Western hypocrisy: Khashoggi and Murtaja two deceased journalists but the world will only remember one

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 30/10/2018

Rushdi Sarraj [r], co-founder of Ain Media and Yaser Murtaja who was killed by an Israeli sniper in April

Yaser Murtaja was a Palestinian photojournalist who had gone to the Gaza fence with Israel to cover the second Friday of the Great Return March. He was killed by an IDF sniper on 7 April. There was modest coverage of his death coming on the second Friday of the Great Return March. The world was troubled by the deliberate targeting by highly trained Israeli snipers of Palestinian civilians who posed no threat, but Western governments were hesitant about criticising Israel for targeting men, women, children, medics and journalists. The young medic, Razan Al-Najjar was shot and killed weeks later while tending to the wounded at the Gaza fence. At the same time, Nikki Haley was plotting to scupper a UN Security Council resolution to protect Palestinian civilians.

In its most recent atrocity, Israel targeted and killed three children in Gaza. They identified as Khaled Bassam Mahmoud Abu Saeed, 14; Abdul Hameed Mohammed Abdul Aziz Abu Zaher, 13; and Mohammed Ibrahim Abdullah Al-Sutari, 13.

I did not know Yasir, Razan, Khaled, Abdul Hameed or Mohammed. However, their loss and the grief I felt when they died lives with me to this day. Why has the world not sanctioned Israel for killing them? Why does it get a pass when it violates basic human rights while other states are held to account?

OPINION: Israel’s war on photographers and their images

Reaction to their killings is in sharp contrast to the disappearance and then confirmed killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on 2 October, which has captured the world’s imagination. I have not met a single person who has not been aware of the story or who has not followed with absolute horror the sordid details emerging from sources in the Turkish government about his murder and the possible mutilation of his body. Calls for sanctions on Saudi Arabia have been widespread, ranging from ordinary citizens to governments.

I was fortunate to meet Jamal and to chair a session at Middle East Monitor’s conference on the Oslo Accords the Saturday before his return to Istanbul to complete some paperwork at the Saudi Consulate to enable him to marry his fiancee Hatice Cengiz. Never did I or any of us present imagine how events would unfold hours later.

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (R) at the Oslo25 Conference in London, on 29 September, 2018 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

There are many reasons for the coverage that Jamal’s murder received, which set him apart from other journalists that have been targeted for their writings or coverage of important world events including Syria, Iraq and Libya to name but a few. He was a loyal Saudi citizen who had been closely connected with the Royal family but one who felt his freedom to speak under the –effective- rule of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman had been curtailed. He was a columnist for the Washington Post.

Khashoggi’s murder pitted two major Muslim states – Saudi Arabia and Turkey – against each other. The murder was not carried out on the streets of Istanbul but inside a diplomatic mission. There were leaks and denials. There were different versions of what happened put out by Saudi Arabia which were at best inconsistent but which turned out to be lies. There was the theatre of Turkey’s President Erdogan’s widely advertised speech, which promised much detail but ended up a masterpiece of political prudence devoid of new information.  The fate of the Saudi Crown Prince and even the Saudi monarchy as we know it hangs in the balance.

To this day, Khashoggi’s body has not been recovered. Questions remain unanswered about who ordered the murder, how it was conducted, what has happened to the body and what actual evidence Turkey holds, leaving much room for speculation. Was Turkey eavesdropping on the Saudi Consulate and therefore was the actual murder recorded on audio or video?

READ: Details of the 11-minute audio recording of the torture and death of Khashoggi

Those are some of the reasons why Jamal’s murder has tantalised the world for the past couple of weeks and will do so as more details are leaked or if Turkey finally decides to make public its evidence, which may include identifying who in the Saudi hierarchy was the most senior person that ordered Khashoggi’s killing.

Western countries have started imposing sanctions on individuals suspected of being part of the murder squad, effectively cancelling visas they may hold, and calls for imposing an arms embargoon Saudi Arabia have been made, especially in Europe. While these have been balanced against the strategic importance of trade with Saudi Arabia, it is at least an indication that Western countries can act to pressure other states accused of committing crimes.

The world moved to impose sanctions on Russia and Iran, while history shows other countries faced sanctions, including Iraq and Libya.

However, it seems that the world is reluctant to sanction Israel whatever it does. In fact, many western countries justify its crimes as a necessary means of “self-defence”. There is no talk of imposing a two-way arms embargo on Israel. The Americans have not considered an end to the $3 billion annual military aid for killing Razan or Yaser. This would be moral, but also a saving for the American taxpayer who does not choose for the American Administration to fund a self-declared Apartheid state with half its overseas aid budget.

The world is right to be outraged by journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing and the manner in which it was carried out. It is right to ask for the truth and then for sanctions to be imposed on those responsible for his horrible murder. However, its hypocrisy in only mildly criticising Israel for killing Palestinian journalists provides it with the impunity it has enjoyed and continues to enjoy. The life of a Palestinian, Saudi or Israeli journalist should be worth the same.

The world’s firmness in dealing with Jamal’s killers may well dissuade other states from committing crimes against journalists, except possibly Israel. No country should be able to act above the law, including Israel.

