Friday, November 22, 2013

JFK -- what we really remember, and want to forget

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JFK -- what we really remember and want to forget
an American Arab remembers

By Ray Hanania
English: John F. Kennedy, photograph in the Ov...
English: John F. Kennedy, photograph in the Oval Office. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Probably more than half of the people living in America today were not born when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I was only 10 years old and to be honest, I knew nothing about him. My parents generation would often talk about how handsome he was and how beautiful the First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was.
There was another "politician" that my parents generation were talking about, too, at the time who took Kennedy's place after he was killed. His name was Charles Percy. His daughter had been murdered the five newspapers that came to our house screamed in giant headlines. During his election, our elementary school asked who would we vote for -- everyone picked him because he was "better looking" than the other guy, Senator Paul Douglas.
Good looks meant a lot in politics and elections in those days.
But that was it. I was too young to understand the Bay of Pigs invasion screw-up in Cuba. It meant nothing to me that his brother, Bobby Kennedy, was appointed the U.S. Attorney General and his priority was to crack down on the Mafia, which FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover insisted did not exist. I didn't know that either.
I knew the United States and Russia were at odds and we might blow ourselves up with nuclear weapons because I had watched movies like "Them" in which nuclear weapons explosions had created giant ants. As a 10 year old, that was scary, even though when I watch the movie "Them" again today, I wonder how the simplistic filmmaking could have scared anyone. But there was the Russian satellite, called "Sputnik" which was a round silver-like ball of metal with three "legs" or antennas.
Sputnik had been launched in 1957 just before Halloween -- I was only 4 then and a few people had dressed up like the frightening Russian satellite. Sputnik flew around the earth for about 22 days before it stopped working and then came crashing down weeks later in January 1958. But the fear that overcame America lasted years and fueled the "Space Race."
November 22, 1963, that Friday morning when I was walking up the slight hill of Chappel Avenue at 92nd Street to return to school, was just a normal day. I went to Joseph Warren Elementary school -- yes, we literally walked a mile four times a day including to and from school in the morning and afternoon, and to and from school for lunch. There wasn't any snow because it wasn't slippery. As I walked back to school, a friend who was inside the fenced playground that was adjacent to the side walk yelled to me, "Hey Ray. The President is dead."
English: President John F. Kennedy, First Lady...
English: President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Senator Patrick V. McNamara (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
What president? Who? Kennedy? We didn't call him JFK. The handsome guy our mom's liked. He was dead. Shrug. What did I know. Seriously. I meant nothing to me. Except that the school gathered us all together into the auditorium and the Principal and some of the teachers said things that I don't remember. And then they sent us home, which was not cool because my dad worked at Sinclair Oil downtown and my mom worked at Solo Cup not too far from the school, after we finished lunch.
That's what I remember. That's all I remember of that exact moment. I see the uphill inclined sidewalk. The fence. The kids playing in the playground next to the new yellow bricked school building with the flat roof that made it look like one of those Frank Lloyd Wright homes my dad was always talking about, a few were in the neighborhood. The old, brown bricked school building with the steep inclined roof was straight ahead.
That's it. But that's what has haunted me ever since. The memory of "where I was" and "what I was doing" has remained burned in my mind ever since. And instead of fading away, it has festered like an open wound. The Kennedy Funeral dominated everything the entire weekend. We had little transistor radios made of plastic that we purchased for a few dollars with little ear plugs to listen to the Beatles music and rock and roll music. Between the songs, there would be a lot of talk. We'd switch from WLS to WCFL. It was a radio station battle back then and we picked up the Silver Dollar Surveys from the local record store which listed what new songs were out and how they ranked.
Hananias1957The television was small. Black and white. I recall watching the funeral procession. And seeing the rebroadcast of the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man the media and police immediately concluded had killed Kennedy. There was never any doubt and there was never a real investigation. It was Oswald and that was that. The Warren Commission and everything that came out of the mouths of our government, including "LBJ," that "cowboy" who no one really liked but who was no president, all said the same thing. Done. Closed, That's it pal.
We were afraid that the Soviet Union was going to bomb us with nuclear weapons and I would transform into some kind of monster bug from the radiation, if we didn't burn up. Thank God for our little classroom desks with the shiny beige tops that would protect us from the fallout that we climbed under during Nuclear Attack Air Raid drills in school.
If we had children hiding under desks at school for any reason, parents would go berserk today. Screaming and filing lawsuits against the schools and teachers and it would turn into a political crisis. But back then, we were afraid. And everyone had to been afraid that just maybe the Soviet Union was involved in murdering Kennedy. That's why the government had to fight so hard to convince us it wasn't the Soviet Union because if it was, we would be screaming for revenge. We would bomb the hell out of those "Communists." Those "Commies."
