Theater of Cruelty

A chaos of lies

What is it like to have lived a life as a reporter and NRK correspondent? On the occasion of the book of the guilty, we talk to him about Norway as a friend of Israel, about the massacre in Sabra and Shatila and about Norwegian diplomacy.


One may ask why journalists apply to war zones and front lines. Odd Karsten Tveit is one of them: «I first came to the Middle East in 1975 from the desk at NRK. There was war in Lebanon. Others with children and family were not interested in ruining the summer. Actually, I was an economist and expert on North Sea oil – but it was not exciting enough, so I moved abroad. I am very curious, it is a part of me to travel and experience. It's not like I'm rushing to war or seeking out dangerous situations. But as a reporter, you have to be close to what is happening, as I traveled with the photographers to the front line. I did not sit in a bar or editorial office and use press releases from Reuters and AP. At the same time, I used the 'mountain weather rules' – talked to celebrities, checked the weather forecast, and knew that it would be wrong to turn around, "says Tveit.
Colleague Robert Fisk writes about Tveit i Pity the Nation. Lebanon at War (1990) that he "had an unstoppable appetite to see for himself what happened in the Lebanon war. [H] an went out to the battles. ”Fish was constantly surprised that Tveit didn't die out there, and considered him a Survivor. Fish's rule was to move around such. "Robert Fisk is a good writer, but sometimes he exaggerates a little," Tveit says. “I was a correspondent who wanted to come back alive. The news doesn't come to you, you have to find out. We traveled together and we were both terrified. He's one of the best correspondents I know of. "
NRK correspondent Odd Karsten Tveit goes in the book just published The guilty ones (Kagge Forlag) into the Middle East conflicts with the military, diplomats and intelligence agents – but also Norway's involvement in the area. According to him, "things are never what they seem". The book of over 1100 pages moves over several decades: from the six-day war in 1967 via the Lillehammer murder of the 70s, the Lebanon war, the first intifada in the 80s and up to our time.
Most people lived at the time at the Commodore Hotel in Beirut, a hotel Tveit describes for Ny Tid: "Commodore became the journalist hotel in the heart of West Beirut. Car bombs were also fired at and fired outside the hotel. The bar at the hotel was the place where scouts, spies, journalists, military and diplomats hung out. It was a great atmosphere. I later found out that several were spies for the CIA. For example, Yassir Arafat's closest intelligence adviser, Abu Hassan Salame. "
Fisk also describes this journalistic environment as a place where they shared experiences. Tveit comments: "Yes, you shared things with people you trusted and who had seen something yourself rather than relying on rumors. We were constantly fooled and lied to by people in positions of power. Now in retrospect, I think of Nietzsche who wrote that statesmen never tell the truth, but rather stories that suit them – even if it is a lie or half-truth. "
In the book The guilty ones there are many liars. "It applies to everyone. You can't trust them. A Jewish-American journalist who already came undercover to Palestine in 1948 once said to me: 'Always double check history. If your mother says she loves you, double check that too. '»

"One night at Yasir Arafat's office in West Beirut in 1980."
"One night at Yasir Arafat's office in West Beirut in 1980."

Sabra and Shatila. Two followed the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the ensuing war. He was also one of the few who, along with Robert Fisk, reported from the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Fish describes how Tveit "emotionally called up the bodies and reported".
"I went in with Robert Fisk of The Times, Loren Jenkings of the Washington Post and AP photographer Bill Foley. Then we saw the bodies, "Tveit says. “We tried to act together and calmly. I was clear in my head and reported in the sound recorder. But my body reacted. I threw up all the time. I tried to count how many I saw, because I knew there would later be questions about whether we were talking true or whether we were exaggerating. Later, I made a documentary based on film clips others eventually took, combined with my material as a radio reporter. In the Brennpunkt documentary The Traces of Sharon you have everything. ”
Both Tveit and Fisk have an interest in details in Sabra / Shatila back in September 1982. Fisk describes how the flies buzzed everywhere among the corpses – he opened his mouth, it was filled with flies, they crawled on the notebook white sheets, on his bare skin. He describes it all as a hot afternoon during the Black Death. Children with throat cut, inflated darkened babies, stacks of male bodies, castrated, dead eyes staring, women lying over rubbish heaps, dead horses, a three-year-old with the back of his head blown away, women with bellies cut open and fetuses pulled out, and a corpse odor in their clothes. Tveit comments to Ny Tid: "We heard the sound of the flies because it was so quiet. Then we smelled the bodies. We saw dead people, heads, arms. Killed women and children with blood still flowing. A man over 90 years old was lying next to his cane, his eyes were stabbed with a knife. It was cruel. But you try to report as accurately as possible. I did not have nightmares about this. It's like a craft – you have to be honest and do it right. It's like making a chair. He tries to make it as good as possible, even though it's an asshole that will use it afterwards. And you know you'll never be good enough. "

Israel did not want the CIA to have close ties to the PLO.

