A considerable number of Israelis consistently keep track of the
Arab press published in the Palestinian National Authority (PNA)
and East Jerusalem. We are referring nowadays to three daily
papers, Al-Quds, Al-Ayyam, Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah, as well as a whole
range of weekly and other periodicals. Prominent among those
Israelis reading these papers is a group of Israeli journalists,
both Jews and Arabs, for whom these papers serve as an important
source of information in their work.
One finds in the Palestinian press not only news items on affairs
in the PNA and in government offices in Gaza and the West Bank, but
also a wealth of information on what is going on in the life of
Palestinian society, in social, economic, cultural and other areas
of life. Much can also be learned from the advertisements and
announcements (press releases) published by various Palestinian
institutions and even from commercial advertisements, which in
Al-Quds now take up 60 percent and more of the space in the
A Flourishing Palestinian Press
The Palestinian press has a long history stretching back to the
start of the century, but one of its particularly fertile periods
was, for some reason, in the 1970s, under Israeli rule. This press
was, and to some extent still is, centered in East Jerusalem, which
is annexed to the State of Israel.
Accordingly, as far as they were permitted to do this, the editors
and writers could exploit the freedom of the press practiced
according to Israeli law. In the course of the 1970s, five daily
papers in Arabic were published in East Jerusalem, four expressing
the political viewpoint of the PLO and Jordan, and one published
with Israeli governmental support.
The Israeli administration's military-political censorship found it
difficult to supervise the Palestinian press, and the most
effective way of punishing these papers for censorship offenses was
to prevent their distribution in the areas of Israeli military
government in the West Bank and Gaza.
Since the 1970s, an exceptional phenomenon in these papers stands
out: the increasing number of translations from the Israeli (that
is, Hebrew) press. This appeared to start as one of the ways used
by the papers and their editors to get round the Israeli
censorship. The editors of the Arab papers would take articles from
the Israeli press and translate them. Afterwards, if difficulties
arose with the censor, they would point out that they had merely
published things copied from articles that had previously appeared
in the Israeli press.
It gradually ensued that this tactic used to evade censorship was
not the main factor motivating the increasing translations from
Hebrew. The real reason was that the Palestinian readers in the
West Bank and Gaza were keen to read articles originally published
Translations from Hebrew Are Popular
In the Arab-Palestinian press in the 1980s in East Jerusalem,
complete pages were already devoted day by day to translations from
the Hebrew press. For example, the daily Al-Fajr, which expressed
Fateh's point of view, was the first paper to open a column called
"Israeli Affairs," every day, running two pages of articles which
had appeared the day before in the Hebrew press.
In the first period (especially in the 1970s), one could clearly
feel the purpose of the material selected by the editors for
translation. In those days, they were often wont to translate
Israeli articles strongly attacking the Israeli government, or
laying bare negative manifestations in Israeli society and
government. For example, one of the stories that won wide coverage
in translation in the Palestinian press was the social Israeli
protest movement known as the Black Panthers. One could sense how
the Palestinian press was keen to stress social and economic
injustice in Israeli society through these translations and,
especially, the discrimination against Oriental Jews.
Within a short time, still in the 1970s, this trend disappeared.
There was no closure in those years and movement from the West Bank
and Gaza was quite free. The trend in the Palestinian press was now
to provide the readers with a picture that would be as faithful as
possible to what is published in Israel. This was because the
Palestinian readership was beginning to know the Israeli reality
more thoroughly. The Palestinian press began to publish articles
and information reflecting all shades of opinion on the Israeli
political landscape. Thus, since the 1970s and to date, the
Palestinian press daily publishes a great wealth of articles
translated from the Hebrew, where one can find all sorts of
material reflecting nearly all the Israeli political
Getting to Know Israel
There is a clear reason for the increase in these translated
articles: the great curiosity shown by the Palestinian public in
becoming acquainted with, and understanding, Israeli society and
life. Perhaps one of the explanations for this is the fact that the
Palestinian economy is to a decisive extent dependent upon the
Israeli economy. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza work in the
Israeli economy, make most of their purchases in Israel, import
through Israel, all of which they cannot do without being
acquainted with what is going on in Israel.