I knew those words. Fear of nuclear bombs and a Soviet invasion was real. It was only 18 years since the end of World War II and the Nazi invasion and destruction of Europe. And the Nazis did horrible things. The gassing of prisoners and mass murder, later called the Holocaust, was frightening.
Lyndon B. Johnson taking the oath of office on...
Lyndon B. Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
George Orwell's book "1984" was not a piece of fiction. It was the boogieman that lived in our minds. And we were headed in that direction back in 1963, only 18 years after World War II. The war had only been over 8 years when I had been born. It was fresh in our minds.
If there was even a hint of a conspiracy or Soviet involvement through Oswald, we would have gone to war. Although, maybe no one really wanted to go to war. Maybe our technology wasn't as great as we thought. The Soviets, after all, beat us to Outer Space. When we look back at it from today's perspective, "Sputnik" was just a metal ball. A symbol of the space race. But back in 1963, Sputnik flew above our homes and scarred the crap out of Americans. Our imaginations were bing fed fear. What did we really know?
If we attacked the Soviets, the Soviets would attack us. Nuclear carnage. A nuclear nightmare. We might beat them, our politicians assured us, but everyone knew that in a nuclear exchange both places would be sizzling, smoldering wastelands of radioactive rubble, breeding giants ants, gila monsters and awakening God knows what from the Earth's crust. Was our nuclear arsenal really better than the Soviet nuclear arsenal? We didn't know for sure. They told us it was but no one really trusted to government.
Today, all of that is meaningless. And when we try to understand the pathetic investigation that was decided minutes after JFK was shot that Oswald was the killer, the fear of a conspiracy drove people to the edges of paranoia. We didn't want to go there. We didn't want to go there.
The body of President John. F. Kennedy lies in...
The body of President John. F. Kennedy lies in repose in the East Room of the White House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Blaming it all on Oswald was a convenient way to relax the American people. It made us feel comfortable. It made us feel safe. It was just one guy. Never mind all the strange and contradictory facts that were never really explored or considered.
Oswald tried to kill a retired American General a few months before using the same Italian-made Mannlicker Carcano rifle. He was 100 feet away hiding behind a bush outside the guys house. And he missed.
And from atop the 6th Floor of the Texas School Depository Building he fired a first shot when the limousine was closest and clearest in front of his site, and missed. And then finally hit Kennedy in the upper back with a second shot as the limousine was further away. And then finally, hit the president in the kill zone, cross hair shot in the back of the head from even further way, a distance almost three times what he tried to do when he missed the General who was standing and not moving 100 feet away months before.
How is it that almost four miles away, a Dallas police officer just happened to see a White Guy walking the street doing nothing to bring attention to him except walking the street, and the decide to pull him over for a first look because a few descriptions had been given of the killer? And Oswald just went home and grabbed his handgun and decided to go out of his apartment. All that time passed since the killing. So many White guys with light hair and jackets walking the streets, but Oswald is picked out like a needle in a haystack. And then after a second confrontation with the police officer, Oswald shoots him.
The Dallas police were corrupt in 1963. The Mafia that Hoover claimed didn’t exist had their little tentacles into the police. Jack “Ruby” Rubenstein, who murdered Oswald on live television 48 hours after JFK was killed in the basement of the Dallas Police headquarters, was a pal of the Dallas Police.
English: Grave of at the Shannon Rose Hill Mem...
English: Grave of at the Shannon Rose Hill Memorial Park in . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The police confronted Oswald in the Texas School Depository building less than 2 minutes after the killing on the 2nd floor cafeteria of the building. He was holding a bottle of pop. He wasn’t rushed. Wasn’t sweating from running down the stairs from the 6th floor only seconds earlier. Not disheveled. Calm. And just shrugged his shoulders when the police officer asked who he was and the building manager said he’s an employee of the building. And then let him go.
And then we are supposed to believe that this man who shot the Dallas Police Officer who had Soviet ties but didn’t have Soviet ties was the sole killer because the gun was found on the floor where he was supposed to be working.
Why ask those questions? Why try to find out the truth? Why not just lie and makeup a set of facts and have your government buddies print it in a massive document that no normal person could or would bother to read, and just tie the bow and put the whole sordid crisis away in the back of our minds where it sits refusing to leave. Unanswered. Unfinished. Suspicious. And full or questions and concerns. A dark place in our minds from a dark period in our lives where fear really reigned but today sounds so ridiculous to try to argue.
But it was.
That’s what I remember.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist. Reach him at Or follow him on Twitter @RayHanania.)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Anger always high in Arab community on any issue

