Documenting injustice

October 5, 2007

Stephen Desmond tells the story behind his film for al-Jazeera on the illegal abduction of former PLO stalwart Jaweed Al Ghussein - by the PLO

In 2005, I was an academic teaching in the UK with a strong research interest in journalistic ethics, political corruption, human-rights abuses and film making. I had recently helped found the Centre for Conflict Resolution Journalism, a charity dedicated to propagating the ethical reporting of wars and conflicts. When I met Mona Bauwens Al Ghussein at a CCRJ event, I realised that the story of her father's abduction and her campaign on his behalf would make an excellent subject for a documentary.

The factual background to the case reads like a Graham Greene novel. Palestinian-born Jaweed Al Ghussein is a 73-year-old businessman who graduated from the American University in Cairo and built up a construction and engineering concern in Abu Dhabi. He served as chairman of the Palestinian National Fund and a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, but he resigned from the PLO in 1996 amid developing tensions with its leader, Yassir Arafat.

Al Ghussein called publicly for greater transparency in how Palestinian funds were managed, but the PLO and Arafat claimed that he had embezzled several million dollars.

Then in 2000, with the agreement of the authorities in Abu Dhabi, Al Ghussein was kidnapped - in a white Bentley and later Arafat's private plane - and taken to Gaza, where he was held incommunicado in presidential "guest" quarters, or under armed guard in hospital or in private quarters, for a total of 16 months.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, under the direction of Mary Robinson, investigated the detention and ruled that the Palestinian Authority was violating Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The PA's own Minister of Justice protested publicly that Al Ghussein was being detained outside its legal system. But Arafat's office issued press releases justifying the "detention" on the basis of "missing funds".

l Ghussein, who has always denied the allegations, was eventually released in August 2002 after a sustained public campaign by his daughter. Yet the fight goes on. Next month she will continue her bid to secure a public apology from Abu Dhabi and the Palestinian Authority when Jason McCue - a partner in the boutique London firm, H2O Law, which specialises in "counter-terrorism/ restorative justice" - will serve petitions on behalf of the family.

I recently filmed Mona Al Ghussein in her Mayfair home and asked why she is continuing her struggle. Strikingly beautiful, sitting erect on an ornately gilded chair, she spoke forcefully about her father's abduction, the threats and intimidation she and her family had suffered, and why she is determined to secure public acknowledgement and apology from those responsible.

"People say: 'Well, you are here - you are in England now, you have your parents, you have your family. Why can't you just drop it?' I have to say in response that it isn't just about our family. It's about justice. It's about the rule of law. It's about equity. It's about due process.

"Throughout this nightmare, all we have ever asked of Abu Dhabi, Yassir Arafat and subsequently Abu Mazen, is: give us a public apology saying that what you did was wrong and that it will never happen again. I am determined that some day soon they will have to tell the world that what they did to us was wrong. And I can tell you now that I will never rest until that day comes."

Stephen A. Desmond is senior lecturer in media at Thames Valley University and course leader for the MA in video production and film studies. His film, The Jaweed Al Ghussein Story , commissioned by al-Jazeera English, will be broadcast worldwide this autumn.

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