They are not Terrorists, They are Journalists – Jody Sabral
One month ago two foreign journalists were abducted in Syria and are still reported missing. Correspondent Bashar Fahmi, a Jordanian national of Palestinian origin, and Turkish cameraman Cuneyt Unal were working for the US government funded broadcaster Al-Hurra when they disappeared in the northwestern city of Aleppo on 20 August.
Reports about their abduction have been few and far between in the international media and yet Turkish journalists in Istanbul – where the two are based – continue to gather outside the Syrian consulate every week to demand their release under the banner ‘they are not terrorists, they are journalists’.
Little is known about the circumstances of their abduction and their current whereabouts. The only information that exists is a video that surfaced on Syrian state TV on August 27th showing an exhausted and bruised Cuneyt. Bashar however has not been seen since the disappearance and there was no mention of him in the video. The Syrian interior ministry denies any knowledge of his presence in Syria. He is reportedly injured, but to what extent we still don’t know. The two are believed to have been traveling in a car with the Japanese veteran war correspondent Mika Yamamoto who was killed while reporting.
In the video Cuneyt forcedly confesses to foreign fighters being present in Syria. The explanation produced under duress lists the ‘terrorists’ as being Libyan, Qatari, Turkish and Saudi Arabian and hints that Cuneyt himself is a member of such lawless gangs. This is a narrative that fits with the pro-Syrian state media – US ally Turkey is providing financial and logistical support to the Free Syrian Army which happens to be based on Turkish soil.
If the two were traveling together, why then have we heard nothing of Bashar? Is it because our worst fears are true and he has been seriously injured or that he simply doesn’t fit with the narrative being propagated by the Syrian government – the Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad has long held public views that are pro-Palestinian. In a youtube video that identified the body of Yamamoto, Capt. Ahmed Ghazali, a rebel fighter in the northern Syrian city of Azaz, also states that two other journalists were captured by Syrian government forces in Aleppo, including a reporter with Al-Hurra TV named « Bashar. »
Bashar had reported from inside Syria on a number of occasions since the start of the unrest and knew the dangers well, but his passion to tell the story of a people suffering drives his own desire to report, which is not surprising given his own family history. Bashar’s family were displaced in the Arab-Israel conflict of 1956. Originally from Jaffa, now effectively a suburb of Tel Aviv, his story is one of forced eviction from his homeland and a life under occupation.
On a trip to Jerusalem in 2010, I was fortunate enough to experience the unmatched hospitality of Palestinians who live under Israeli oppression and pay a visit to Bashar’s family home – a grand villa that stands proud above the idyllic Mediterranean coast. The building still wears the family name ‘Kadumi’ in the form of a plaque, but these days acts as residence to Jaffa’s Israeli tourism centre. And although his family still hold the deeds to the property they are not allowed within walking distance of the address.
Whatever the story is, the Syrian government must confirm their condition and immediately release Bashar and Cuneyt, two passionate hard-working journalists who were inside Syria reporting on the plight of a people living through a prolonged period of conflict. Cuneyt and Bashar are not terrorists, they are simply dedicated journalists who were doing their job and don’t deserve to become part of a state driven propaganda campaign in a conflict which is growing seemingly more and more brutal.