EAST JERUSALEM — It’s like a grand hotel from a Graham Greene novel, a silk-rug-and-polished-wood sort of place where you might ask the desk clerk to send a boy to your room. It’s also where many foreign journalists who cover Israel stay.
The American Colony Hotel keeps a calligraphied honor roll of famous journos who’ve graced the place, topped conspicuously by Peter Jennings. For those sleeping elsewhere, but who go there to sip scotch, smoke cigars, snarf burgers and swap stories, there’s also a guest book. My friend and I didn’t bother signing though, because we know they could find out about us easily enough.
The “they” is the Palestine Liberation Organization. And while the Swiss reputedly run the hotel, it’s long been said — it’s actually an open joke around those parts — that the American Colony Hotel is the unofficial headquarters of the PLO. As a journalist, you go there for access and for safety.
Like many Arab-run sectors, East Jerusalem, where the hotel is located, is not a place you want to visit unaccompanied. The hotel is a shiny oasis in a filthy slum, where you’ll find great phone service, wideband Internet and a chauffeured Mercedes driven by an expert who knows exactly where to take you.
For a journalist, it’s a great place in an unforgiving land. Gripped by terror, the rest of Jerusalem is somber at night, but here, the hotel’s many lounges are filled with laughter in a dozen languages. When I ask a polite and well-coiffed bartender for Armagnac, he motions to a long shelf of rare vintages — and they’re cheap. There are also scented gardens, a tiled pool and even a well-stocked bookstore, filled with the very best thinking on Israeli oppression. In other words, whatever a foreign journalist needs to tell the sad Palestinian story.
Meanwhile, just 50 miles southwest of the American Colony, Palestinian reporters are trying to tell another kind of Palestinian story. And for their efforts, the reporters are being beaten, harassed and finding their homes trashed. The Jerusalem Post reports that some 200 reporters in the Gaza Strip are staging a one-day strike. The reporters are refusing to report on anything the Palestinian Authority says or does because of these ongoing attacks against Arab journalists.
I Google the journalists-on-strike story — no hits. Apparently, no Western reporters are writing about the beatings of Palestinian journalists. But then again, there’s also no coverage of fellow reporters who are being treated to blows of a very different sort from the PLO, either.
Published in The City Paper on February 26th, 2004