An Evening with Helen Thomas and Flashback to John Lennon and Mordechai Vanunu

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Helen Thomas at Presidential Press Conference. Hey, wait! Is that? War is Over?

by Eileen Fleming

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Washington, D.C.-When I heard the call to “Move Over AIPAC: Building a New US Middle East Policy” I immediately became one of over 100 organizations to endorse it; but I didn’t commit to attend the event until I learned that journalist Helen Thomas was to be the keynote speaker.

By the time I booked my flight, Ms. Thomas had been “disinvited” because of the pressure from a few particular people who had still not gotten over her flaming honesty expressed on 27 May 2010, in a courtyard at the White House.

As “life is what happens while you are making other plans” [John Lennon] their shortsightedness led to one of the highlights of my 57 years of life.

On 20 May 2011, I enjoyed an evening with Ms. Thomas and was introduced to my new favorite aperitif; a mix of Vodka, Lemoncello and strained raspberry juice which was followed by an exquisite dinner prepared in the home of Ms. Thomas’s friend and assistant, Michelle Cohen, who is in the middle of Rich Forer and Helen Thomas:

Only because of my new best author friend, Richard Forer, was I even invited to that dinner!

IMG_1064Ms. Thomas had recently reviewed Rich’s book, “Breakthrough: Transforming Fear Into Compassion – A New Perspective on the Israel-Palestine Conflict.”

 

Ms. Thomas wrote, “People need to be informed so we can make good decisions regarding our involvement in the Middle East, and ultimately support the right governments. Forer offers a viewpoint that is not available in the mainstream…I admire Forer’s courage to not being silent. He openly shares his personal transformation, and encourages the reader to be willing to ‘assess one’s beliefs with honesty and to follow wherever the facts lead’. The truth cannot be silenced.” [1}





This member of the New Fourth Estate-Internet muckraker and activist reporter not only admires Ms. Thomas for her truth telling, I contend that she is in the same league with Edward R. Murrow!

Eileen fleming with Helen Thomas-her new best friend of the old Fourth Estate

In 1958, Murrow warned that as television became more about entertainment and not about shows of enlightenment, this republic would be dumbed down; but only an informed and engaged citizenry can preserve a democracy, which thrives on dissent!

During Jewish Heritage Month in 2010, in a courtyard at the White House, blogger and Long Island Rabbi David Nesenoff approached Ms. Thomas and introduced her to two young boys with him who were interested in a career in journalism.

Nesenoff asked, “So what do you think of Israel? Got any advice? Go for it” as he pointed his camera at Ms. Thomas like a “jackknife” and she readily replied, “They should get the hell out of Palestine.”

In an interview with Playboy, Ms. Thomas elaborated, “I knew I’d hit the third rail. You cannot say anything about Israel in this country. But I’ve lived with this cause for many years. Everybody knows my feelings that the Palestinians have been shortchanged in every way. Sure, the Israelis have a right to exist—but where they were born, not to come and take someone else’s home. I’ve had it up to here with the violations against the Palestinians. Why shouldn’t I say it?” [2]

Flashback to John Lennon


In the summer of 1966, it was reported that John Lennon made a comment to a friend and reporter that the Beatles were more popular with my generation than Jesus was.

Lennon endured a firestorm of media attacks, but none inquired as to WHY kids like me who went to mass every Sunday and catechism every Wednesday afternoon, never quoted Jesus but knew every lyric to every Beatles song.

Because of Ms. Thomas’s truth telling the ‘occupied’ media relentlessly attacked her and although she issued an apology, Ms. Thomas abruptly “resigned” from Hearst Newspapers on 7 June 2010. Her speaking agency dropped her, journalism schools and organizations rescinded awards named in her honor and she lost her front row seat in the White House press-room; and it was all because she audaciously spoke her heart and mind as did John Lennon!

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The old Fourth Estate spins the illegal colonies/settlements as ‘neighborhoods’ and never mentions such things as Aliyah, which I learned about during my first of seven trips to Israel and occupied Palestine in June 2005 from an American Jewess who had taken the deal. She informed me:

“I get fifteen hundred shekels or about thirty-six hundred dollars a year in increments to help with my expenses. I can apply for unemployment benefits after seven months, as long as I look for a job. I just completed Ulpan, which was five hundred hours of Hebrew language immersion studies that took five months, five hours a day, for five weeks. I get subsidized rent and just moved out of the Absorption Center Projects. All the new immigrants get room, utilities, and three meals a day for the first five months in Israel. We also receive free medical care and all the doctors here are dedicated. We can go to the university with 100 percent of the tuition paid by the government. College is much cheaper here; it’s about three thousand to four thousand dollars a year. Until I am thirty years old, I can receive up to three years of education for my master’s degree.”[3]

Any Jew without any historical connection to the so-called Holy Land is encouraged by the state of Israel to colonize legally owned Palestinian property.

