What are we to make of the following quotation?
“I feel like I’m not a human being — we are serving the occupation,” said Mr. Jalaita, 47, a father of five, two of them university students. “I am forced to work here because I have a house, I have a family. Tomorrow, if there is another place to work, if there is work in Palestine, I will do it.”
So says Hassan Jalaita, a 47 year old Palestinian who works in Mishor Adumim, in the disputed territories. He is quoted in the New York Times, and his quotation frames the entire article. Even the headline “In West Bank Settlements, Israeli Jobs are Double-Edged Sword” gives credibility to his words.
Maybe this is his honest opinion. Could be that he dreams of working for a Palestinian company.
However, having spoken off-the-record with Palestinians who work in Israeli settlements, I can tell you that the workers I interviewed:
- Have no desire to work for Palestinian companies where pay, workers’ rights, and safety policies are inferior to what they find with Israeli companies (including those in the territories) and
- Will never speak to a journalist and say this because they fear that they will get a visit from the Palestinian Authority for contradicting the official narrative. For the same reason, they asked that I not use their names.
The Palestinian Authority operates as an undemocratic dictatorship. Mahmoud Abbas’ elected term expired years ago, and yet no elections are even being spoken of. There is no freedom of speech. The PA police operate with impunity, and those deemed enemies of the regime are dealt with harshly.
Would a quotation by a resident of North Korea, Syria, or Iran be treated as the honest opinion of a man-in-the-street?
So maybe the Times should have realized that the quotation may reflect how the worker wants (and needs) to be depicted publicly more than an objective observation.
In situations where free, protected speech is not a given, journalists should think twice before publishing direct quotations.