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Anger always high in Arab community on any issue

No matter what the topic, Arabs in America and the Middle East always react to stories with a heightened level of emotion and anger.

Worse, they hate when you point it out.

The recent controversy in Detroit involving the explosive accusations against Imad Hamad, the longtime director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee's (ADC) largest chapter in Detroit, that he engaged in sexual harassment in 2007 and even before "15 years ago" has become the focus of much of the local activism rhetoric and discussion.

The story has been covered by the mainstream news media in Detroit and even by some national media, and has become fodder for hate from groups at FOX News and other rightwing anti-Arab hate sites online and in the media.

But some Arabs don't like it when you don't agree with them. And they get belligerent and call you all kinds of names, attacking the writers personally, usually, and ignoring the issues at hand. And that suggests there is something wrong with the issues.

The primary accuser of Mr. Hamad is Rashida Tlaib, a very successful elected official who is now a state representative in a district in Michigan that is only 2 percent Arab.

Some writers didn't like the fact that I pointed that out in my columns, noting that she might not have been elected in a heavy Arab district because the fact is the Arab community as a whole, not simply focusing on Imad Hamad, has a problem with women. Arabs discriminate against women and even oppress them. Not all Arabs but it is cultural. They know it exists but they don't want to talk about it.

What they want is for the issue to go away by having Imad Hamad tarred and feathered and denied any right to defend himself.

The media in Detroit's Arab community has seemed to split on the issue. It's more than a news story to them with the Arab News, the leading Arab newspaper in the Arab community, taking a confrontational tone against Hamad, a former ally. That's because some of the accusers worked at that newspaper -- though they never said anything about harassment until recently.

Here's my 2nd Column   Click here

Here's the first column Click here

Here is Tlaib letter to ADC Click here

Here is ADC's statement on the controversy Click here

Here is a perspective from writer Ihsan AlKhatib questioning the motives of some of those making charges against Imad Hamad Click here

Ihsan alKhatib's blog has many stories about the controversy ... click here

Most of the responses from one of three groups. The first include the fanatics, extremists and haters who are using the accusations to destroy ADC and continue their campaign against Moderate Arabs. These fanatics include Ikhras and others.

The second group includes members of the general public who have no real knowledge about the issues except for the limited things that have been published. They are divided between those who feel strongly about sexual harassment and defending women victims, and those who believe men have no way to defend themselves against women who fabricate accusations.

And the third group includes people who believe that the sexual accusations are being exploited for political reasons. They believe the fanatics don't care about sexual harassment but are arsonists who will use anything to destroy whatever they can in the Arab community.

The tragedy of the Arab Community is that we are held hostage by the fanatics and extremists like and Ikhras and their ilk. The majority of the community is afraid to stand up to these extremists and fanatics fearing they will be viciously and personally attacked. (That's what Ikhras does best). But the majority of the community are moderates and while they are afraid to speak up, they do not support the fanatics who exploit Palestine, conflict and suffering to keep our community in a headlock of hatred.

I'm not afraid of them and will not allow their continued threats and personal attacks to silence me.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Who’s Got the Bigger One, Chicago or New York?

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Who’s Got the Bigger One, Chicago or New York?

