Graham Usher was Palestine correspondent for The Economist, Middle East International and al-Ahram English Weekly. He authored two books for Pluto in the 1990s: Dispatches from Palestine: The Rise and Fall of the Oslo Peace Process (Pluto, 1999), and Palestine in Crisis: The Struggle for Peace and Political Independence After Oslo (Pluto, 1995). The following obituary appeared in The Economist. It is with great sadness that we note his death.
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GRAHAM USHER, for many years The Economist’s Palestine correspondent, died in New York on August 8th, aged 54, from Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. Based in Gaza, Ramallah and East Jerusalem, he covered Palestinian affairs for the paper from the early 1990s until 2005 when he and his wife Barbara Plett, a BBC correspondent, moved from the Middle East to Pakistan, and later to New York.
The Economist had never had a correspondent specifically dealing with Palestinian affairs before Graham. It relied, or limped along, on correspondents based in Israel, on casual stringers and on reports from visiting editors. When Graham was first asked to contribute regularly, he was a bit dubious that he could fit in with the paper’s style and views but agreed to give it a go. His father had been a union-activist printer, and Graham had held militantly left-wing views, passionately supporting the 1984 miners’ strike and other British causes of the time. He also worked at further-education colleges in London’s East End, teaching the children of immigrants and refugees, and in the early 1990s he moved to Gaza to teach English. From there he started writing for a specialist magazine, Middle East International, and, soon after that, for The Economist too.
Graham’s honesty in reporting quickly convinced even sceptics at The Economist that he was a valuable asset. For the first time the paper’s swiftly expanding readership was being given a view of Palestinian affairs that was continuous, direct and knowledgeable. He was skilled at detecting what was important and what was not, in finding good examples to illustrate his points and in explaining things clearly to the less well-informed. He had excellent contacts but was not misled by the high and mighty. He lived simply. He put the Palestinian case in its cruel and endless conflict with Israel but he did so truthfully, without omitting the numberless faults and follies on the Palestinian side.
The Oslo peace process dominated Middle Eastern news during the bulk of Graham’s time with The Economist. Shortage of space meant that his coverage often had to be blended with the reports from David Landau, the paper’s distinguished (and still current) Israel correspondent, into a single article. This was a challenge for them both. Graham was pretty soon sceptical about the genuineness of the peace process. But what the editor who did most of the blending remembers most is the good temper and generosity of both correspondents (who fortunately liked and respected each other) in accepting the melding of their reports and analysis.
Visiting “firemen” from head office can be a pest for foreign correspondents. Graham was kind to them, generous with contacts and ungrudging of the time he had to spend guiding them through Palestinian back streets and over Israeli obstacles. Somehow, with jokes, gossip and breaks for coffee and meals, he managed to make such visits fun.
Most of all, he will be remembered for his integrity, his courage and his passion for justice, especially for the Palestinians. He was one of the finest correspondents to have covered one of the world’s most complex and enduring conflicts.