Advertisement Close

Pathbreakers of Arab America—Dena Takruri

posted on: Mar 6, 2024

Photo — Palestine Writes

By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer

This is the thirty-sixth of Arab America’s series on American pathbreakers of Arab descent. The series includes personalities from entertainment, business, sports, science, academia, journalism, and politics, among other areas. Our thirty-sixth pathbreaker is Dena Takruri, who was born in San Francisco. Her father was Palestinian, born and raised in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. Here, we depict how Dena’s classic American education led her to an esteemed career in journalism, though one she purposely skewed towards a dynamic view of her fellow Arabs and Palestinians.

As if born to relive her father’s experience, Dena Takruri reports passionately on Palestinians.

Born in San Francisco, Dena’s early life is reported on only sparsely. She identifies as Muslim and is an Arabic speaker. As noted above, her father was born and raised in the once-vibrant Palestinian city of Hebron. That fact itself offers a clue to her subsequent life choices. Wikipedia reports that she was educated at Lowell High School, followed by her achievement of a B.A. degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and Arab Studies.

Dena identifies as Palestinian American. She is a journalist, on-air presenter, and digital producer with AJ+, an online news service owned by Al Jazeera Media Network. She hosts the award-winning AJ+ docuseries “Direct From with Dena Takruri,” which focuses on domestic and international breaking news, political issues, and social justice movements.

Takruri hosts contextualized news stories on not only those concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict. She has also covered subjects as wide-ranging as the Korean conflict, the Black Lives Matter movement, American police brutality, mass incarceration in the United States, and the 2016 United States presidential election.

In 2007, Takruri began her broadcast career as co-host and producer on an hour-long satellite television program titled “What’s Happening,” which aired on Arab Radio and Television Network (ART). The show aired in North America and focused on current political, cultural, and social issues related to Arab Americans. Takruri joined Al Jazeera Arabic in Washington D.C. in 2008 as a producer on its weekly live current affairs show hosted by Abderrahim Foukara. That program examined the impact of U.S. politics on the Arab region. It included interviews with prominent political figures, including Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Gates, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Tony Blair, John McCain, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Dena has been recognized by multiple awards for “Direct From with Dena Takruri,” including two Edward R. Murrow Awards, a Webby Award, a Shorty Award, and a Clarion Award. Notably, her production of the episode “One Day in Hebron,” about her father’s experience growing up in Hebron, won Al Jazeera in the news category Peabody Award in 2023. It was subsequently retitled for YouTube as “How Israeli Apartheid Destroyed My Hometown.”

According to Al Jazeera, the video “has more than 1.7 million views on YouTube, shows host Dena Takruri return to Hebron, the once-vibrant Palestinian city where her father was born and raised.” In that video, Dena “retraced his steps to see what Israel’s military occupation has done to his hometown, finding segregated streets, traumatized residents, closed businesses and nets erected by the remaining Palestinians to catch rubbish thrown at them by Israeli settlers.”

Dena emphasized, “This win is significant for me as this was a personal film. In the course of our day filming there, we witnessed and experienced Israeli military aggression, settler harassment, and an impossible set of repressive conditions that the Palestinians who remain are routinely subject to.” She also noted that this film was made just weeks after the killing of fellow Palestinian American Al Jazeera reporter and Dena’s friend Shireen Abu Akleh. Takruri dedicated her film to Shireen and their mutual “unwavering commitment to continue to tell Palestinian stories.”

Building on her father’s story, Takruri takes on a second case—the saga of a Palestinian girl’s fight for freedom from the Israeli occupation.

Ahed Tamimi, imprisoned for her courageous protest of the Occupation — Photo CNN

During the past few years, Dena took on the story of a young Palestinian woman and formidable activist, Ahed Tamimi. Takruri coauthored the book, “They Called Me A Lioness: A Palestinian Girl’s Fight for Freedom,” Kirkus Review, 9/6/2022. The book is an account of Tamimi’s arrest and detention in an Israeli prison when she was just 16. Tamimi had grown up in the village of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank, where her family organized weekly marches to protest Israel’s illegal seizure of a local water source.

Takruri and Tamimi wrote, “She grew up terrified by the Israeli army’s brutal tactics, which included nighttime raids, home demolitions, attacks with pepper spray, and murder. As a child, the author dreaded the weekly demonstrations until an Israeli soldier shot her in the hand with a rubber-coated bullet while she was trying to escape the tear gas that soldiers had launched into her home. At this moment, she writes, she experienced a ‘numbness’ that motivated her to soothe her accumulated trauma through protesting.”

In a “One-On-One with Dena Takruri: The Palestinian Journalist Who Co-Authored Ahed Tamimi’s Memoir,” news source Scoopempire reported how Dena fell into the story of Tamimi. “The entire journey began by mere coincidence as Takruri happened to be in Palestine at the time when Ahed was getting released from an Israeli prison following an 8-month sentence.”

Several activists recommended Takruri to stick around and interview her once she is out of prison.” She remained, and thus began the journey of Ahed’s grueling story. Dena noted, “I couldn’t believe I was speaking to a 17-year-old! She struck me as incredibly wise, articulate, strong, humble, and gracious beyond her years. She eloquently articulated the grievances and aspirations not just of her generation of Palestinian children but the Palestinian people at large. It was inspiring.” Out of that experience, the book evolved. Takruri said the title “pays homage to how Tamimi is an iconic and valiant figure within Palestinian society.”

Ahed Tamimi (l.) with Dena — Photo CNN

Another review, “Middle East Books and More,” suggests “the beginning is a heavy read as Tamimi shares her family’s history and the brutality of Israel’s occupation as the nearby illegal settlement of Halamish confiscates the village’s beloved spring and land.” Further, the review notes, “The authors do not gloss over excruciating descriptions of strip searches and relentless interrogations without the presence of a parent or lawyer.”

In Tamimi’s words, “When they throw you in prison, the occupation forces want to see you broken and defeated, your spirits as low as the ground. When, instead, you dare to defy their system of oppression by laughing, it shows them that not even prison will break you or stop you from caring about your cause. Laughter sends a powerful message: We’re still alive, we’re still laughing, and we love life.” The review concludes, “That is a lesson everyone can learn.”

Dena Takruri renders a true service to consumers of news and book readers. She is truly adept at getting right down to earth in writing about her subject matter. It’s as if she is an ethnographer, reporting the details of people’s lives. These are the details that humanize, that show the human spirit in the face of often dehumanizing treatment. Yet, as we see in the case of Tamimi, the spirit to regain one’s freedom continues unabated.

–“Dena Takruri,” Wikipedia Biographies of Arab Americans, 2024
–“Al Jazeera wins Peabody Award for documentary One Day In Hebron,” Al Jazeera, 5/11/2023
–“Host of Peabody Award-winning ‘Direct From with Dena Takruri,’ co-Author “They Called Me A Lioness: A Palestinian Girl’s Fight for Freedom,” Kirkus Reviews, 9/6/2022
–Review of “They Called Me a Lioness: A Palestinian Girl’s Fight for Freedom,” Ahed Tamimi, Dena Takruri, Goodreads, 9/6/2022
–“A One-On-One with Dena Takruri: The Palestinian Journalist Who Co-Authored Ahed Tamimi’s Memoir,” Scoopempire, 12/16/2023

John Mason, Ph.D., focuses on Arab culture, society, and history is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America. The reproduction of this article is permissible with proper credit to Arab America and the author.

Check out our Blog here!