Speaking of details about the 2000 killers, Tveit writes on page 338: "I saw a male's head, children's feet, a woman's breast, a stomach that looked like a rock." Almost the same phrase that Fisk wrote 25 years ago (page 364 i Pity the Nation). They followed each other completely. Another situation described by Fisk is the one where they both came across a dead, beautiful woman lying in a backyard under the clothesline she had hung clothes on. Fish assumes she was killed a few minutes back, and raped since her skirt was pulled up and her legs were spread. Was she just another one to count? I ask Tveit. "No, but journalists have different styles. I'm not going into the details. I like to write about such, but don't overdo it. People can think for themselves, people are not stupid. "

The guilty ones. Both Tveit and Fisk have described how two Israeli Hercules planes landed in Beirut 24 hours before the massacre, full of Lebanese Christian militia groups, trained and uniformed by Israel – but also how the road to Sabra / Shatila was recently marked with road posts. This massacre was actually surrounded by Israel's regular army. With Sharon as responsible minister of defense, the Israelis mapped these Christian phalangists and lit up the night dark with the message to "flush out the terrorists". Tveit comments: “They told them what to do. In Sabra and Shatila, it was also the Zionists who were to blame, even though they did not kill themselves. "
One of Twit's colleagues at the time, Janet Le Stevens, went to the phalangist headquarters afterwards and interviewed the leader Joseph Hadad. She shouted to him that he was a butcher – he crossed and was silent. Two in the book say that the Christian militia had been given "cocaine, hashish and liquor to become 'brave' enough to kill" (page 139). But what about Tveit himself – would he be able to respond like Stevens to all the use of power?
"No. I do not. It's not my style to call out to people. Stevens was an activist. She is an American journalist who proved to be a strong supporter of the PLO. I try to walk around and see this as a professional journalist. Then it is not appropriate to shout to people on any of the pages. My job is to tell people what happened. Once I met Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem, my doctor asked how I could meet this killer. I asked if he wouldn't treat his patients just as well if he or she was a killer or your enemy? He looked at me and said, "You're right."
But Tveit must judge – how else could he have written a book with the title The guilty ones? "Yes, many are guilty. But as a correspondent for the state channel NRK, you have one agenda. As a TV or radio reporter, you report less sensitive than when you write a book many years later. ”

«On April 18, 1983, the US embassy in Beirut was blown into the air by a car bomb. I was 300 meters away and got to the scene early. Lebanese photographer Marwan Wakim took the photo, which I purchased many months later with the right to publish. ”
«On April 18, 1983, the US embassy in Beirut was blown into the air by a car bomb. I was 300 meters away and got to the scene early. Lebanese photographer Marwan Wakim took the photo, which I purchased many months later with the right to publish. ”

I The guilty ones Tveit also criticizes NRK, after reporting on the phone from the famous massacre, and the desk journalist at home in safe Oslo then put his own name on the case that was presented. "I felt that the reporter at the news desk wanted to be on the air itself, but there may also have been technical errors on the telephone line," says Tveit.
As for the reporter's role in the public eye, I ask Tveit about his colleague Sidsel Wold, who has been quite wrongly criticized for unilaterally defending Palestine during the Gaza war last summer. What does Tveit think about the audience's opinion of the reporters?
"I don't want to discuss this. It has to do with person. Some respond to criticism online, I have chosen not to. If someone points out that I made a mistake, I can complain and say that I make mistakes all the time. But people who just criticize me for things I haven't said, or things they think I've said, don't bother to get involved. That's probably why I've escaped a lot of criticism – who cares? "
The conflict over Palestine is not black or white, Tveit emphasizes. "There are so many gray zones. One cannot say that some are terrorists and that some are not. There are abusers and criminals on all sides. But Palestine is occupied, and the Palestinians are trying to get the country back. One should be careful to say that the Palestinians are innocent, while the Israelis are guilty. It is guilty on all sides. But it is an imbalance – it is a weak and a strong power. You can never be neutral when reporting an unbalanced war, "he says, and continues:" Norway is still a good friend of Israel. The Norwegian authorities are friendly, but the public, on the other hand, has changed completely. When I came to Lebanon in 1978, most people in Norway believed that the PLO was a terrorist organization. The Palestinians were not entitled to a state, so was Israel. Now it's reversed. ”

