On Reporting from Palestine and Israel
Paul Jay interviews Lia Tarachansky, The Real News Middle East
correspondent. Tarachansky covers the political economy of the
occupation, while also focusing on international law and its applicability to
the conflict. Having grown up in an Israeli settlement in the heart of the
occupied West Bank, Tarachansky speaks about how denial of narrative
fuels a conflict where the two peoples, the Israelis and Palestinians,
become further segregated, physically, socially, and psychologically.
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Lia Tarachansky covered Israel and Palestine for The Real News Network for ten months last year, and she’s about to go back. Now joining us from Ottawa, about to get on an airplane for Israel and Palestine, is Lia Tarachansky. Thanks for joining us, Lia.
LIA TARACHANSKY: Thanks, Paul.
JAY: So most of our viewers have watched your material, I’m sure, with great interest, but they don’t know very much about you. So why don’t you just tell us a little bit about your background, and then how you came to doing journalism about the Middle East?
TARACHANSKY: I came to Israel in the 1991 immigration from the former Soviet Union, along with 1 million other Russians. And as part of that immigration, we were one of the biggest populations to move to the West Bank to settle in the growing settlements in the mid ’90s during the–what’s known as the Oslo years, the beginning of the peace negotiations. So I grew up on a settlement in the occupied West Bank, and about a decade ago we moved to Canada and started writing quite a bit. And then The Real News took me to Toronto and trained me in video production.
JAY: Now, I was with you in Israel a few months ago, and we went back to the settlement you grew up in. And there was a moment there where you looked out from between the houses and you saw a Palestinian village. Talk a bit about that moment.
TARACHANSKY: Sure. You had the great misfortune to capture me in one of the most emotionally charged moments I had. And the whole settlement is sort of like a giant amoeba resting on a huge hill. And we go to the highest point and we overlook it, and we just sort of said something along the lines of why don’t we do a quick throw and say, "I’m Lia Tarachansky, I work for The Real News," you know, "this is where I grew up"? And while we’re in the middle of doing this, you know, I stand up, and all of a sudden–I don’t know if you remember this, but the call to prayer starts. And I suddenly realize, as I’m looking in the camera and you were asking me all these questions, that it was the first time in my life that I was hearing this call to prayer. And so that started a very long process of thinking about how it is possible to grow up for years in the heart of the occupied Palestinian territories and never factor in that there are Palestinians everywhere. I mean, we grow up knowing that there’s The Enemy everywhere (capital T, capital E), but we never think of it as the people that make up The Enemy. So it’s not only a denial through politics; it’s such a deep psychological denial that we physically don’t see or don’t hear, or at least I didn’t, until [inaudible] gone back.
JAY: And just–again, so people get the geographic picture, it’s not that you couldn’t look up and see them. It’s as you said at the moment: it’s like they’re invisible. It’s not that they’re not there to be seen.
TARACHANSKY: Sure. And I think the same thing is true on the other side, because most Palestinians in the Palestinian territories have never seen an Israeli just exist. They’ve seen soldiers, some of them have seen settlers, but they’ve never seen, you know, like, a Jewish person or an Israeli person just go to the store or play in a kindergarten or, you know, buy groceries. They’ve never seen the normalized Israeli. So in their mind, as far as I understand from speaking to Palestinians, that is also an entire context that’s missing.
JAY: And part of that is because a lot of the settlements have these settler-only roads between settlements to get back and forth to Israel proper that Palestinians are not allowed to. So you could–I guess you could live in a settlement, travel on those roads, and as you’re saying, never meet a Palestinian directly that lived in villages right next to you.
TARACHANSKY: Sure. And, I mean, in Ariel during the Oslo years, before the whole system of Apartheid roads became really solidified, we had to travel through Palestinian villages to get to Israel proper. And, of course, the adults, you know, did it for ideological reasons, for economic reasons, for historical reasons, but for us who grew up in these settlements, you grow up and you never factor in the humanity of the other. And that’s very important if you’re going to produce a nation of people who are willing and happy to go and serve in the army.
JAY: I remember when we were there I asked you, why do people hate each other, and you said you don’t think it’s that we hate each other; it’s both sides are afraid of each other.
TARACHANSKY: There is such a disconnect between the human beings that it’s more fear of the other. And when you rationalize the entire conflict, you boil it down to its facts, right? We talk to people, and you just talk about the facts, you know, intransigence and the failure of the negotiations. And it always ends at these big things like, well, how can we trust them? So these big questions. So it’s not even about the facts at the end of the day; it’s about these big metaphysical questions that have no answer.
JAY: Now, you’re going back in just a couple of weeks. What are you going to focus on? What–in this next seven-month gig in Israel and Palestine, what are you going to be looking for?
TARACHANSKY: Well, part of my assignment is to establish a permanent presence for The Real News in the Middle East. So I will be speaking to and training and trying to find Palestinian and Israeli journalists to carry on coverage of Israel-Palestine when I’m no longer there. But my main focus all along has been–from previous stories and will continue now, is to focus not only on filling in the context of the conflict, so how we end up in the conflict, but also talking about who benefits from the conflict, who’s building the settlements and the wall, and what are the–who are the people and what are the corporations that really benefit from the conflict continuing.
JAY: Now, I think one of the things we’re going to try to do differently this year is produce more of the stories in Hebrew, and perhaps Arabic as well, and do translations, so people in the region can watch the stories. But just to end up, what do you hope for people in North America and Europe that are watching? And what do you hope they see through your eyes? And then, what do you hope people in the region may see through your eyes?
TARACHANSKY: First of all, of course, one of the things that we always fight for on The Real News is context, is understanding why things happen. And I find that even amongst the community of the people who are very engaged with the conflict and very involved, there’s very, very shallow understanding of why things happen. So that’s number one. But besides that, the main point of what I’m trying to get at is that this situation in the Middle East is not exceptional. The reason it started, the reason it continues, and the people who benefit from this conflict, it’s almost insulting how typical it is in the methods and in the interests that are served. So one of the things we try to show by focusing on political economy is that these conflicts continue because it’s in the interests of business. And, for example, one of the stories I’ll be focusing on when I get there is the privatization of the occupation. So one of the stories I did about a year ago talks about how the Israeli military is trying to make as much of this conflict automatic as possible to minimize the human contact between the soldiers and the people that they’re occupying, the Palestinians.
JAY: This was the story you did, I think, with–titled "Remote control occupation".
TARACHANSKY: With the Second Intifada over, Israel is changing its approach to the occupation through new technology. Israel’s annual military spending as a percentage of GDP outnumbers even that of the United States threefold, yet this figure does not even include the cost of the occupation, estimated at $9 billion a year. Most of Israel’s defence industry is owned by the government. However, Israel is looking to privatize the maintenance of the occupation and make it possible to maintain control remotely.
SHIR HEVER: The commanders of the army are the least interested in the boring minutia and details of controlling the checkpoints, controlling the daily lives of Palestinians. They’re much more excited about developing new offensive weapons, fancy aircraft, and that sort of thing. So they’re trying to find ways to save on manpower costs and to make the army, the military, more focused on actual fighting of wars. Occupation has changed the priorities of the Israeli military over years, and that was very apparent in 2006 in the war with Lebanon.
JAY: Thanks for joining us. And in the continuation of our interview with Lia, we’re going to talk more about the work she did over the last year when she was there and show you a little bit of it. Please join us again on The Real News Network.
End of Transcript
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