By Ray Hanania
Southwest News-Herald Friday Nov. 15, 2013
The Sears Tower, as seen from the east along L...
The Sears Tower, as seen from the east along Lake Shore Drive (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The battle between who has the tallest building, Chicago and New York, is more about egos and who has the largest, well, let’s not go there.
But the debate and the ruling this week stripping Chicago of the title of being home to the tallest building in America is one that belongs in the gutter.
A politically motivated committee afraid to rule against the symbol of the post-Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York decided that New York’s Freedom Tower is taller than Chicago’s Willis Tower.
What a bunch of bunk!
It’s a good example of how Americans embrace perceptions over reality and facts of life. If they wanted to make the Freedom Tower the tallest building in America or the World why not just build it that way and put more floors. Instead, they put a 408 foot “spire” or “needle” atop the Freedom Tower, which is more formally called 1 World Trade Tower, and that’s the only thing that makes that building “appear” to be taller.
Freedom Tower is not taller. The spire isn’t even a real spire. It’s an antenna that doesn’t work. The Willis Tower antenna brings it almost as high as the Freedom Tower.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the judges, called the “Height Committee of the Council on Tall Buildings” and their partners the “Urban Habitat” made their ruling against Chicago and reality because they feared ruling against anything that might question America’s — or their — patriotism.
They concluded that an antenna, which has a real function, does not count in measurement, but a “spire” with no purpose other than as a decoration, does count.
Willis Tower is 1,451 feet tall, not including the antenna on its top. The Freedom Tower is 1,368 feet tall, but claims to be 1,776 feet tall (an intended reference to the year of America’s birth). That includes the 408 foot “spire,” a worthless decoration that makes it 300 feet taller than the Willis Tower’s real building height, not including the Willis Tower’s antenna.
Why didn’t they build the Freedom Tower to really be the tallest building in America at 1,776 feet of office and floor space? Because they knew they could cheat. And that doesn’t honor anyone.
The irony was that the terrorists had also threatened to destroy the Willis Tower, which was formerly called the Sears Tower, a true symbol of America’s dignity representing a company that employed so many Americans and was once the cornerstone of American ingenuity.
From 1908 until 1974, New York had the tallest buildings in the country, but then Chicago overtook them in the race to the sky
In the mid-1990s, the Willis Tower lost the title of Tallest Building in the World to the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, which has since been surpassed by other buildings including the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which has an 800 foot spire decoration, too.
I hope that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel will roll up his sleeves and fight to defend the honor of Chicago. Maybe even replace the Willis Tower antenna with a new spire to give Chicago it’s title back and teach those “New Yorkers” a real lesson in civility, honor and justice.
Of course, we do have so many more problems than who has the biggest building like poverty, the political divisiveness that plagues our nation, continued racism and increasing violence.
But those are real issues and real issues apparently don’t move the public as much as the stupid ones do.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and former Chicago City Hall reporter. You may reach him at and follow him on Twitter at

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Profile: Hanania argues American Arabs need more networking and greater involvement in local society

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Profile: Hanania argues American Arabs need more networking and greater involvement in local society