«From the front line on the Iranian side in the war between Iraq and Iran (1980–1988). We arrived during the bombing while NRK's ​​photographer Elfin Haug continued filming. Later we went to the Iraqi side of the front. "
«From the front line on the Iranian side in the war between Iraq and Iran (1980–1988). We arrived during the bombing while NRK's ​​photographer Elfin Haug continued filming. Later we went to the Iraqi side of the front. "

Propaganda? Israel's ambassador to Norway, Raphael Schutz, characterized journalism here in Ny Tid (in September) as the left's propaganda against his homeland. Tveit comments: "An ambassador has been sent abroad to speak on behalf of his own government, and in this case a very conservative government. That's his job. Some say that diplomats are people who are sent abroad to lie on behalf of their country's authorities. I'm not saying he's lying, but their job is to respond if Israel is criticized. "
To Gideon Levy, Haaretz's journalist in Israel, given the same characteristic of Schutz, Tveit has the following comment: "I have read a lot of many Israeli journalists, but the most interesting of them are those who are at risk of being killed for their opinions . It is dangerous to criticize Israel. We in Norway have no problems with this, but I have great respect for people in all countries who dare to say something despite the fear of their own lives. ”
Tveit points out that the Israeli military is increasingly becoming an army of settlers. “Many Israeli officers live in settlements. One day, they are settlers who might attack Palestinian civilians near the settlements. The next day, they are in uniform and represent the Israeli army. Israeli journalists have mapped this out, finding that Israeli military is far more right-wing than before because many live in settlements. More and more people are worried about what will happen in Israel in the future. I understand them. ”
What about the United States, Israel's old supporter of the UN Security Council? Is there a change going on there?

"It's very complicated, but I think it's the Christianists and not the Jewish lobby that really foster US support for Israel. Although on the surface today it seems as if the United States is criticizing Netanyahu's government, they are ultimately united. It became clear again a few weeks ago when the question of a Palestinian flag outside the UN building arose. Israel and the United States voted no. Surprisingly, Norway was over. But when the ceremony took place, Børge Brende was on the field to show solidarity. So, in reality, the vote was about not creating problems inside the Norwegian government when Frp is in government. This is internal politics, but no foreign policy. "

"I didn't want to ruin the government."
- Dear Willoch

So anyway – does Tveit have his own opinions about those he meets in the Middle East? "I oppose states based on religion, be it Christianity, Islam or Judaism. I'm for democratic states that defend their citizens, no matter what religion they belong to. But I am not the type of journalist who enters into discussions with politicians. I ask questions and try to report the answers as accurately as possible. I remember once criticizing Yitzhak Rabin by expressing that I might have asked a stupid question. He replied that there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers. I ask, but I don't discuss with my interview items. "

Norwegian diplomacy. What about the politicians, can they let emotions rule? In Twits's previous book Goodbye Lebanon (page 293) describes the anger of former Minister of Defense Johan Jørgen Holst when he confronted his Israeli colleague Shimon Peres – after he became aware that the Israelis used torture during interrogation. "Later, when Johan Jørgen Holst became Minister of Foreign Affairs, he did not use the same language, even though it was torture. Politicians think more often interests than on morality. I think it suited him to be softer towards the Israeli Labor Party government as foreign minister than as defense minister, when there was no secret diplomacy to deal with. "
Foreign Minister Knut Frydenlund also criticized his colleagues for suspecting the then Israeli ambassador Keenan to build up an anti-PLO stance in Norway. Norway's friendliness to Israel was also evident with Kåre Willoch, according to Tveit: "Willoch was quite gentle with the Israeli government when he was prime minister. I asked him later: Why were you so gentle with them – did you know about the occupation? You knew everything you know now, and only now do you support the cause of the Palestinians? Then he replied: At that time I was prime minister, and had a cooperative government with a Christian party. I didn't want to ruin the government. "
So you should not trust politicians? Two answers: “Different times create different answers. An Israeli once said to me: Ask ten Israelis one question and you will get ten different answers. But ask one Israeli the same question ten times, and you will also get ten different answers. Answers have to do with the situation. I think that applies in Norway as well. ”
Another story among the many in the book is Tveit's story about Supreme Court Attorney Annæus Schjødt, the founder of the law firm Schjødt AS in Oslo. Here, an earlier climate is suggested in Norway. Schjødt eventually became the defender of one of the six arrested after the 1973 Lillehammer killing, Sylvia Raphael, who was steadfast in her belief in defending Israel as a longtime Mossad agent. They had killed the wrong man, not he they thought was Arafat's closest intelligence adviser – said Hassan Salame, of Mossad called the Red Prince. Schjødt later married the South African woman he had defended as a "soldier". She was very talkative about Mossad's work in Paris, so Norway chose Israel to close the case for Israel's sake. Her punishment was later halved at the request, but a residence permit was more difficult. She was also tried to kill in Norway, according to Tveit, where Mossad (strength 17) was revealed in trying to take her former agent (page 433). Interestingly, Tveit describes how to work at the ministerial level, even with the close ties Norway had to Israel at the time: “The Norwegian authorities worked to prevent the Mossad agents from being exposed. The story continues when Mossad succeeds in killing the Red Prince of Beirut in 1979. This is also a beautiful story with the potential to become a television series. It's these behind the stories I love to write about. For example, ministers, like Foreign Minister Knut Frydenlund, did not come out well with this story. They thought politically rather than legally. "
Two is good at these stories, the details, the Crimean stories. He also describes how people like Jens Christian Hauge and Justice Minister Inger Louise Valle worked and were involved. It also reveals how the authorities and Schjødt would like to conceal the fact that Israel had nuclear weapons, with supplies of uranium to Fimona: “It is interesting to see how Norwegian politicians and police set a time bomb. They knew Israel had nuclear weapons, but they didn't want to reveal it. "

