Mohammed Ghuneim, former director of the VOA Arabic Service and frontline Middle East correspondent during the last half of the 20th century, died May 16 in West Palm Beach, Florida. He had just celebrated his 90th birthday last December. A funeral service and burial were held on May 18 in West Palm Beach.
Born in Jaffa in 1929, which later became part of Israel, Mr. Ghuneim is survived by his wife, Aida, two sons, Ghassan and Nizar Ghuneim, two daughters, Fayrouz and Mona Ghuneim, and six grandchildren.
Mr. Ghuneim was known throughout the Middle East, and beyond, for his courageous reporting from Lebanon, Syria, and numerous other countries in that region. He covered the June war of 1967, the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict, and the subsequent ill-fated Arab-Israeli peace talks of the 1970s. He broadcast in English and Arabic to both regional and global audiences.
Mr. Ghuneim’s postings included Beirut, Rhodes, and Washington. Highlights included his on-scene coverage of Syria and his entry with leading U.S. forces in the liberation of Kuwait after Saddam Hussein’s seven-month occupation of that tiny country in late 1991 and early 1992.
His live description from a U.S. jeep crossing the border to newly-liberated Kuwait is a classic.
“The unmistakable evidence of the ferocious war waged for Kuwait is apparent with the first step across the Saudi-Kuwaiti border. Bulldozers had erased the modern highways. Trenches and minefields took their place…
“In Kuwait City, everything in sight was a grim reminder of the people’s hunger, thirst, and suffering. Further proof came at noon, when a creeping cloud of smoke from burning wells eclipsed the sun and devoured the light. Fumbling through pockets and purses, passersby pulled out their battery-operated torches, if only to light the bleakness of their souls. Suddenly it rained, washing away the black veil… Daylight returned, and with it, Kuwaitis went on to celebrate their freedom.”
In Syria in 1987, Mr. Ghuneim was detained by police for 12 hours while attempting to enter the country. According to U.S. Embassy officials there, American citizen Ghuneim was taken from Damascus International Airport to anther location and kept in a tiny, dark cell. He was interrogated repeatedly about his ties to Iraq, PLO leader Yasser Arafat, and the U.S. government.
After vigorous American Embassy appeals to the Syrian ministries of foreign affairs and information, Mr. Ghuneim was released and remained in Damascus for five days. He conducted a half dozen interviews with Syrian educational and cultural figures. And he even hired a contractual reporter for VOA in Damascus. Syrian officials later apologized to Ghuneim, calling his detention a case of “mistaken identity.”
In the final years of his career, this suave, savvy, journalist directed VOA Arabic’s 17-member staff and moderated both radio and emerging TV productions at VOA headquarters in Washington. He was highly respected in international, as well as Arab media circles. He earned several distinguished service awards at VOA.
Postscript: The VOA’s radio and TV Arabic Service, which cost $17 million annually, was abolished and replaced by Radio Sawa in 2002-2003 by the oversight Broadcasting Board of Governors. (Sawa was quickly expanded to a multimedia Arabic service, predominantly 24/7 TV, by the Board’s then newly-established Middle East Broadcasting Network). MBN today costs $112.6 million a year with an audience of 24.4 million weekly.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More