Read full article on Nafeez Ahmed’s website
After writing for The Guardian for over a year, my contract was unilaterally terminated because I wrote a piece on Gaza that was beyond the pale. In doing so, The Guardian breached the very editorial freedom the paper was obligated to protect under my contract. I’m speaking out because I believe it is in the public interest to know how a Pulitizer Prize-winning newspaper which styles itself as the world’s leading liberal voice, casually engaged in an act of censorship to shut down coverage of issues that undermined Israel’s publicised rationale for going to war.
I joined the Guardian as an environment blogger in April 2013. Prior to this, I had been an author, academic and freelance journalist for over a decade, writing for The Independent, Independent on Sunday, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, among others.
On 9th July 2014, I posted an article via my Earth Insight blog at The Guardian’s environment website, exposing the role of Palestinian resources, specifically Gaza’s off-shore natural gas reserves, in partly motivating Israel’s invasion of Gaza aka ‘Operation Protective Edge.’ Among the sources I referred to was a policy paper written by incumbent Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya’alon one year before Operation Cast Lead, underscoring that the Palestinians could never be allowed to develop their own energy resources as any revenues would go to supporting Palestinian terrorism.
The article now has 68,000 social media shares, and is by far the single most popular article on the Gaza conflict to date. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, Israel has seen control of Gaza’s gas as a major strategic priority over the last decade for three main reasons.
Firstly, Israel faces a near-term gas crisis — largely due to the long lead time needed to bring Israel’s considerable domestic gas resources into production; secondly, Netanyahu’s administration cannot stomach any scenario in which a Hamas-run Palestinian administration accesses and develops their own resources; thirdly, Israel wants to use Palestinian gas as a strategic bridge to cement deals with Arab dictatorships whose domestic populations oppose signing deals with Israel.
Either way, the biggest obstacle to Israel accessing Gaza’s gas is the Hamas-run administration in the strip, which rejects all previous agreements that Israel had pursued to develop the gas with the British Gas Group and the Palestinian Authority.
Censorship in the land of the free
Since 2006, The Guardian has loudly trumpeted its aim to be the world’s leading liberal voice. For years, the paper has sponsored the annual Index on Censorship’s prestigious Freedom of Expression Award. The paper won the Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on the National Security Agency (NSA). Generally, the newspaper goes out of its way to dress itself up as standing at the forefront of fighting censorship, particularly in the media landscape. This is why its approach to my Gaza gas story is so disturbing.
The day after posting it, I received a phone call from James Randerson, assistant national news editor. He sounded riled and rushed. Without beating around the bush, James told me point blank that my Guardian blog was to be immediately discontinued. Not because my article was incorrect, factually flawed, or outrageously defamatory. Not because I’d somehow breached journalistic ethics, or violated my contract. No. The Gaza gas piece, he said, was “not an environment story,” and therefore was an “inappropriate post” for the Guardian’s environment website:
“You’re writing too many non-environment stories, so I’m afraid we just don’t have any other option. This article doesn’t belong on the environment site. It should really be on Cif [i.e. the Guardian’s online opinion section known as ‘Comment Is Free’].”
I was shocked, and more than a little baffled. As you can read on my Guardian profile, my remit was to cover “the geopolitics of environmental, energy and economic crises.” That was what I was commissioned to do — indeed, when I had applied in late 2012 to blog for The Guardian, an earlier piece I’d written on the link between Israeli military operations and Gaza’s gas in Le Monde diplomatique was part of my portfolio.
So I suggested to James that termination was somewhat of an overreaction. Perhaps we could simply have a meeting to discuss the editorial issues and work out together what my remit should be. “I’d be happy to cooperate as much as possible,” I said. I didn’t want to lose my contract. James refused point blank, instead telling me that my “interests are increasingly about issues that we don’t think are a good fit for what we want to see published on the environment site.”
In the end, my polite protestations got nowhere. Within the hour, I received an email from a rights manager at The Guardian informing me that they had terminated my contract.