Odyssey of an Israeli journalist

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SOUTHERN IRAQ – I do not recall ever considering the country of Kuwait or

 

the Kuwaiti people for that matter with any particular emotion. To the best

 

of my knowledge, Kuwaiti forces never participated in the Arab world's wars

 

against Israel, nor have the Kuwaitis overtly funded terrorism against us

 

like the Saudis and the Iraqis.

 

If I had any feeling at all it came from the American in me. As an American

 

I felt satisfied that after the US-led forces liberated Kuwait twelve years,

 

the Kuwaitis retained the awareness of their vulnerability and have

 

therefore permitted, and even welcomed, the US to base their forces in this

 

country.

 

I never felt any strong emotion towards Kuwait or towards the Kuwaiti people

 

until I arrived in the country on Sunday, March 9, only to be greeted by

 

blistering, virulent hatred accompanied by a reign of quiet, relentless

 

discrimination. From the moment I arrived, the Kuwaiti government sought to

 

silence me as a writer, a journalist and an Israeli even as I was traveling

 

as a US citizen on a valid visa.

 

A few hours before I was set to depart for Kuwait on a flight from

 

Washington, DC, I began to realize that I would be in for a rough ride. I

 

read on the Internet that the Kuwaitis issued a statement telling the

 

international press corps in Kuwait that anyone transmitting reports to the

 

Israeli media would face criminal prosecution.

 

I began to panic. I was about to board a flight to Kuwait where my primary

 

objective would be to transmit reports of the war to the Israeli media.

In a telephone conversation a half an hour later with F. David Radler, the

 

co-owner of Hollinger Corp. which owns The Jerusalem Post, Radler assured me

 

that the company would back me. At any rate, Radler explained, I would be

 

covering the war for the Chicago Sun-Times, a sister paper to the Post also

 

owned by Hollinger.

 

Most importantly, Radler pointed out that I didn't need to go if I didn't

 

want to. Hearing that made me think about why I was going in the first

 

place. Two images entered my mind – Israeli children in gas masks and an

 

image of the Kuwaiti bureaucrat who wrote that directive. I was going.

On the face of it, the Kuwaitis could have easily passed over my name and

 

not bothered with me. I am an American citizen. I applied for my Kuwaiti

 

visa with a letter of accreditation from the Chicago Sun-Times. For the

 

Kuwaitis to go after me they would have to really want to.

 

On Monday, after the cab ride from the Crowne Plaza where I was staying by

 

the airport, to the Kuwait Hilton on the seacoast, I realized just how

 

determined the Kuwaitis were.

 

The drive from hotel to hotel lasted 25 minutes during which the taxi

 

traversed Kuwait City. The most remarkable aspect of Kuwait City is the

 

absence of Kuwaitis. They leave the work of running their kingdom to

 

foreigners – Filipinos, Indians, Pakistanis, Egyptians and Bangladeshis

 

mainly. You can't find any Palestinians in Kuwait anymore. All 250,000 of

 

them were deported in 1991 after the coalition forces liberated Kuwait.

 

Kuwait City looks like a run-down version of Afula or Beersheba with one

 

primary difference. There is nothing going on. No one is going anywhere or

 

doing anything in Kuwait City. Whereas Israeli cities teem with life and

 

energy, Kuwait City is lethargic, bereft of human vitality.

 

The opulence of the beach front suburb was an indication that Kuwaitis

 

actually live there. But its wealth made it no more appealing than the dead

 

cityscape. At first glance, the villas recalled Herzliya Pituah, but upon

 

closer examination, they lack character. The palaces stand like algae in a

 

motionless pool.

 

My cab ride to the Hilton showed me that the Kuwaitis care little about

 

cultivating their own country. My experience after arriving at the Hilton

 

showed me that the Kuwaitis care very much about hating Israel.

 

The US army's public affairs officers were told by the Kuwaitis ahead of my

 

arrival that they would not accredit me to work in the country. The State

 

Department's agreement with Kuwait stipulates that the US army will not

 

accredit journalists not already accredited by the Kuwaitis. For the rest of

 

the international press corps, Kuwaiti accreditation was a formality. The

 

information office had a table right across from the army's public affairs

 

counter. But for me, it was an insurmountable hurdle. And non-accreditation

 

meant that I was stuck, prevented from doing my job.

