Nov 02 2000

The electronic intifada

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Media Activism

It is almost 9 p.m. on Tuesday, October 31, and TV host Hamdi Farraj is interviewing Yacoub

Qesieh, one of the Palestinian residents from the town of Beit Jala whose house had been shelled the previous day by Israeli tanks.

Qesieh explained that they had had absolutely no warning about the shelling, but had been spared injury because they, like their neighbors, had been hiding at the nearby Orthodox Club. He also assured viewers that Christian-Moslem relations have never been better, despite the Israeli propaganda war. 

During the interview on the Al Rua station, news of the shelling of Beit Jala ran across the bottom of the screen.  After some discussion, the journalist takes a short reprieve from the interview and puts a local caller on the air. Huda Ara is upset. A shell had landed near her home and started a small fire. She said she called the local fire department but there was no answer. Farraj thanks the woman, assures her that help will arrive, and then addresses the television camera, calling on the authorities to help the woman.

A few minutes later, an official of the Palestinian fire department is on the air, explaining that he and his staff had received no phone call, and suggested that maybe the woman had dialled the wrong number. He repeated the number and a television technician quickly emblazoned the numbers on the screen.

The fire was put out and the problem resolved. Later, a psychologist called and informed the viewers of a hot line that had been set up to help callers with emotional problems. The special number for this special Red Crescent Mental Health unit was quickly displayed on the screen for viewers to jot down.

Other private stations in Bethlehem were similarly busy.  Bethlehem TV, another local station, hosted the mayor of Bethlehem and the chief of police. Mahd Television, located in Beit Sahur, showed a live shot of the town where Jesus was born 2,000 years ago. This time, however, people didn’t see stars or angels, but Israeli rockets slamming into a Palestinian home.

A few minutes later, a caption on the bottom of the screen informed us that the house that was hit belonged to the family of Suleiman Karaki. At 10:30 p.m. all three local television stations quickly switched to the nightly news magazine of Al Jazzera satellite station. Field reports of the day’s events were followed by a short phone conversation with Balad MK Azmi Bishara, analyzing the latest twists in Israeli politics.  Viewers were then able to see a live interview with Abdel Jawwad Saleh, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, talking about the need to keep the intifada from becoming militarized.

The role of the electronic media has been one of the most visible changes in the Palestinian uprising. When the Voice of Palestine was shelled shortly after two Israeli soldiers were lynched in Ramallah, the station quickly shifted to local FM stations. On these stations, listeners can hear the news every hour on the hour in Arabic, Hebrew, English and French (in that order).

During the daytime, one can hear the latest news by listening to the Voice of Love and Peace (94.2), Amwaj (91.5), and Ajjyal (103.4). With the local media providing local news and rebroadcasting the satellite stations, no one is paying attention to Jordan or Israel Radio and Television.

The Internet has also been widely used. Lots of press has focused on the hacking of the Hizbullah and Israeli foreign ministry sites, but the real work is done on the mailing lists, in chat rooms, and at political discussion sites.

When a group of Arab Americans met recently with US Secretary of State Madeline Albright, they discovered she had not known of the scathing article Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi had written against her.  Ashrawi had reprimanded Albright for saying on NBC that Palestinians are besieging Israel. A member of the delegation was on one of the many mailing lists and when Albright said she was interested in the article, he was able to send it to her.

The latest events have been a mixed blessing for the local Palestinian press. Although ratings have dramatically gone up, the economy is in shambles and no one is advertising.

But there have been other positive results. Israeli targeting of the official Palestinian media has allowed the Palestinian Authority to relax its policies towards the independent media. For years, Abdel Salm Shehadeh and Qassem Ali have been asking for permission to broadcast in Gaza. Since Israel shelled the Voice of Palestine, Ramatan Television is now the first local television station broadcasting in the Gaza Strip. Of course, Ramatan has quickly turned to the private stations in the West Bank for help. SHAMS, a consortium of six independent stations established before these events, has moved quickly to help the newly established Gaza station.

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