As the world watched the first democratically elected Palestinian government implode in a three-day civil war last month, Hala Gores felt a personal stake in the outcome.
A Palestinian, Gores says she immigrated to Oregon with her family at age 10 to flee discrimination by the Israeli government. Gores, a 44-year-old Portland lawyer, has focused attention on her people's struggle as a member of the Portland-based Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights. Formed in 2000, the group lobbied The Oregonian to change its Middle East coverage.
The troubled region made bloody headlines recently when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, leader of Fatah—the largest Palestinian political faction—dismissed the government led by the militant Islamist group Hamas, which won elections last year. Hamas has seized the Gaza Strip, and Fatah controls the West Bank.
Gores, president of the newly formed Arab-American Cultural Center of Oregon, spoke with WW about Hamas' appeal, the pro-Israel lobby and The O's Mideast coverage.
WW: Has Hamas leadership been good for Palestine?
Hala Gores: George Bush and his neocons demanded that Palestinians have democratic elections. They didn't expect that the Palestinian people would overwhelmingly support Hamas. It came as a surprise to everybody, but it really should not have in light of corruption in Fatah—corruption supported by U.S. administrations. So Hamas comes in and they provide Palestinians with an alternative. They are not corrupt. They have provided social and welfare services for the Palestinian people. What violence have we seen since Hamas took over in Gaza? None.
You sound like a Hamas fan.
Absolutely not. As a secular individual I cannot support an organization that has religion so intertwined in its charter. I hope that in the creation of a Palestinian state in the future, there will be separation of church and state, unlike Israel, which is a theocracy.
Should the U.S. engage Hamas as a legitimate player?
Hamas is the democratically elected government in Gaza of the Palestinian people. It is hypocrisy at its worst if the Bush administration demands elections, but if the quote-unquote wrong people get elected we refuse to deal with them. We are starving the Palestinian population in Gaza.
But Hamas is a terrorist group.
We do that all over the world with all kinds of organizations. We support brutal dictators, we put them in power, we fund them. We fund Israel to the tune of $5 billion a year, and that money goes toward the bombing and shelling of Palestinian civilians.
Do you think Israel should exist?
It's kind of laughable to ask, because Israel does exist. Whether I think it has a right to exist means absolutely nothing. I want the two people to live together and have a just, lasting peace, with the right of return for the Palestinian refugees.
Are Palestinians incapable of self-rule, given the election results?
You have a people who have been ethnically cleansed, robbed of their homes, of their land, traumatized for more than 60 years. They are brutalized, unemployed and impoverished. They had two choices, Hamas or Fatah. Fatah is supported by the neocons and Israel. Fatah is corrupt. Hamas is not corrupt. What choice did we have?
You met with Oregonian editors in 2005. Did their coverage change?
They took the information we presented them, in black-and-white, and completely ignored it. The news wires is what they blamed. They didn't take any responsibility.
You say the media problem is nationwide. Some Palestinians ascribe the problem to Jewish media ownership. Do you?
I am always really nervous to talk to anybody about news ownership by any religious group. To prevent us from talking about the truth, all one has to do is label one an anti-Semite and the discussion stops there. I'm not saying that [Jewish media ownership] exists or doesn't exist. The focus is on why the news media tends to focus on one side of this conflict.
And why is that?
The Israeli lobby has been written up as the most powerful lobby in Washington, D.C. And there are certain newspapers, when they report a more balanced view of Israel, there is tremendous pressure put on them, financial and political, to stop that kind of reporting.
Gores' parents are Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox.
Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights reviewed 140 Oregonian articles from 2004 and found the daily reported 88 percent of Israeli deaths, compared with 63 percent of Palestinian deaths. It also found The O reported 100 percent of Israeli children's deaths but only 18 percent of Palestinian children's deaths.