DevMode
Anyone wishing to study the subject of the Israeli media and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must, as I see it, examine the issue on two levels. There exists, on the one hand, the openly declared, formal conflict between Israel and the official representative body of the Palestinian people. On the other hand, one must examine the implications of the conflict on the internal situation in Israel. This involves asking to what extent this media has accommodated itself to those Palestinians who are on the face of it Israeli citizens, and to whom the media should give proper expression, including voicing their complaints.
The most trenchant problem in Israeli television and radio, from this point of view, is the almost complete lack of Arab programs and journalists. There does, indeed, exist an Arab "ghetto" on state television's Channel 1. These Arabic broadcasts every evening last for about one hour, but their weakness lies in their lack of original productions, even in the news: most of their material comes from foreign news agencies and deals primarily with foreign news. The bulk of the senior staff in the studios consists of Jewish immigrants from Arab countries and, in the field, of members of the Druze community. The main advantage of the latter in pursuing a journalistic career appears to be their past service in the Israeli army. On TV's Channel 2, the ghetto is restricted to half an hour per week of mainly outdated news and interviews conducted at least a day before.
In order to see the absurdity of the way in which Israel approaches the Arab world, it should be remembered that each of the 23 Arab states has at least one satellite station broadcasting to the four corners of the earth, 24 hours a day. Moreover, commercial companies offer a variety of channels in Arabic day and night from London, Paris and Rome. In my home in Nazareth, without any effort, I receive three channels from Lebanon. In my opinion, the best TV station is the Arab language broadcasts from the small oil Gulf state of Qatar: day by day, one can watch hours of heated discussions on existential questions related to the Arab citizen, or authentic reports by experienced correspondents from world capitals on important current events.

Handing Out Crumbs

On the other hand, Israeli TV and radio broadcasts only offer the Arab audience crumbs left over from a pauper's meal. It is true that all the million Israeli Arab citizens nowadays know enough Hebrew to watch Hebrew TV, and this also applies to many people in the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza. All these have the option of watching reasonably credible news in Hebrew on what is happening in official Israel. In particular, they can look over the shoulders of the Israelis and watch their power struggles.
Israeli Arab citizens hardly find any expression in the main talk shows on both channels and, among the hundreds of interviewees, only a few Arabs are invited. These include Dr. Ahmad Tibi (Yasser Arafat's advisor) and MKs Abdul Wahab Darawshe, Talab El-Sane' and Dr. Azmi Bishara. Other Arabs are exposed in the Israeli media only in the wake of violence, as in the demolition of "illegal" buildings in Umm El-Sahali, or Umm El-Fahm, where there were violent clashes with the police against the background of closing agricultural areas for military training. In other words, there is generally a place for Israeli Arabs on Israeli TV only within the framework of reporting deeds of violence and bloodshed.
In order that my claims not sound like vague accusations and generalizations, I took it upon myself to watch Israeli television and monitor the press for a period of two weeks, from the beginning to the middle of October 1998. At that time, Israel was in the throes of an economic shock following a typically bombastic statement by the prime minister that Israel was "an island of stability in a world of upheavals," an attempt to calm the public after the collapse of the markets in Southeast Asia. Over a few days, the value of the Israeli shekel decreased by about 10 percent against the dollar in an unplanned devaluation.

Fanning the Flame

On the other hand, toward the middle of the month, Israel found itself in a really tempestuous mood in the wake of a major series of fires which damaged forests and residential areas on Mount Carmel, in Western Galilee and in Wadi Ara. The economic storm was not connected in the Israeli press with the Jewish-Arab conflict, but the storm over the blaze fanned the flames of mistrust against the Arab citizens, with accusations that the fires were caused by Arab arsonists. From the dark clouds of the forest fires, there arose the bogey of suspicions threatening the delicate fabric of coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Israel.
When questioned about this, President Ezer Weizman was quick to point out that he had proposed discussing ways of promoting understanding with the Arab minority in Israel. The prime minister saw fit to announce in public that the suspicion of arson had been discussed at government level and he, Netanyahu, had proposed that nobody should be in a hurry to blame the Arab citizens before the police find incriminating evidence.
Labor MK Micha Goldmann, chair of the Knesset Committee for Internal Affairs, declared that he intended to meet the leaders of the Arab community in order to bring them into the activity against forest arson. However, I neither heard nor saw an Israeli journalist reminding those who voice their - unfounded - suspicion against the Arabs that this suspicion is based on the fact that, for 100 years, Jewish National Fund afforestation imposed a blockade on Arab villages. This was the method used to safeguard "national land" and its closure to Arabs until Jewish settlement would be planned for these areas. In other words, the cat had been appointed to watch over the cream.
The press reported that Ariel Sharon, who continued to claim that he opposes both retreat from the territories and shaking Arafat's hand, was appointed foreign minister, and it didn't cause a stir. On the contrary, many people welcomed Netanyahu for imprisoning Sharon in a golden cage. MK Azmi Bishara, the only Arab to publish an announcement in a Hebrew paper, saw in the appointment additional proof that Netanyahu doesn't want peace.