By Thabet al-Arabi
Special to The Arab Daily News
Ray Hanania is a name that resonates across the American Arab community. He was one of the first in the community to jump in the deep waters of professional journalism and communications, serving as the award winning City Hall reporter in Chicago for the Daily Southtown and Sun-Times beginning in 1976.
Although many of his relatives are doctors, lawyers and engineers, Hanania chose journalism, a choice he says he sometimes regrets but a choice he says that so many American Arabs need to make if they want to help strengthen the community interests.
HannaMousaFamilyBased in a suburb of Chicago, Hanania’s family includes refugees from the 1948 Palestine war. His father immigrated to Chicago to join his brother in 1926 from his home in Jerusalem, right after another brother, Yusef, drowned at the Jerusalem Quarry. Hanania says his father wanted to escape the growing animosity and bitter conflict that was beginning back then but that has dominated Palestinian life ever since.
“My dad was employed at the Jerusalem Post Office and his older brother Moses had already settled in Chicago. He was content but that year, his brother, Yusef, drowned at the Jerusalem Quarry,” Hanania recalled his father explaining.
“Yusef was calling for help but no one would help him, the Police Report noted. Muslims thought he was Jewish. Jews thought he was Muslim. Christians thought he was Muslim. It was amazing that because of the conflict, people were more concerned about what you represented rather than lending a helping hand to a fellow human being.”
Hanania said that the tragedy impacted his father and may account for his father’s decision to raise his children to speak English as a first language.
“You know it is a cultural thing among Arabs. The Arabic language is so important that so many Palestinians who get married in the United States return to the Bilad with their children to ensure that they learn how to speak Arabic fluently,” Hanania observed.
YusefPalestine“My dad wanted me to speak English and to speak it without an accent. He recognized right away in coming to America in 1926 that although he could escape the building animosities and hatred back home, he could not escape the human capacity for racism and stereotyping. Arabs back then were stereotyped. It was something that my dad did not expect when he came here. But the opportunities here were far greater than back home and he learned to live with the discrimination.”
Hanania explained that his father saw that the more you appeared to be “foreign” or “different,” the greater the discrimination.
“My dad wanted the best for his children and he knew you can only succeed in this country if you are not victimized or held back by racism and discrimination. We were American and we had the right to be recognized and treated as Americans who happened to have a love for their own Arab cultural heritage,” Hanania said.
“My dad was Palestinian and he let everyone know it. But he did it in a way that he controlled without subjecting himself to the discrimination of the public and the rest of society that really knew so little about who we are.”
Hanania said his parents had wanted him to be a doctor like a cousin who lived in Jordan, Daoud Hanania, and other relatives here in the United States.
HananiaAirForceShepherdAFB1974And he would have become a doctor but the Vietnam War and the Arab-Israeli October War both got in the way.
“I was studying pre-Med courses at Northern Illinois University in the early 1970s when my draft number came up and I ended up leaving school to serve in the United States military,” Hanania recalled.
“In all fairness, I was only doing an acceptable job, but not great. I think I was having too much fun. So to avoid the draft into the Army, I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force believing it might supplement my career goals in medicine.”
He was assigned to medical and dental training and worked at a medical center for two years at an F-111 Air Force Training base in Mountain Home Idaho.
“There was talk the war would end but no one expected it to end at all,” he said. “They were preparing us to go to Vietnam and I was a little concerned but was ready to go.”
During his service and on the Military base, Hanania said he happened to watch a debate on national television between an Arab and an Israeli over the 1973 October War.
“It struck me right away what the problem was, not just in the debate but in America in general. The Israeli did such a phenomenal job telling his story. He did it in perfect English, without an accent. He looked, dressed and sounded like an American while the Arab had a heavy accent, was angry and spoke broken English,” Hanania remembered.
“I’m watching and yelling at the TV set because I know that Americans all over the country were watching this debate and siding with the Israeli, not because the Israeli’s arguments were better but because he identified more closely with the audience that was watching the debate. He identified with the American public and the Arab did not.”
Hanania said he learned his first lesson in American life and communications, one that would define the remainder of his life.
“Perception is reality in America. It’s not what you say but how you say it. It’s not about truth or justice but rather about who can better identify with Americans, who are very superficial and uneducated about the facts of the Middle East conflict. If they like you, they are more likely to listen to you. The stranger you appear to them or the more different you are to them, the less they believe you,” Hanania observed.
“Arabs have a hard time understanding this simple fact of American life and culture. Americans judge you as much based on how you look as they do on what you are saying. But how you look gets you into the door before your arguments and facts or narrative will. So your looks are more important. If they don’t like you, they won’t listen to you. If you look different, they won’t listen to you. The Arabs have the best case but the worst lawyers, and the Israelis have the worst case and the best lawyers. It’s a real tragedy that we continue to face even today.”
