to the same papers after the 2003 American invasion. A substantial difference was detected especially as far as freedom of expression is concerned.
“In papers issued after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the press was critical of the government.”
Contrary to expectations that Iraq would turn into another Vietnam, Beck argued that the country has been witnessing remarkable progress.
Beck ends each chapter with a comparison between the past and present of each country.
Beck also discussed women and their role in the Araba and Muslim world. He recounted his visit to a Qatari university where most girls were veiled, yet pursuing the most sophisticated education.
He dedicated a considerable part of his book to his rounds in Tehran’s marketplaces and to the position of women in Pakistan.
In one of the chapters, he interviewed a girl from Islamabad who was hiding from her father after he threatened to kill her because her cousin raped her.
When asked about his impressions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Beck lashed out at the Muslim world for standing still while al-Qaeda is given free rein in both countries.
“If real reform and enlightenment campaigns are not launched and extremist religious ideologies are not stopped, the Muslim World will be directly responsible for its people’s suffering.”
Beck praised his country as “democratic” and called upon Tel Aviv to uphold the rights of Israeli journalists and insist on their right to full press coverage in Arab and Muslim countries.
“This will enable people in those countries to know Israel better and diffuse long held stereotypes. This would be of great help to the peace process.”
Beck blamed Arab-Israelis for the negative view the Middle East holds of Israel.
“They go to Arab and Muslim cities and convey an image of Israel that has nothing to do with reality.”
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).