Why was The Salah Hamouri Case Absent in the French Media?

PNN/ France

Journalist Nadir Dendoune presented his new documentary “The Salah Hamouri case” this month in Paris. More than three years after the liberation of the Franco-Palestinian from the Israeli jail, the debate about media treatment of this case, which gathered at the first screening special journalists from the Middle East, remains valid.

Before a packed room of nearly 300 people, Nadir Dendoune indulges in confidence, as usual. “I am very pleased to finally present this film, it was a real hassle, two years of work!”. He jokes with his audience. Talking about media treatment of Salah Hamouri case is not an easy task.

The young Franco-Palestinian was jailed when he was 19 years old in Israeli jails for planning to assassinate Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a leader of Shas, Israel’s ultra-orthodox party, in 2005, and for being a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Overnight, he was arrested in Jerusalem and tried by a military court.

He pleaded guilty, in the hope of obtaining a lighter sentence, according to his lawyer.

After a three-year administrative detention, following the advice of his lawyer, Leah Tsemel, he accepted to plea bargain to avoid to 14-year sentence and was sentenced to 7 years by a military tribunal.

His mother, Denise, from Bourg-en-Bresse, hoped for the mediation of France in the matter, something that did not occur. “If he had been tried as a French citizen, he would have never been treated like this,” said his lawyer.

Hence the vital importance of the media and the involvement of politicians.

Despite repeated attempts, the creation of a support committee chaired by Jean-Claude Lefort, president until 2013 of the Association France Palestine Solidarité (AFPS), nothing was aired in France regarding his case. Until November 2009, when on France 2, the then president of the Union for a Popular Movement Jean-Francois Cope speaks about the political debate of the moment: the national identity, “Nicolas Sarkozy said he is going to get all the French in the world whatever they did or wherever they are, what about Salah Hamouri? French mother, a father of Palestinian and he is been in prison for four years for a crime of opinion and nobody talks about it!”. He shouted, visibly irritated. This is the starting point of the documentary for Nadir Dendoune.

Why this political and media silence on this matter? The question is asked in the documentary to French journalists, specialists in the Middle East, correspondents in Jerusalem or Ramallah. For Gwenaelle Lenoir, “Salah Hamouri was arrested and sentenced by a State regarded as democratic (…) he was sentenced, this means that he had actually done something. What is forgotten (…) and I think ignored, including in the newsroom, (is) that the Israeli system has two faces depending on the accused origins: Palestinian in the Occupied Territories or an Israeli. We are not judged by the same courts, “says the reporter who covered the region for 13 years. “And Salah Hamouri is an Arab. We take care less of Arabs in the French media, it’s true. Except when they join the extremist Islamic jihad in Syria,” she adds.

For his part, Benjamin Barthe, corresponding from Ramallah for Le Monde, said that the sacrosanct journalistic subjectivity does not exist: “We journalists, we write with a French background, inevitably with the past, in a corner of our memory the Shoah, as with the saga of the creation of Israel … It is the product of it, like it or not. (…) It is inevitable that there was a closure; I would say a familiarity with the history of Israel is greater than with the history of the Palestinians”. Dominique Vidal, journalist and historian, adds to the guilt of the media-political class:” France is one of the countries that participated, including at the level of the political authorities of the time, to the genocide of the Jews and that still weighs that today despite the time that has passed”.

Salah Hamouri has virtually made his entire seven-year sentence without any media or diplomatic “help”. He was released a few weeks before his official release, as part of the 1,000 prisoners released in exchange for the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas. The case of the Franco-Israeli is precisely paralleled with that of the Franco-Palestinian. “Gilad Shalit’s parents have been received by Nicolas Sarkozy, the press largely relayed his story and he even had his head on the pediment of the town hall of Paris! Yet he is a soldier, he decided to make war ” Nadir Dendoune affirmed, “It’s not black or white, there are questions about the media coverage of the area in France, and it should not be a taboo subject. I want to be able to discuss everything, ” he concluded, denouncing the censorship of some of his colleagues.

If the history of Salah Hamouri is told in details in the short documentary, he is absent, in image and sound. Only one photo of him appears, at the beginning and the end: “It was my aim and desire. As Salah has always been out of the media, I wanted to materialize this practice. We talk about him and his case but he remains absent, ” said, without further details, Nadir Dendoune.

One of the viewers did not fail to recall that the judicial war is not over for the student. A new petition is circulating on The Agence Française de Développement (AFD) site to expose his prohibition by “military order” to enter the West Bank for a period of six months, for “security reasons”. A fuzzy pattern that mainly prevents him from going back to Al Quds University in Ramallah, where he has exams in July and a law degree to get.

A new challenge for the Franco-Palestinian, whose case still interested very few of the French press. Nevertheless, Dominique Vidal is optimistic and believes that “the people’s general opinion is changing”.

“Freedom of expression is to be honest, especially after Charlie. You have to prove it now, “says Nadir Dendoune.

“The case Salah Hamouri” will be screened on May 28 at the opening of the 5th National Meeting of the free media and the resistance of journalism at Meymac, in Corrèze. Other projections are being programmed in Nevers on June 12 and Bourg-en-Bresse on November 7, the birthplace of Salah Hamouri.