"In 1990, on the intifada's 1000th day, we wanted to make a report in Ramallah. In the middle of a "standup" in front of the camera, an Israeli soldier jumped out of the jeep and began firing at the stone-throwing young Palestinians. " The clip is on YouTube and viewed by over six million people.
"In 1990, on the intifada's 1000th day, we wanted to make a report in Ramallah. In the middle of a "standup" in front of the camera, an Israeli soldier jumped out of the jeep and began firing at the stone-throwing young Palestinians. " The clip is on YouTube and viewed by over six million people.

Occupation: Reporter. Can you really just report, be a neutral reporter, or do you judge by journalist choosing who you talk to? If so, does Tveit convey his own opinions when he does this? IN The guilty ones he describes, for example, former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, well known to a Norwegian public, as a corrupt politician in relation to President Abbas. "As a reporter, I ask people to check," Tveit says. "It is the Palestinian people who believe that Abbas is corrupt and that they have not seen the same behavior at Fayyad. Abbas forced Fayyad to step down after confrontations, and now he is accused by Abbas' security forces. Internal Palestine affairs are not the living rooms they are either. ”
Tveit has observed power relations over a 40-year period. I ask him if it all seems like a theater?
"You have to have very good imagination to understand what's really happening, because when you look back at Israeli presidents and prime ministers, you find people who have been in prison for both rape and corruption. I think corruption is everywhere. But in Israel it is far more revealed than anywhere else. In Palestine, there have not yet been any major litigation, so it is still a bit under the rug. But people know. "

Politicians think more often interests than on morality.
On the 1100 pages Tveit has now written, he especially found intelligence agents from Mossad, Shin Bet and the CIA far more places than at the said Commodore Hotel. He also found that Jordan's King Hussein was on the CIA's payroll. And he has had access to letters from the Oslo process, as well as archives others have not had. So what is the conclusion and experience after these 40 years, from when he changed his course from economic oil journalism and went to Lebanon – with countless TV reports and thousands of written pages about the Middle East?
"I stand on other people's shoulders when I write about the Middle East, so it's not me who figured this out. But I found some first-hand sources that could tell what happened over the last 40 years. For example, I met Mustafa Sein. He was a very useful source because he linked Arafat's intelligence staff with the CIA in Beirut. The Red Prince, whom they first tried to kill in Lillehammer and then killed in Beirut, was not killed because he was part of Black September (behind the Munich killings). He was killed because Israel did not want the CIA to have close ties to PLO and Arafat, and learn what they really thought. That's why they killed him. "
It is clear that there are completely different reasons why things happen than you think, if you look closer. I end the conversation by asking the reporter with the patch in front of one eye whether he has been disillusioned after all these years.
"Yes, I am disillusioned when it comes to the Middle East. But my job is to report, and hopefully be a good writer. The guilty ones will not be my last book. ”


Truls Lie
Truls Liehttp: /
Editor-in-chief in MODERN TIMES. See previous articles by Lie i Le Monde diplomatique (2003–2013) and Morgenbladet (1993-2003) See also part video work by Lie here.

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