After being honorably discharged with honor citations from the military, Hanania used the GI Bill benefits he received each month to return to college and to publish an English language newspaper in Chicago called “The Middle Eastern Voice.”
ChicityhallPage10Hanania said he had a little experience in writing and journalism from when he was in high school.
“I was flunking English and my English teacher brilliantly asked me what I liked to do and I said I loved to play guitar. I was an exceptional guitarist and played with several American bands in Chicago as a teenager,” Hanania recalled. Reavis High school today in Burbank Illinois has one of the largest American Arab populations today but in 1970, he was only on of two Arab students in a class of more than 4,500 students.
“My English teacher asked me to write a column for the High school newspaper, The Blueprint, on Rock music, which I did. I was in my junior year. The next year, I was named the Editor of the school newspaper.”
He published The Middle Eastern Voice for two years and interviewed Arab dignitaries including the late Nazareth Mayor Tawfiq Zayyad who explained the reality of how Israel discriminated not only against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories but also in Israel where they were supposedly “citizens.”
“I remember the headline I wrote on that story. It was called ‘Discrimination in Israel: Policy, Practice and Reality.’ A lot of people reacted positively to the story saying they had never had the discriminatory polices of Israel explained to them so clearly. Many Americans were calling and asking for copies to distribute to their churches and organizations,” Hanania said.
But he said it also drew the attention of the FBI after leaders of the American Jewish community complained. And for two years, Hanania was the subject of an intense investigation by the Federal Government in 1975 through 1977. The report began that “Ray Hanania is suspected of associating with potential terrorists” but concluded after 45 pages and two years: “Hanania is merely concerned with the betterment of his community. We found no evidence of any kind suggesting he was involved in any criminal activity. It is the recommendation that no direct contact be made with him because he owns a small Arab community newspaper and we don’t want him writing about this.”
“I remember stores where the owners knew my family for years telling me they had received complaints from the FBI and that they had removed my newspaper fearing intimidation,” Hanania said.
“They went to my neighbors, my bank. Everywhere. It was so ugly especially since I had served my country patriotically and with honor and with a high security clearance at an F-111 Air Base for two years. Apparently, that didn’t matter to the people who instigated the investigation. It was pure hatred and pure fear.”
ChiCityHall1985Hanania said he started to write letters advocating an Arab perspective to the local newspaper, the Southtown, the first that the newspaper editor said he had ever received from member of the Arab community.
“Every week, the newspaper had a column from someone bashing Arabs and bashing the Palestinians. It wasn’t just the Southtown, the local community newspaper. It was in the Tribune and the Sun-Times, too, the major daily newspapers. Americans were being fed lies and we, the Arab community, were not countering it effectively at all. We were just screaming and we were just angry. We were emotional and doing nothing,” Hanania said, adding he also published letters in Time Magazine, Newsweek and other national publications.
One day, the editor of the local newspaper called Hanania  and offered him a job as a reporter, saying, “You’re a very good writer and I can use the passion. But keep your opinions on your side of the typewriter.”
Hanania quickly became the newspaper’s star reporter and eventually their primary columnist. He covered Chicago City Hall beginning in 1977. Hanania said he often wrote about Chicago politics, but occasionally would publish a column on the Middle East.
“One Jewish editor I had and another Jewish reporter there who both had never met a journalist who was Arab, and they found it hard to accept me and they constantly harassed me and confronted me and debated with me, like I was somehow challenging their right to exist. But the reality was I was challenging the lies they would spread because they often each wrote about being Jewish and about Israel and no one complained. The only time anyone complained was when an Arab started writing about the Arab side, countering Israel’s lies,” Hanania said. “I’m glad they could write their stories but I felt I should be able to write my story, too.”
In 1985, Hanania was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times, which was a far more powerful and important newspaper back then, than it is today. He was assigned as a political writer to a daily Column called Page 10, and later returned to City Hall where he worked with the legendary political reporter Harry Golden Jr.
RayandHarryGolden“Harry was my mentor. I think it is so important to recognize that stereotypes against Jews are as bad as any form of racism. Holocaust revisionism is ugly and hateful. In my life, so many Jews have been very helpful and they have been very fair, objective and honest. But they can’t fight our fight for us. We, as Arabs, have to fight our fight and we have to fight it the right way, through communications,” Hanania said.
In 1990, the Sun-Times put together a team of reporters to send them to Israel to produce a special Magazine on Israel’s 42nd anniversary.
“I heard about it and had won many journalism awards. And the intifada had started and I told the editor and the publisher I wanted to be included in the team. After all, I was the only Palestinian American reporter covering a major beat in America and the newspaper had an obligation to be objective, balanced and fair,” Hanania said.
