Naela Khalil is a Palestinian journalist. In Beirut in June she was awarded the Samir Kassir Prize for Freedom of the Press, open to all journalists working around the Mediterranean. It is a European Commission prize created in honour of Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir, assassinated in 2005.
Euronews spoke to Naela Khalil during a trip she was making to Lebanon. Her first visit was to the offices of An Nahar, the daily newspaper where Samir Kassir worked alongside Gebrane Tueni, the former owner who was also murdered.
Tueni’s photo is prominent, and Khalil draws our attention to the slogans: “I admire Gebrane Tueni. He dreamed of a young editorial team that was political, qualified, and honest. It’s an impossible mixture. Politics cannot be honest, and politicians are always old. Still, all the same…it was beautiful.
He’s not here, but this is his office, where everything remains in place, his pens, his chair, the last paper he read…everything he owned is here. His body is gone, but his spirit can still be sensed.
He used to say when someone wields a gun, I wield my pen. And the power of his pen was far more efficient than any weapon. That’s why they killed him. We have to speak out, before its too late…I hope it’s not too late already.
You hear his words now in demonstrations throughout the Arab world. For us he is a truly extraordinary, outstanding man. There’ll never be anyone like him. I repeat, whether they are Egyptian, Lebanese, or Palestinian, a journalist is a journalist above all. As a journalist myself, that’s what counts the most for me.
In any case my name will always be linked with Samir Kassir’s. I will also be fearless, and live up to his standards. There will never be no-go areas for my work, or comfort zones.
The Palestinians are in a vice, between pressure from Israel on one side, and internal pressure on the other. It’s an extraordinary situation but I have to say that in Palestine there’s more freedom of expression than in the rest of the Arab world.
I was born and grew up in Balata refugee camp near Nablus, where I live today. All the way through school I wanted to be either a lawyer or journalist, to be able to support the world’s most ignored people, as I was one of them, the child of a refugee camp.”
There are seven boys and four girls in my family, pretty normal…in the refugee camps some families are bigger
Two of my brothers are in Israeli jails, Ahmed’s 22, he’s one of them…and there’s Ahmed Sanagrel , a martyr. He grew up with us, he’s like a brother. Mahmoud’s in prison as well. I know every detail of their lives. Neither of them ever left Nablus, never. This is because there’s an Israeli checkpoint, that would stop them.
They were born during the first intifada, and were teenagers for the second. When they were 15 they took part in the second intifada , and this is why Israel took action against them. They were wounded, and one was martyred. The two others are in jail. There’s no other choice. When you are a teenager in a refugee camp and you see your friend die in front of your eyes, you don’t have an alternative.
So when I see people younger than me pay the ultimate price, I say to myself that I’m doing nothing. I must do more. These young people give me the strength to get up in the morning and say I must work for these people.
So I go to work, I write about people in the towns and villages that no-one hears about.
They give me the will to work every day.
It’s a turning point in my life. This is the most important prize in the Arab world; its value is linked to the name of Samir Kassir. He’s a martyr of words, and it’s abnormal that a journalist should be murdered. It means he was doing his job properly. He got too close to the truth, so he was killed.
The value and prestige of the prize also come from the European Commission that created it. In one way or another the commission encourages young journalists to write and go a little bit further, into hitherto forbidden territory. Neither supporting the government, nor opposition. .
With this prize we know we’re heading in the right direction, in his direction. Against the conspiracy of silence, the cosy relationships and off-limits subjects. I must write, I must continue.”