Two Subjects

The two "Arab" subjects prominent in the press dealt with Umm El-Fahm and the police violence against demonstrators opposing their right as farmers to what was left of their land after expropriations in and since 1948; and with a sensational and unprecedented tragedy in the history of Israeli medicine: a gynecologist in the government hospital in Safad was to help Khadija Sawaid from the village of El-Kammana to give birth to her fifth child. However, as the result of an accident while she was giving birth, the doctor pulled and severed the baby's head, removing the body in a Caesarean section.
The Umm El-Fahm story received live coverage on all the TV channels and lead headlines in all the newspapers. However, only a few papers bothered to present the readers with the tragic background: decades in which Israel denied ownership rights of Arab citizens to their land (Yediot Aharonot and Ha'aretz). Unfortunately, one can state with a high degree of certainty that the impression received by most of the Jewish public was that the "national Intifada" had come to Wadi Ara, as reported in the evening papers Yediot Aharonot and Ma'ariv.
The local (regional) papers were even harsher and cruder. The weekly Kol Ha'emek ve Hagalil (which belongs to the Yediot Aharonot network) repeated on October 9, 1998, the traditional libel that, in Umm El-Fahm, demonstrators cried "Death to the Jews" and demonstrated in their riots against the existence of Israel, while, "cowardly and apologetic [Jewish] behavior" facilitated their arrogance.

Khadija - The Background Story

How did the Israeli media deal with the tragic story of the mother who mourned the shocking death of her offspring at the hands of the gynecologist? It can be noted that the journalists in all the Israeli media supported the mother and criticized the treatment that she received in the hospital. They knew in the hospital from the mother's medical file that she had needed a Caesarean section in the past, yet the doctor opposed an operation until the disaster in which the baby's head was severed. This warranted a public condemnation (and perhaps, though it is not clear at the time of writing, criminal malpractice charges) against the doctor and the government hospital that employed him.
However, the fact that the mother came from the Galilee village of Kammana was not considered worthy of any mention in the Hebrew press. Kammana is one of the tens of small villages in Galilee (there are also about a hundred in the Negev) whose existence is not recognized by the Ministry of the Interior and by the State of Israel. The residents are denied minimal services like electricity, running water and, even, a proper mail service.
What stands out so conspicuously is the lack of Arab correspondents in the Hebrew press who would report on the background of the tragic heroine of the story. Incidentally, one of these villages, Ein Hud (near Ein Hod artists' village) did receive de facto government recognition some years ago, but during the fire mentioned earlier, the fire brigade didn't arrive to help the villagers. The Public Works Department had not paved a proper road for cars. It seems that the fire fighters didn't know about the government recognition.

The Media - An Opposition

However, contrary to the above data concerning the internal front, it can be stated that on the issue of war and peace with the Palestinians and the Arabs, most of the Israeli media is in opposition to the government. Only isolated voices have defended the aggressive line of the Netanyahu government or attacked it from the right. For example, the editorial in Ha'aretz on October 11, 1998, on the anticipated Clinton-Arafat-Netanyahu summit at the Wye Plantation notes in the restrained style typical of this paper, that the peace process is aimed at creating a political alliance between Israel and the Palestinians, paving the way to rehabilitating the relations between Israel and her neighbors and granting the Palestinians the prospect of realizing their political rights. The summit is vital and, if an agreement is reached, its success will be measured by goodwill and day-to-day application by both camps. A similar peace-oriented tone can be found in articles by the prominent political correspondent Yoel Marcus and the military correspondent Ze'ev Schiff.