“They didn’t like that at all. They argued against it. They said I would be ruining my career. They said if I did this, I might not have a job. They eventually told me to take my own vacation time and do whatever I wanted but they weren’t going to include me on the team they were paying to go to Israel and write nice stories about that foreign country. And they didn’t want me ruining their plans by including articles about the Palestinians, who most media and Americans didn’t care about,.”
That Fall, Hanania traveled to Palestine and spent three weeks there, living with his mother’s sister who had married into a family in Ramallah in the West Bank. He documented his experiences in his journal and interviewed many Palestinians and Israelis. He was harassed, detained and searched almost everyday by the Israeli soldiers.
“What I saw was outrageous and it so conflicted with the lies and distortions being published in the American news media and at my newspaper. So, when I got back, I wrote five stories. I tried to be diplomatic, to get the ugly facts and reality out without using a sledge hammer. I tried to be creative and I wrote as a journalist with insight into Palestinians life, because I am Palestinians. But I also wrote without prejudice or bias, the way I think some American Jewish reporters often write when they write about Israel and against the Palestinians. I wasn’t writing against Israel. I was writing about Palestine and the Palestinians,” Hanania said.
“That was a shock to my editors at the Sun-Times.”
The editors and publisher refused to publish the stories. They sat on them for several months until one day a reporter at the Chicago Tribune, Jim Warren, called the editor saying he heard that the Sun-Times was censoring me, the only Palestinian reporter in the country.
26-SPJAwardApril2003“The editor and publisher called me on the carpet and accused me of leaking the story to the Tribune, our rivals. I denied it because it wasn’t true. I told them there is no such thing as a secret and that secrets always get out. They told Jim Warren that it wasn’t true and that they were planning to publish the stories and would do so soon, but they warned me my days were numbered and I should watch my back. The first excuse they could find, I would be fired,” Hanania remembered.
The Sun-Times published four of the stories in November 1990, rejecting one that addressed the misconduct of the Israeli soldiers in dealing him and also his cousins.
A Jewish editor at the newspaper, Larry Green, praised the stories and another Earl Moses nominated them to be submitted for a Pulitzer Prize. Each story filled up one full page in the newspaper for four straight days.
“After they ran, we got hundreds of letters from people, mostly supporters of Israel who hated the stories. They criticized me and said I should be fired. We only got one letter from an Arab saying he appreciated the stories and the fairness the newspaper had shown,’ Hanania said.
Hanania said it opened his eyes to the real problem, that it wasn’t just the pro-Israel lobby’s effectiveness, or the bias of the American mainstream news media that was fueling the ignorance and lies about what was happening in Israel and Palestine.
“It was also the lack of involvement of American Arabs. We just didn’t care enough to do something positive. I could see that we would come together when we were angry to complain, when we were emotional and were attacking someone, like a newspaper,” Hanania said.
“But we were not being progressive or pro-active in terms of telling our story to the American people. They just weren’t hearing about who were really are from ourselves. We want our kids to be doctors or even grocery store owners, but not journalists. That has to change.”
Hanania left the Chicago Sun-Times in 1992 after he was accused of bias by his editors. He filed a lawsuit against the Sun-Times and the case was settled out of court with an undisclosed settlement payment to Hanania.
That year, Hanania launched Urban Strategies Group, the media and PR consulting firm that he heads today as President and CEO. Urban Strategies Group has provided media consulting to more than 75 clients over the years including managing two campaigns for the U.S. Congress, a dozen campaigns for the Illinois Legislature, and campaigns for two dozen Chicago aldermen and suburban mayors.
His clients today include lawyers, government officials, government agencies and political candidates.
He also continues to play a major role in American Arab journalism. In 1999, he founded the National American Arab Journalists Association (NAAJA) which he passed on to other volunteers earlier this year. NAAJA hosted seven conferences during the past decade.
ImgladFullCvrFtBkLuluAnd he recently launched a new online publication called The Arab Daily News.
“The goal of the Arab Daily News is to produce more news and feature writing,” Hanania said.
“We have too much opinion writing in the Arab community. Everything we see is a commentary. We’re not doing a good job, even 35 years later, of telling Americans who were are. So I pay writers to write feature stories and news stories about Arab Americans because I believe that is where we should put our focus. Opinion columns are still important and I write an opinion column for Creators Syndicate and the Saudi Gazette every week, but we need more. We need features that tell people who were are as people. We need to tell our story. That’s still our biggest obstacle even today. Until we do this better, we can’t expect Americans to know who we are.”
Hanania said he hopes The Arab Daily News will serve as a base for young journalists and writers to submit news and feature stories that will record our existence in America and help change the way Americans see Arabs and Arab culture.
(Thabet al-Arabi is a freelance writer based in Washington D.C. This interview was written for The Arab Daily News online newspaper Permission is given to republish in its entirety.)