By Sherine Tadros
This week a female journalist went to attend the Israeli prime minster’s annual speech to the foreign media at a Jerusalem hotel. She was stopped by Israeli security, taken to a room, body searched and told to take her bra off. It wasn’t the first time this had happened to her - but this time she decided she wasn’t taking it.
Najwan Simri, an Arab-Israeli reporter working for Al Jazeera, walked out of the building and complained about her treatment. Refusal to hand over her bra meant she was not allowed into the room where the PM was speaking. Her story was picked up by local and international media and spread through news and social networking sites within hours.
Most female (and many male) journalists have similar stories of Israeli "security procedures" - whether at press conferences, airports, checkpoints, crossing terminals, shopping malls, etc. Yet few of us officially complain. Much of the injustice we witness and report on working in the occupied territories is excused by Israeli authorities as being for "security" reasons – from the (ever deviating) route of the separation wall in the occupied West Bank to Israeli soldiers killing children collecting rubble along the Gaza border.
We don’t buy this justification easily. We prod and poke until we get to the truth. So why when it comes to our own harassment and humiliating experiences in the name of "security" do we accept it and shut up?
As female journalists working in this region we constantly find ourselves putting clothes on to please Hamas and taking them off to please the Israelis.
Not to compare the reasoning behind the two – the point is that most of the time we do what we have to do to get the job done. Does that make us hypocrites or pragmatists?
Maybe it’s that journalists here are faced with harder ethical questions and more important stories, so complaining about being strip searched does not figure high on our list of things to speak out about. Or maybe we are just worn out and know we’ll never beat the system so it’s easier to play along.
Either way by accepting this treatment we accept the nature of Israel as a military and security state – buying into the idea that it is constantly under attack and therefore is justified in doing everything and anything necessary to protect itself, including taking our bras, when in reality Israel has started its fair share of the wars its been involved in.
So I say well done Najwan, for – at least once – rejecting this notion and pointing out that underwire is not a threat to Israel’s national security.
Sherine Tadros reports from Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
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