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 paper.

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 in Hebrew.

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 positions.

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.

Israeli Disinterest

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 Arabic media.
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 life.
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.