Foreign Policy Blogs

My Notebook, My Life

On the road of being a journalist, there is one important lesson I have learned–never abandon your notebook. By notebook, I mean reporter’s notebook–those kind that are long and skinny and allow you to flip the pages as you furiously take notes. For a journalist in the digital age, this might seem an archaic way to keep track of all the comings and goings in recording and reporting the news. But just like the irreplaceable physical presence of a newspaper, reporters’ notebooks are also part and parcel of the landscape of our world’s political, social, and economic life.

So when I think about my reluctance to let my reporter’s notebooks out of my sight, I realize there are good reasons. One notebook can contain a major record of my recent life and work as a reporter. My current notebook contains interviews with Christian Parenti and Ian Olds, who made the documentary “Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi ” together, about their slain Afghan colleague who was killed after being kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan. It also includes notes from a screening of “Fixer,” which is a searing look at life and death and the work in between for foreign correspondents in a place like Afghanistan.

Although I have never been to Afghanistan myself, Olds’ film transported me there in an eerie and disturbing way. I wasn’t the only one. During an interview, Olds told me, “More often than not, it’s silent through the credits [at screenings of the movie].”  Olds added that his most recent work has an impact on people that isn’t very cheerful. “I think some people are very hopeful or optimistic about Afghanistan,” Olds told me, indicating the possible level of reflection at work in the minds of the audience. “But it’s hard to be so after seeing this movie.”

His colleague Christian Parenti, an award-winning journalist, remembers the grimmer aspects of Afghanistan and Kabul from his time there.  “It’s really, really depressing,” Parenti told me about his time in the country’s capital, Kabul. “It’s the subtle things that are really grim,” he added, giving the example of a formerly large Soviet building that is bombed out and filled with homeless people living there.  “That kind of thing is haunting,” said Parenti. Parenti and Olds, like truly good journalists and documentary makers do, transported me to Afghanistan without ever having to leave New York.

In the same notebook is a long sought-after interview with esoteric photojournalist and filmmaker, Tim Hetherington. Hetherington won’t call himself a writer, but he is gifted with the written word. And he won’t call himself a photographer, either, but he takes pictures that are are lucid, mesmerizing, and often full of important information.

When I interviewed him, his new book, “Long Story Bit by Bit: Liberia Retold” had been out for about three months, and he was starting to get excited about his upcoming documentary about a U.S. Airborne platoon in Afghanistan that he is making with his colleague, Sebastian Junger (of Vanity Fair).  Hetherington is a perfect gentleman (he’s British), but doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to expressing himself. Surprisingly, he’ll even disown his own position as a well-known photographer who is on his way to serious stardom. (You can see more about his book here).

“I’m not interested in photography….” Hetherington told me when we met for an interview at a Mexican restaurant in Manhattan in August. (He wasn’t sure of the difference between a taco and a burrito as he’s from London).  “I’m interested in visual communication. Who cares about photography? Who cares about video?” Apparently, not even the photographer in this case, which makes his work all the more intriguing. What I find delightful about a professional like Hetherington is that he is as humble and disarming as he is talented. It’s no wonder he can look through his lens and capture the fatigue of a war-weary Marine resting from battle, as he did in a photograph that won the World Press Photo of the year award in 2007. Hands down, he has been my favorite interview so far this year.

My current notebook also contains the dust and scribblings of some travels in Israel earlier this month. I traveled throughout the West Bank for a series of stories I have been working on about Arabs and Jews who live in the occupied areas of Israel (known as the West Bank). There’s an interview with the mayor of a small city there, Ariel, who refused to call U.S. President Obama by his first name, instead insisting on using his middle name and calling him “Hussein Obama”. There are quotes from American settlers who emigrated from the U.S. to live in Efrat, Israel to fulfill lifelong dreams. There’s the vision of a Jewish woman settler in Karnei Shomron of a world where Jews belong to the land as much as the land belongs to them.

And last, but not least, the melodic musings of a man who lives on a mountaintop overlooking Jordan and Jerusalem in an illegal outpost settlement that he founded ten years ago.  He told me of his love of the desert home he shares with his wife and charming son. He said the desert can be a hard place for some people to live, because there you are “confronted with yourself”. His only conflict with his bedoin neighbors is whether they keep their goats out of his gardens. Inserted in the middle of these several visits to settlements was a day of tension in Jerusalem in which Israeli security officials feared violence would erupt.

The most recent interview in my worn notebook (which is almost full), is with famed Israeli writer Etgar Keret. Keret’s wickedly sharp sense of humor is balanced tremendously by his sensitive, insightful, and borderline philosophical views on the world and writing. Actually, it’s not borderline. Keret has no borders around him, at least none he has consciously put there.

I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw him in a talk at the New York Public Library with Ira Glass on October 28. And then I couldn’t stop thinking when he expressed his views about what Israelis often refer to as “the situation” (the conflict between Israelis and Arabs). I asked Keret how he feels when he’s either praised or criticized about his writing. He said likes the praise, and doesn’t mind the criticism. And in the end, Keret added something incredibly insightful about the triangular relationship between him, his books, and his readers. “There’s a distancing act where we both get closer to ourselves,” Keret told me.

A distancing act that brings us closer to ourselves? Sounds exactly like the illegible (to everyone but me) scribbles in my reporter’s notebook. When I flip through its worn, ink-marked pages, I realize that sometimes the best mirror of all is other people.




Genevieve Belmaker

Genevieve Belmaker is a freelance journalist and contributing editor with The Epoch Times ( She also contributes to Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists and Her blog on journalism is

Genevieve has traveled throughout the U.S., Asia, Central America, Israel and the West Bank for reporting assignments, including major investigative reports on the recovery of New Orleans, the encroaching presence of China in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the dangerous import of melamine-contaminated milk into the U.S. and settlement outposts in the West Bank. She regularly reports on issues related to journalism, and the work of journalists.

She holds a BA from the University of Southern California in International Relations, and has been a member of several prominent national and international professional media organizations, including the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the International Women’s Media Foundation, the New York Press Club, and the Newswomen’s Club of New York. She lives in Jerusalem, Israel with her husband and son.

Areas of Focus:
New Media; Journalism; Culture and Society