The tendency among the Palestinians to get to know Israel better is
not expressed only in the many translations from the Israeli press,
but also in a strong desire in the Palestinian public to learn the
Hebrew language. Palestinian teachers from the West Bank and Gaza
learned Hebrew during the years of Israeli occupation. Some did so
while serving time in Israeli prisons, others in special lessons.
But most simply learned Hebrew while working for an Israeli
employer and improved their knowledge of the language through
viewing Israeli television.
Against this background, it can be stated that in the Israeli
(Jewish) public there exists an opposite phenomenon: in the
Israeli, or Hebrew press, no translations from the Arab and
Palestinian press appear. Likewise, relatively few Israeli Jews
know the Arabic language well. Going through Israeli papers over
years, it is difficult to find many articles translated from the
There are exceptions here and there, like the publication every
week or two in Ha'aretz (and The Jerusalem Post) of articles by the
Jordanian journalist Rami Khouri. However, one can say that is the
exception that proves the rule. Quite a few articles from the
foreign press appear in the Israeli press, mainly from Europe and
America, but almost none from Arabic sources.
Why is this? Are the Israelis disinterested in what is going on in
the PNA and in the Arab world, just over the threshold of their
homes? The answer is complex. On the one hand, it is recognized in
Israel that everything that happens in the Arab world and in
Palestine is of decisive importance for the future of the Jewish
state. On the other hand, however, the Israeli society and economy
are hardly dependent today, in any way, on events in the
territories and in the Arab world.
The Economic Aspect
The great majority of imports to the West Bank and Gaza come from
Israel, but one is speaking of a very small part of overall Israeli
exports. In other words, the Palestinian economy is dependent upon
the Israeli economy, while the Israeli economy is not, to a large
extent, dependent upon the economy or the market in the
territories. Moreover, the Palestinian consumer market in the West
Bank and Gaza is to a large extent a "captive market" to Israeli
produce. This means that the Palestinian consumers in the
territories have no alternative but to buy Israeli produce because
of the customs agreement between Israel and the PNA.
It is interesting to note the relative economic severance between
the State of Israel and the Arab world. The signing of peace
agreements with Egypt and Jordan and the economic connections which
started to develop with the Gulf states and other Arab states like
Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania, did not result in the
establishment of strong economic ties. The Netanyahu government put
the clock back. Most Israeli exports are suited for, and directed
to, Western countries: Europe, America, and Japan, rather than
Third-World countries or Arab states. Also, as regards Arab exports
to Israel, the range is very limited.
The Israeli GNP (about $17,000 per year) is much greater than the
average in most Arab countries (for example, it is about $1,000 in
Gaza). In general, "from an economic point of view the State of
Israel is somewhere in Europe and not in the Middle East," to quote
Professor Ezra Sadan in a recent article in this journal.
While in the PNA areas and the Arab countries, as a whole, many
people are interested in, and connected to, Western society from a
cultural point of view, among Israelis there is very little
interest in the Arab world. Arab writers are translated into Hebrew
only on a limited scale and such books have a low circulation. It
is the same in other aspects of social and cultural life: in
painting, music, theater, dance, sport and the various branches of
research, the Israelis show almost no interest in what is being
done in the Arab world.
A Negative Approach
The Israeli media stations representatives and has permanent
correspondents in almost every important country in the world.
However, it is not a coincidence that the Israeli press, radio and
television have no permanent correspondent, for example, in Cairo,
the capital of the Arab world and the scene of political events of
the utmost importance to Israel's future.
It sometimes looks as if Israel has a negative stigma concerning
everything the source of which is Arab. With the exception of food
products - like olive oil - which have an original "ethnic"
quality, Arab produce is considered by Israelis to be poor.
Israelis often appear to be contemptuous and scornful of Arab
cultural creativity and its standards and to the Arab way of
To return to the many translations into Arabic from the Hebrew
press and the lack of translation from Arabic in the Israeli press,
it ensues that this is, therefore, a symptom of a much wider
phenomenon. The Palestinians appear to be more interested in Israel
than are Israelis in Palestine.