ben-whiteBethlehem - PNN – this week at The Bethlehem Bible College the respected journalist and author Ben White gave an incredible talk and opened the floor to questions for at least an hour afterwards, talking at length on subjects drawn from his experience in the West Bank.

Particular highlights included his anecdotes of the increasing size of Har Homa, the Settlement aimed to separate Bethlehem from the rest of the West Bank, and his experiences of settlement activity around the Galilee and Nazereth, as well as the destruction he had seen earlier that day in the Jordan Valley.

The floor opened up for questions, including statements from two experienced activists, providing two of the most diametrically opposite statements regarding the Occupation.

The first warned that the battle to come would be fought in the ghettos and neighborhoods of a divided Palestinian State, cut off from allies by Israel's encroachment along the Jordan Valley and divided by the settlements. The second, a Free Gaza flotilla organiser, ended the entire question session with a real statement of hope at the passion and intelligence of the activists he saw sitting in the same room with him as well as in his tours of US campuses.

After the talk, PNN was rewarded with the opportunity to interview a tired yet unmistakably upbeat Ben White.

PNN: Right, so let's start at the beginning - how did you get into this (the Palestinian cause) and when did you decide to write a book about it? And, what where your goals for the book?

Ben: Well, the first time I came to Palestine was 2003 and then I started to come every year for a few months, or a couple of weeks more recently, at a time. The idea for the book came in 2008 and the intention there was to try and write a brief readable accessible guide for people as a way of introducing the nature of Israel's policies towards the Palestinian people over the last 60 years and in a way that would hopefully inform someone who didn't know too much about the conflict could pick it up and come away better informed about realities which often in the West people aren't aware of. Image

PNN: Ok, so how do you follow up on the writing? Do you want to spread your message at events like this, within Palestine, or in the UK or other countries as well... are you going to tour around?

Ben: Well, after the Book came out I've been able to speak in the UK quite a bit, as that's where I live, and i've also been able to do a tour of campuses in Canada and some different events in the States too in association with a number of groups, often student solidarity movements. This is the first time I've ever actually spoken at a public event in Palestine, obviously, given as I'm only here for a short amount of time, it's not usually something I can do a lot but I do value the communication aspect of my work and particularly in the UK where most of it happens the opportunities that come about to go to, let's say, a campus and talk about Palestine and a lot of the time you'll have people who attends events like that who are interested in a general sense, in the issue of Human Rights and International law and things like that, or current affairs, they'll hear things that they haven't been told by the mainstream media or in school and they'll be motivated to do something about what they've heard.

PNN: You mentioned Human rights and international law, were you approached by certain Politicians or media or academia as someone with your knowledge and ambition could be attractive for groups like that?

Ben: Well, I've participated in some events which occur in an academic context I don’t have an academic background, I have a BA degree but beyond that, I didn't get into the Middle East in an academic sense but sometimes I've participated in some conferences that hopefully I'll be able to bring some experience on the ground and perhaps perspective as a journalist working in the media. in terms of politicians, the groups that i ve done events with often have some kind of connections to Politicians. I launched my bokk actually in part of the Houses of Parliament complex and chaired by an MP so that can take place in the UK at least without too many problems

PNN: Has there been a response from Palestinian Politicians to your book?

Ben: The short answer to that one is no or at least not that I know of.

PNN: As a journalist, you must hang around the American Colony Hotel quite a bit. How do you react on a personal level to journalists, particularly American but also some Europeans, who do not write about everything that should be reported from this area?

Ben: Well actually I almost never go to the American Colony hotel as I'm doing something which is quite different. Obviously that is the hub for most of the global mainstream media. I was actually there today but that was only because I was going to meet up there with someone to go somewhere. From fairly early on in my visits to Palestine I realized that I wanted to do something that was, in a sense committed in terms of not making a distinction between writing on the one hand, describing things that are happening here and providing some kind of analysis as well as activism and I didn’t want to have to choose between or to make a distinction between those two which of course is different from most people's idea of a career in mainstream journalism so I went down an alternative path, albeit sometimes able to get articles in what people consider mainstream publications but very much wanting to be able to do political activism as well as things like reporting and promoting the book.

PNN: Ok, coming back to those mainstream publications... I'm not going to accuse you of anything but I noticed that you did not answer on one question... can you write what you want or do you get some guidelines for your work?

Ben: Normally if a publication is going to commission you then there's relatively little interference because they already know what kind of perspective you bring... sometimes though you'll write something and a publication will ask you to reconsider sometimes one word, sometimes a particular phrasing, sometimes for politically motivated reasons or they think that.. often its well intentioned, the editorial verdict will be that the choice of one word or a particular phrase will draw people's attention away from a point that you're trying to make and that whether that’s right or wrong that'll be their point of view and they will come to me and say that because that won't incite people or that won't prevent you from getting your main point across anyway so normally people who want to accept an article by me know the kind of things I'll write about so normally I can just write it.

PNN: Yes, like today you used words like "occupation forces" and "ethnic cleansing" and so on ... have Israelis commented you on the things you are writing about?

Ben: I've cropped up a couple of times in some Israeli media reports in English but again it's often related to my activist work or in context to the book ... let's say a high profile event with amnesty international in the UK ... there is a little bit of profile but nothing too much.

PNN: Ok, let's switch it up a bit to talk about Christian Zionism in the US ... I was told you were very interested in that subject. How come, and what are your perspectives on their lobbying approach?

Ben: The reason i'm interested in that is because I come from a church background and while the tradition i was raised in wasn't Christian Zionist in the sense it's traditionally understood, I had contact with and I was aware of that and once I had a better understanding of the role that that played in terms of providing support, particularly in the States, I wanted to address that, particularly as a Christian to be able to share with them my experiences, because many of these Christian Zionists suffer from the same problems as many Americans do, which is ignorance of what really happens here and live seen, myself, the impact of say coming to the west bank or listening to say Palestinians in the states giving talks and as soon as they hear a different perspective about what happens here then you see many changes in the way that they approach the conflict.

What they know is what they've been taught in the church or in a magazine or very theoretical things and it's not like they intrinsically hate the Palestinians or something but they just have never heard anything different and there is a very strong and growing movement with in churches in the uk, for sure, and also in the USA that actually emphasizes the Christian commitment to justice and promoting a vision that is shaped by biblical principles whereby you want a Palestinian and a Jew to have equal rights in the holy land without one dominating the other.

PNN: Perhaps one final question... do you get invited by churches in the US... do you go there proactively?

Ben: My capacity in the US is limited by commitments in the UK...i have spoken in a Christian context in the US a little but it's normally in groups that are more or less supportive of the Palestinian cause. In the UK I've been able to speak in situations where it is a contentious issue or where people are only just starting to grapple with it and I really enjoy that and actually a large part of my day to day work in the UK is co-coordinating a new initiative called "a just peace for Palestine" which is a charity called the Amos Trust which is a Church based Charity
PNN: Ok thank you very much, once again congratulations on your book.