Mourning a reporter who defied it all
by Ilana Bet-El
Elizabeth Neuffer, a correspondent for The Boston Globe, was killed in a car crash in Iraq last week. A car accident in a war zone seems like a really bad joke. In truth, if she had to go in a car crash, she would probably have preferred it to happen in Iraq, while she was working in the way she knew best, rather than crossing the street in New York. But that is the only positive thing I can find to say about her death. She was 46.
I rarely saw Elizabeth, but she was part of my life - I thought about her most days. On Sunday, back from a weekend away and blissfully unaware of the news, I thought of her and giggled. I was using cosmetics from a package we had bought together two years ago in New York. We only bought the package for the free eye-shadow it came with, because it suited Elizabeth and the dress she was going to wear to a gala dinner with Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general.
Elizabeth was attending the dinner as an award-winning journalist - at the time she was on leave from The Boston Globe as a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, writing a book. She was attending as a woman, a successful woman in her prime who cared deeply about her work, her life and the people she met. She was attending as a friend of many: Her book was about people seeking justice in Rwanda and Bosnia; real people, whose hurts she felt deeply.
That was what Elizabeth was all about: all professional, all woman, all friend. And besides the sorrow, there is a point to that list. We first met in Bosnia in 1995. I was working for the United Nations, Elizabeth for her paper: Two professionals doing their jobs, exchanging opinions and occasional bits of information. To the outside world we were on two very distinct sides of the fence: the United Nations was being blamed for all the ills of the war, while the media were flying high the flag of justice. But on the ground, in besieged Sarajevo, we were all much of the same ilk, watching the horror with desperation and trying to help with equal desperation.
Elizabeth and I were infrequent opponents and sometime collaborators, but above all we became friends. We were part of a unique band of people that came together in Bosnia during the war - journalists, analysts, soldiers and many more, from all over the world - who were deeply committed to addressing the realities of war and its consequences. Many of us have stayed in touch. Many of us mourn Elizabeth.
But there is more. Elizabeth and I were just two of the many women in this Bosnia band. We were all there on our own merit, and we had all chosen to be there. Above all, we were all there as women: None of us were pretending to be men, or rather, trying to mask the fact we were women. This was not about the sisterhood, this was about reality. Women had become a normative part of international life, on their own terms.
Looking around the hell holes of today, there are many women journalists and many women with the United Nations and aid agencies. There are glass ceilings out there too, that somehow never get shattered by the flying shells.
Elizabeth defied all that. She rose up high, to the very top. But she also cared. Reading this she would probably say: ‘Hey, you've done good too. And the glass ceiling thing: That's so true. Let's do something about it’ Elizabeth Neuffer was a journalist, a woman and a friend.
The writer is a political analyst and op-ed editor of European Voice. This obituary appeared in The International Herald Tribune, 16 May 2003. A review of Elizabeth Neuffer’s The Key to My Neighbor’s House: seeking justice in Bosnia and Rwanda was printed in the last issue of Bosnia Report