On 16 July 2007, while I was in Jerusalem, I learned from an Israeli citizen and volunteer with ICAHD/Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions:

“There is an advertisement that runs in the USA that reads: ‘Have a Holiday Home in Jerusalem.’ The ad does not mention this home is 100% ILLEGAL! There are forty-two illegal settlements in the Muslim, Christian and Armenian quarters of Jerusalem. The only green area for [Palestinian] children to play will soon have a high rise for the settlers, which will be 7 meters taller than the walls of the Old City! The Wall has been deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice [in 2005] but America continues to allow it to grow. The wall is way over the Green Line proving it is not about security but about grabbing Palestinian land. Israel’s policy of Quiet Transfer: getting rid of the Palestinians is a huge humanitarian crisis. It is clear how the wall zig zags that it is not about security but about grabbing the maximum land with minimal Palestinian occupation.” [IBID]

During my conversation with Ms. Thomas I filled her in on my distress over Amy Goodman’s failure to follow up on her 2004 interview with Mordechai Vanunu which resulted in his being sentenced to 6 months in jail in 2007 and then enduring 78 days back in solitary in 2010, just because he dared to speak to foreign media after he was released from 18 years in jail for telling the truth and providing the photographic proof of Israel’s WMD Program.

My view from a rooftop in Aida Camp, in the little town of Bethlehem which is Occupied Territory, June 2009

In April 2007, I had lunch with Amy Goodman-not because we have ever been friends, but only because I had once been a generous donor to Democracy NOW! was I invited to have lunch with Amy.

I accepted the invitation only so I could fill Amy in on the fact that her 2004 interview with Vanunu was major testimony against him in his FREEDOM of SPEECH trial-which began the same day Hamas was democratically elected on 25 January 2006- and also to ask her to follow up asap!

Amy acted interested and jotted down notes in her Blackberry, but she didn’t bother to call Vanunu until July 2007 after he was sentenced to 6 more months in jail essentially for speaking to foreign media in 2004!

Vanunu refused to speak to Amy because she –like all THE MEDIA-hadn’t done anything to raise awareness about Israel’s continuing persecution of him and to this day Vanunu is still waiting for his inalienable right to leave Tel Aviv and fly to freedom.

After I filled Ms. Thomas in on my anger with Amy she replied, “She used to be better.”

I then brought up Ms. Thomas’s first and last question to President Obama regarding Middle East nuclear weapons when he blew her off claiming he didn’t want to ‘speculate’ and her ‘peers’ remained mute, although the State Department has reams of documentation about Israel’s WMD.

Ms. Thomas replied, “They have no conscience.”

I also claim their lack of integrity borders on treason!

I was not a reporter when I met Vanunu for the first time in June 2005, but I knew I had to become one when he told me:

“Did you know that President Kennedy tried to stop Israel from building atomic weapons? In 1963, he forced Prime Minister Ben Guirion to admit the Dimona was not a textile plant, as the sign outside proclaimed, but a nuclear plant. The Prime Minister said, ‘The nuclear reactor is only for peace”.

“Kennedy insisted on an open internal inspection. He wrote letters demanding that Ben Guirion open up the Dimona for inspection.

“The French were responsible for the actual building of the Dimona. The Germans gave the money; they were feeling guilty for the Holocaust, and tried to pay their way out. Everything inside was written in French, when I was there, almost twenty years ago. Back then, the Dimona descended seven floors underground.

“In 1955, Perez and Guirion met with the French to agree they would get a nuclear reactor if they fought against Egypt to control the Sinai and Suez Canal. That was the war of 1956. Eisenhower demanded that Israel leave the Sinai, but the reactor plant deal continued on.

“When Johnson became president, he made an agreement with Israel that two senators would come every year to inspect. Before the senators would visit, the Israelis would build a wall to block the underground elevators and stairways. From 1963 to ’69, the senators came, but they never knew about the wall that hid the rest of the Dimona from them.