I shook Jamal Khashoggi’s hand. Days later he was murdered

First published by the Middle East Eye on 18/10/2018

#Khashoggi

The Saudi Arabia I knew as a child would not have carried out such a heinous act as the brutal murder of a patriotic intellectual

Last night, as I was watching the unfolding news coverage of the grisly assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, I looked at my right hand and turned to my wife and said: “With this hand I shook Jamal’s hand after dinner on 29 September and said goodbye.”

The image that immediately came into my head was of Khashoggi’s hand which – according to the grim details emerging about his murder – had been cut from his body. The reports about how Khashoggi’s body was cut up while he was still alive filled me with absolute horror.

How on earth could this have happened?

The only and last encounter

I had never met Khashoggi prior to my one and only encounter in London last month. But I had seen him frequently on news and debate programmes discussing Middle East-related topics.

Not only did his deep knowledge and informative analysis enrich the discussion, but his criticism of Saudi Arabia was coupled with deep affection and a strong desire to see it follow a course that would enhance its standing in the world and ensure its continued development.

My meeting with Khashoggi came after I was asked to chair a session at the Middle East Monitor’s conference entitled: “The Oslo Accords: A legacy of broken promises.” A couple of days before the conference, I was informed of an additional contributor to the session that pleased me. It was Jamal Khashoggi.

On the morning of the conference, I was introduced to Khashoggi. Speaking in Arabic, I said how pleased I was that he was joining us and I mentioned that I was born in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and asked where he was born. With pride, he said Al-Madina Al-Munawara, which is where the second-most important mosque to Muslims stands over Prophet Muhammad’s grave.

I asked Khashoggi how he wanted to be introduced and he said simply as a “Saudi journalist”. His contribution to the discussion was succinct and he concluded that nobody but the Palestinians could accept or reject any deal put forward by US President Donald Trump and his advisers.

The session was well received, as some members of the audience told me afterwards.

At the dinner that evening, I went to greet Khashoggi and said that I looked forward to meeting him again in the future. With a broad smile, he acknowledged my words and said that he, too, looked forward to meeting me in the future. This turned out to be our final goodbye.

The old Saudi Arabia

Throughout the period since the shocking news of Khashoggi’s disappearance, I have been haunted by one image, that of his calm, confident walk into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to receive a document confirming his divorce, not knowing he was walking into a death trap.

I have been asking myself how the Saudi Arabia I knew as a child had changed so much in recent years from the one I remember fondly, to the one that has just authorised a gruesome killing of a citizen that it should have had tremendous pride in, a thinker, writer and patriot.

A protester outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul holds up a poster featuring an image of Jamal Khashoggi(AFP)

 Why was Khashoggi’s intellect not used by the “reforming crown prince” to inform him about his Vision 2030 for which he has received such admiration from the West? The same could of course apply to the many scholars, academics, intellectuals and activists who have been detained or indeed “disappeared” in the last couple of years.

Another image that sticks in my mind from my childhood in Riyadh was when Saudi TV announced that King Faisal had been assassinated by one of his nephews in 1975. Days earlier, while waiting for my father to pick me up from school, I saw Faisal’s modest motorcade as it drove past my school, Ma’had Alasima Alnamuthajiya. He was waving to us – perhaps his last goodbye.

The fact that King Faisal had gone filled me with fear and insecurity. However, the transition from Faisal to Khaled was smooth. Those were the days when the kingdom did not interfere in other countries’ affairs, when it stood for the Arab and Muslim world. Who can forget King Faisal’s oil embargo in 1973 targeting the US, among other countries that stood with Israel in the October war?

Yes, of course, Saudi Arabia was not perfect, but it was stable, with a consistent set of economic and foreign policies. Successive kings were revered by Saudis and respected regionally and internationally.

Leadership change

The spectre of a prime minister of another country being ordered to Riyadh to announce his resignation, as happened to the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, would never have happened then. Could an Israeli prime minister have boasted about growing relationships with the kingdom at the expense of the Palestinians? Could the recognition by the US of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital have passed so easily? Could Yasser Arafat have been called to Riyadh to be told to accept whatever deal the Americans would offer?

Could an American president have humiliated a Saudi crown prince in his Oval Office as hecounted the billions he had extracted from the kingdom for military hardware, as Trump did with Mohammed bin Salman? Would an American president have felt able to pronounce that the king of Saudi Arabia could not survive for two weeks without American protection, which he must pay for? Could a war on Yemen have been launched that would create such a catastrophic humanitarian crisis?

Could a Saudi journalist have been lured into a Saudi consulate to be murdered by a 15-man death squad?

The answer to all of these questions – in my opinion – is a resounding no. The Saudi Arabia I knew and grew up in would not have carried out any of these heinous crimes.

I firmly believe that it is not too late for Saudi Arabia to rediscover its soul, its principles and its values. An overwhelmingly young and now highly educated people can help it make its way in the world as a power for good, as a kingdom that will once again champion issues close to the hearts of the people of the Arab world, including Palestine.

If a change at the top is to come, then I pray that it will bring a Saudi leadership that will look back at its best achievements and bring back the Saudi Arabia I knew and cherished.

Photo: Jamal Khashoggi’s speaking at the Middle East Monitor conference on 29 September, days before he was murdered (Courtesy of Middle East Monitor)