 

I phoned Bret Stephens, the Post's editor-in-chief and apprised him of the

 

situation. He in turn spoke with a number of key Pentagon officials. Radler,

 

true to his word, worked together with Chicago Sun-Times editor Michael

 

Cooke calling US congressmen and senators.

 

For their part, the Kuwaitis were moving as well, but so was I. In the late

 

afternoon hours I sat down at a table in the Hilton lobby waiting to phone a

 

helpful foreign service officer at the US Embassy named Jim Moran. A

 

stranger sat down at my table and said, 'You're Caroline Glick from the

 

Chicago Jerusalem Post Sun-Times.'

 

'Who are you?' I asked.

 

'I'm Yigal, Hungarian from Peruvian television.'

 

So I met Yigal Zur, another hounded Israeli. Yigal introduced me to an army

 

officer who had been helping him. The officer told me to pack my bags and

 

move out of my hotel room immediately. 'If you stay there on your own the

 

Kuwaitis can escort you to the airport, no problem,' he said. 'And I know

 

that is what they want to do.'

 

What followed was like a movie scene. Yigal and I got into a cab and drove

 

to my hotel. He waited in the cab while I ran up and packed my gear and

 

checked out. We then returned to the Hilton, paid in cash for a room under

 

his name so no one would know where to find me.

 

In the meantime, I received a call from Jim Moran at the US embassy. The

 

State Department had worked out a compromise. The Kuwaitis would accredit me

 

if I signed a paper promising not to report for any Israeli media outlet

 

while in Kuwait. I thought immediately of the negative implications. I would

 

sign away my freedom of expression. This made me extremely angry. For the

 

first time in my life I began to see what it is like to live in a society

 

without basic freedoms.

 

I called Bret in Jerusalem and asked for his thoughts. He saw the positive

 

implications.

 

'Caroline, you'll be in Iraq soon with the greatest offensive force ever

 

amassed. Covering that war and that force is why you are there. Sign the

 

statement.'

 

The next morning, before they gave me the statement, a Kuwaiti official

 

(born and raised in Virginia) began interrogating me. He wanted me to agree

 

not to write for the Israeli media not only in Kuwait, but in Iraq as well.

 

 

I couldn't believe his nerve. I replied politely that I could only discuss

 

with the Kuwaiti government my plans for while in Kuwait and that a decision

 

where to place my articles was made by my company, not by me.

 

After signing the statement, I was immediately loaded on a bus with other

 

journalists. Yigal from Peruvian television spent the next two nights in a

 

room registered under my name waiting to go himself. I was sent to the

 

Army's 3rd infantry division's first combat brigade.

 

I looked at the other journalists on my bus and wondered about them. Would

 

they be angry if they knew what I had to go through in order to join them on

 

this bus? Did they care when they saw that the Kuwaitis had put a notice on

 

the bulletin board of the Hilton's
media center prohibiting all news

 

organizations from publishing their reports in the Israeli media? Would it

 

bother them if they knew that I had just spent the last night in hiding?

Not knowing the answers to any of these questions, I kept my own counsel on

 

the bus, introducing myself as a Sun-Times reporter only.

 

For me, the main lesson from this odyssey is that to refer to the Middle

 

East conflict as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is to ignore the truth.

 

The truth is that at its root the conflict is about the Arab world's

 

obsession with rejecting Israel. Kuwait hates the Palestinians. The Kuwaitis

 

kicked the Palestinians out of their country.

 

The way I was treated had nothing to do with Beit El or Netzarim. It has to

 

do with Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem and the Bible.

 

As I joined the 2-7 mechanized infantry battalion on Tuesday night, I

 

realized that it was the first time I had felt safe in 48 hours.

 

On Sunday afternoon, as I felt my body melting in the oppressive desert heat

 

and its odor – borne of five days in the heat and dust and wind without a

 

shower – wafted into my nostrils and shocked me, I understood how I would

 

know when peace has come.

 

 

Peace will be upon us when I can feel as safe and welcome at a five-star

 

Kuwaiti hotel as I felt in the Kuwaiti desert with the US army.

 

 

Orginally published in The Jerusalem Post.

 

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