Palestinian reporter breaks barriers by reporting in Hebrew on Israeli TV

Friday | April 28, 2023

Sitting at the oversized crescent desk on a set lit up by massive screens, smartly-suited Suleiman Maswadeh fits right in with his colleagues at Israel’s public broadcaster Kan 11.

However, it is apparent from Maswadeh’s name and extremely faint Hebrew accent that he is not frequently seen on Israeli television. He is one of the few Palestinian journalists who covers Israeli TV in Hebrew.

Maswadeh is not the first or the only Palestinian journalist covering Arab topics on Israeli television; there are others as well. Maswadeh, however, does not solely cover “Palestinian” stories. He recently received a promotion to political correspondent and anchor, and he is now moving from his homeland of Jerusalem to the Tel Aviv skyscrapers. At only 27 years old, he has accomplished all of this after speaking no Hebrew until recently.

Speaking to CNN from Kan’s Jerusalem studios, Maswadeh claimed that he currently lives in a state of tension between two worlds, experiencing continual internal conflict and occasionally struggling due to the demands of both his job as a reporter and the expectations of a society that doesn’t always support what he does.

“I was born into a Palestinian family and a Palestinian culture in East Jerusalem. I don’t feel embarrassed to identify as Palestinian. However, I also call Israel home and identify as Israeli in some respects, Maswadeh remarked. “I don’t know when people ask me, “Who are you? I simply state that I’m a journalist and that I’m from Jerusalem. And they are the two elements of my identity that are most crucial.

Maswadeh, a resident of Jerusalem’s Old City, is not an Israeli citizen. He is one of the numerous Palestinians who hold Jordanian passports but Israeli identity cards and residency, most of whom are from East Jerusalem. Maswadeh clarified that this passport is just a travel document that many Palestinians possess and does not confer Jordanian citizenship.

He was raised close to some of the most well-known and noteworthy locations in the world. He went to an all-boys, strict Islamic school in the Old City, and as a toddler, he played on the Temple Mount, also known to Jews as the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is the scene of frequent conflicts between Israeli police and Palestinian Muslims that frequently lead to more widespread strife.

East Jerusalem was taken from Jordan by Israel in a war in 1967, and it is now regarded, together with West Jerusalem, as a portion of Israel’s “undivided capital.” However, the majority of nations view Jerusalem as occupied territory, and the Palestinians want it to serve as the capital of their future state.

During the Second Intifada, or Palestinian revolt, in the early 2000s, when there were numerous suicide bombs and other attacks in Jerusalem, Maswadeh claims his initial interest in journalism began.

We were watching Israeli TV when we noticed the flames and the screams, but I couldn’t understand what was happening because I didn’t speak Hebrew. I was watching TV when I suddenly had the need to report from there, I want to do something,” Maswadeh said.

His journey toward journalism, however, was anything but simple. Maswadeh claimed he immediately discovered the largely Jewish servers who spoke Hebrew made better money because they would receive tips in the lobby where they could engage with the patrons while he was studying accounting at the Palestinian Birzeit University.

It’s better not to, you know, spend my years working for nothing, Maswadeh added, so I decided to drop out of education and go find job.

He was informed by a friend about a scholarship that would enable him to learn Hebrew in less than a year. He later changed colleges and enrolled in an Israeli university to study journalism. While there, he was offered an internship at Kan’s Arabic channel.

After a few months, he changed stations and began working as a field producer on the main Hebrew channel.

Arab affairs correspondent was his first on-air position.

“I abhorred that a lot. I’m not sure why, but I saw that all the Arab reporters in Israel—or at least the most of them—report on Arab society or something similar, and I didn’t like that, Maswadeh said. I asserted that I am capable of covering both Jews and Arabs, the police, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), and the prime minister’s office, just like any other Jewish journalist.

Maswadeh earned his name as a Jerusalem correspondent, covering confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians in East Jerusalem, police raids on Palestinian refugee camps, and Israeli politics. He has been a mainstay of recent coverage of the large-scale demonstrations against the planned overhaul of Israel’s judicial system, and he has even met with extreme right-wing figures in the country’s new administration, like National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who was previously found guilty of inciting racial hatred against Arabs and aiding terrorism.

Maswadeh claimed that although first believing that his history would prevent him from covering all of Jerusalem’s intricate, connected, and volatile areas, he now feels as though it has given him a new perspective on the city. According to Maswadeh, “When we have stories in East Jerusalem, actually the fact that I’ve come from there and people know me and people hear me, speak their language… has given me access as well.” “I approach the [Israeli] police officers, I tell them my narrative, and they recognize that I have knowledge of both Jewish and Arab society, which provides me access to police officers as well. As a result, even though I initially believed that being an Arab or reporting on Jerusalem as an Arab would limit me, the opposite was true.

Family pressure

However, one of his first significant stories as Jerusalem correspondent exposed what he calls a “constant dilemma” – covering instances where “something bad happened in my society.”

Maswadeh showed how the Al-Aqsa mosque was breaking Covid-19 rules in 2020. According to his testimony, worshippers were packed into the mosque, many—if not the majority—of whom were not wearing masks.

“I distinctly recall my grandfather calling to tell me that everyone there was talking to him and telling him that what his grandson did was a disgrace to the community. And I really ought to just quit my work now,” Maswadeh stated. “I told him, ‘it might be bad what I did, but I wouldn’t forgive myself if you died because your son prayed there and he came back and sat with you (at) dinner and infected you’.”

He claims that his family has continued to put pressure on him.

“My family has been pleading with me to quit my job every day that I attend a Friday dinner with them. Just let it be. We enjoy watching you on television because it makes us feel very proud, but you can’t continue doing this,” Maswadeh stated.

Maswadeh claimed that as a result of his employment, he frequently enters the field accompanied by security. He now only makes daytime visits to his parents.

He continued, “I receive threats from both sides [Israeli and Palestinian], but they come primarily from Palestinians who dislike the fact that I work for Israeli TV.

He claims that he informs his critics that by appearing on Israeli television and in the newsroom, he fills a void left by the absence of the Palestinian voice.

When I travel to the field, I occasionally get threats from individuals telling me that I must leave since I work for an occupying system. This is where you make things different, is how I respond to that. Maswadeh claimed, citing at least one police probe and the eventual suspension of multiple officers after he reported Israeli police harming a Palestinian child, “I can affect people’s lives.

Furthermore, he claims that by being there, he is demonstrating to Israelis that young Palestinians are capable of succeeding if given the chance and the resources.

As someone from East Jerusalem, the likelihood is that, at age 25, he will not be a reporter but rather a knife-wielding terrorist or, you know, someone who was cleaning this building. For me to be a journalist, I feel that I am sending a message to Jews that everyone can be like me if you give them a chance like I did as East Jerusalem residents.

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