“Nixon stopped the inspections and agreed to ignore the situation. As a result, Israel increased production. In 1986, there were over two hundred bombs. Today, they may have enough plutonium for ten bombs a year.”

After cheese cake for desert I asked Ms. Thomas what she would advise anyone who wanted to go into the field of journalism and she stated:

“Go for it! It’s the greatest profession in the world because you are always learning and you are aware of the world, so you just might be able to affect change.

“You cannot have a democracy without an informed people.

“Information is everything; it enlarges your intellect and that guides you.

“The job is to follow the truth and report where it leads you!

“Right and wrong is not relative. Empathy is fine but kindness and sympathy do not change the facts and conscience is everything!

“Leaders are suppose to do the right thing and we should back up the president when he does the right thing; but drop him when he doesn’t.

“The WHY is the most important question-not that something happened- but WHY did it happen?

“Somewhere along the way America lost its soul.

“People have to rise up but Americans have become so passive and power overwhelmingly abusive.”

I responded, “So how do we fix this situation?”

Ms. Thomas replied, “It’s being done!”

And when I asked Ms. Thomas if she had always wanted to be a journalist, her persistent smile broadened and the gleam in her eyes sparkled with unshed tears as she replied, “When my first article was published in the high school paper and I saw my byline, I was hooked!”

I shot back, “I had a similar but opposite experience!”

I explained that when I was a child, my dream was to grow up and become Brenda Starr, the red headed, ace investigative journalist and star reporter for the metropolitan daily, The Flash. The fictional Brenda traveled the world solving mysteries and unearthing scoops and she intuitively knew when somebody was not telling the truth.

But when my first assignment for the high school newspaper was edited beyond my recognition but my name was attached, my Irish temper erupted and I immediately confronted the faculty member on the paper and inquired, “Why did you publish an article with my name but with words I did NOT write?”

I was told that it was just standard procedure for the faculty to edit all of the student’s work and I replied, “Not mine you don’t! I quit!”

Ms. Thomas pointed her finger at me and said, “That’s ethics!”

And that comment is the second highest compliment I have ever been paid in my life!

The first remains the one Mordechai Vanunu graced me with when he said, I was always good to remind him of JC/Jesus Christ.

JC was never a Christian, but a social justice radical revolutionary nonviolent Palestinian devout Jew who rose up against a corrupt Temple and taught the people there was no need to pay the high priests for ritual baths or sacrificing livestock to be OK with God; for God already loved just as they were.

What got JC crucified was agitating the status quo of the Roman Occupying forces, for Rome’s method of capitol punishment was to crucify all dissidents, rebels and agitators.

And that leads me back to John Lennon:

“Christ, you know it ain’t easy. You know how hard it can be. The way things are going; They’re gonna crucify me!

“The struggle is in the mind. We must bury our own monsters and stop condemning people. We are all Christ and Hitler. We want Christ to win. We’re trying to make Christ’s message contemporary. What would he have done if he had advertisements, records, films, TV and newspapers! Christ made miracles to tell his message. Well, the miracle today is communications, so let’s use it.”

For love for all of the people on this one small planet, this little sister is doing just that!

Rabbi’s and Mahdi Al-Husseini, a Palestinian American Muslim who still has family in Occupied East Jerusalem with his sons in D.C on the street outside of Congress, 24 May 2011.

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Rabbi’s and Mahdi Al-Husseini, a Palestinian American Muslim who still has family in Occupied East Jerusalem with his sons in D.C on the street outside of Congress, 24 May 2011.
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  1. http://wearewideawake.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2049&Itemid=245
  2. http://www.veteranstoday.com/2011/03/18/playboy-interview-helen-thomas/
  3. “THIRD INTIFADA/UPRISING: NONVIOELENT But With Words Sharper Than a Two-Edged Sword” by Eileen Fleming

Author Details
Eileen Fleming, A Citizen of CONSCIENCE for House of Representatives 2012 campaign can be followed at EileenFleming.org. Eileen also founded WeAreWideAwake.org, Produced “30 Minutes with Vanunu” and “13 Minutes with Vanunu” and authored “Keep Hope Alive” and “Memoirs of a Nice Irish American ‘Girl’s’ Life in Occupied Territory” and BEYOND NUCLEAR: Mordechai Vanunu’s FREEDOM of SPEECH Trial and My Life as a Muckraker: 2005-2010. Visit Eileen’s YouTube Channel
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