TEL AVIV - She can't stay out of trouble there, but Asmaa al-Ghoul always
comes back to Gaza.
A secular, feminist Palestinian journalist, al-Ghoul,
30, has been harassed by Hamas. She's also been beaten and arrested by Hamas
police for protesting its Islamist policies and suppression of human
But unlike most residents of the impoverished coastal strip where
Hamas reigns, al-Ghoul has been able to get out, traveling as far as South Korea
and spending considerable time in Europe in the course of her work. On Wednesday
she will be in New York to receive the Courage in Journalism Award from the
International Women’s Media Foundation.
Then she will return to Gaza
“I tried to stay in Europe and outside” Gaza, she told JTA in a
recent phone interview from Cairo. “In Gaza there are my son and my mom. At
least in Gaza I am near my home because all of my family is in Rafah,” the Gazan
refugee camp where she grew up.
Al-Ghoul began her career nine years ago
as a news reporter for the Al-Ayyam newspaper. But as she saw ongoing violations
of human and civil rights, she had trouble keeping her opinions to herself. In
2007, al-Ghoul published a piece criticizing her uncle, a Hamas leader, for
beating rival Fatah Party activists in their homes. In response, she received
Undeterred, al-Ghoul has since opposed Hamas in word and
deed. She attends weekly women’s protests in Gaza City advocating for Palestinan
unity between Hamas and Fatah, and has been arrested for walking with a man on a
beach and for riding a bicycle - both banned by Hamas. Unlike Gaza's many
religiously conservative women, al-Ghoul poses for pictures in a T-shirt and
jeans with her hair uncovered.
A vocal advocate of democratic reform in
Gaza, she says that Hamas’ repressive policies hinder the national aspirations
of Palestinians and peace with Israel. Al-Ghoul traveled to Cairo to support the
Arab Spring revolution there last year, and has been a continual promoter of a
Palestinian unity government.
Reporters Without Borders in its file on
the Palestinian territories says that “journalists condemning Hamas policy
remain targets for intimidation, assault, unfair arrest and abusive
“You cannot choose to be neutral all the time,” said
al-Ghoul, who now works for Lebanon’s Samir Kassir Foundation, which advocates
for media freedom. “I tried to be neutral and write about people, but then I
found myself as part of the scene, so I started to blog about the government and
about life in Gaza. In your blog you can be yourself.”
Although she is a
fierce advocate of women’s rights, some of al-Ghoul’s most vocal opponents are
religious Muslim women. She says that Gaza’s secular and Islamist camps both
have strong female contingents, and that “this is healthy, to see all these
voices in the same small area.”
But al-Ghoul’s criticism of Hamas does
not make her pro-Israel. She recalls watching her father being beaten by Israeli
soldiers in the first intifada, during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, as the
rest of the family hid in the bathroom.
“I was fasting and we were crying
a lot,” she said. “My mouth gets dry now when I remember that day.”
also is quite critical of the Israeli military's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza
during December 2008 and January 2009, in which 13 Israelis and approximately
1,400 Palestinians were killed.
Al-Ghoul says she eschews violence and
hopes one day to see peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
in peace,” she said. “I hate war, and as a writer I cannot deal with war and
revenge and blood. I don’t want to see people die again. Why should you hate the
other?” The daughter of an architecture professor, al-Ghoul remembers curling up
in a small room as a child reading whatever books she found on her father’s
shelf -- even if they were Islamist texts.
“My father used to behave with
me very liberally, discussing everything,” she said. Although al-Ghoul had both
brothers and sisters, she said her father “never made a difference between us.
He treated us the same.”
Now married with children of her own -- an
8-year-old boy and a baby girl -- al-Ghoul says she doesn’t have much time for
fun or relaxation, though she called spending time with her children “the most
beautiful time in the world.”
And though she is not a religious Muslim,
al-Ghoul says her faith in God has helped her through hard times.
have one God, so I believe in this God,” she said. “It’s very easy to be a
believer. You become strong and at the same time you will see
Ultimately, though, she looks to her writing to sustain
“I love to express myself,” she said. “To keep myself alive in this
situation, I should write more and more.”