The People Want Peace

But the Israeli public opinion wants peace and sees it as the realization of its foremost dream. The political correspondents report in their papers on a public opinion poll with a sample of 2,500 persons conducted by the prime minister's advisors on the eve of his departure for the Wye summit. Netanyahu learned from this poll that a decisive majority of Israelis support the 13-percent retreat which was agreed upon with the Americans.
Another poll conducted by Ma'ariv early in October 1998 showed that more than any other event, for the largest proportion of Israelis, peace with the Arab states is seen as the happy realization of a dream. From their point of view, 47.6 percent said peace is more important than anything else. A poll conducted for Yediot Aharonot by Mina Tsemach reached similar conclusions. The most intimate desire of the Israeli out of a total of 50 options was peace (64.9 percent), followed by health (31.7 percent), and economic prosperity in Israel (12.4 percent). In fourth place came security (11 percent), and then other items like personal wealth. The desire not to return territories to the Palestinians came 24th (1 percent), while in 40th place came those Israelis who desire peace without returning territories (0.6 percent).

The Wound of Southern Lebanon

Zvi Barel writes in Ha'aretz on a subject which has been most painful for the Israeli public over the last two years: Israel's involvement with Hizbullah fighters in southern Lebanon. Barel proposes that the Israeli government make a decision to retreat from the Lebanese town of Jezzine in the Israeli "Security Zone" as a gesture to the new Lebanese president, General Emile Lahoud. The taking over by the Lebanese army of the area will in itself grant Israel the security guarantee to which it aspires and will facilitate continued negotiations over the evacuation of southern Lebanon by the Israeli army.
Ma'ariv, which has been considered as tending toward the right of Israel's political map, also deals with Lebanon. Ofer Shelach writes that "the government of Israel is unsuccessful as regards making a decision about leaving Lebanon, and only an uprising by the Israeli public is capable of freeing Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers from the mud in which they are sunk in Lebanon."

What Did Arafat Say?

In late November 1998, I noted the different approach of two of Israel's main newspapers. In Yediot Aharonot, there appeared a page-long report of Yasser Arafat's speech on the 10th anniversary of the Palestinian Declaration of Independence. The headline read: "Arafat: We Shall Defend with Our Rifles Our Rights in Jerusalem." But Arafat really said, "We shall use our rifles against whoever prevents us from praying in Jerusalem," as reported accurately in Ha'aretz. Yediot Aharonot has the biggest circulation in Israel, while Ha'aretz has a relatively small readership. Sensational reporting promises higher ratings and wider circulation - especially when it is related to "security" issues.

Educating by the Book

Shortly before the hour, when I was scheduled to sit down and start writing this article, Uri Porat, the new director-general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, published a book of new guidelines for the broadcasting staff. These new rules include the use of permanent and standard terminology in their editing of the news, in their reports, and in formulating questions when they are conducting interviews.
For example, the new rightist director-general laid down that in interviews, the journalists must call the whole Mandatory areas of Palestine/Eretz Israel by the name of "Land" or "the Land." The West Bank, including the areas governed by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), is to be called "Judea and Samaria" ("Yosh" according to the Hebrew abbreviation). Porat instructed the TV and radio staff to call the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem by the Hebrew name "Shiloah," while the Palestinian flag is to be called the "PLO flag." Ministers in the PNA are to be called not "ministers," but "those in charge of portfolios."
In brief, he wants to exploit his authority in order to wipe out all signs of sovereignty, state and peoplehood from the Palestinians. This is exactly what Israel's state broadcasting and most Israeli papers did before the Oslo Accords. The PLO people were "terrorists" and "saboteurs," and that is how the Israeli right would prefer to see them in the future. It would be better to have Oslo and all the subsequent agreements deleted.
In this spirit, Arab demonstrators in Israel are "rioters," while Jewish rioters are merely "demonstrators." Armed Jews, for instance settlers on the rampage, are at worst "hotheads" or "extremists." As for massacres like the one carried out by the IDF at Kufr Qana, the attacks by the Jewish "underground" at the University of Hebron and against the mayors of Nablus and Ramallah - all these are merely "irregular acts," "errors" or "irresponsible deeds." Therefore, one can undoubtedly learn about the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict from Uri Porat's decisions on rules of the media and on what one can call the "semantics" of the conflict.

Who Will Have the Last Word?

On the whole, one can conclude that most, if not all, Israeli newspapers tend to adopt a liberal line as regards peace, and they advise the government to show more willingness for cooperation and reconciliation. In most issues, the bulk of the Israeli newspapers support the demand of the Arab minority for equality. On the problems of peace and equality, they are ready to criticize the establishment. The TV and radio usually don't share in this approach. The number of Arab journalists in these institutions is "less than the fingers on one hand," as we say in Arabic. They tend to ignore the Arab issues, except when they are sensational or in cases that are presented as having a dire effect on Israeli security or safety.
So, alongside those trying to return us to the pre-Oslo period, there are forces working for peace and coexistence. Who will win? Who will have to succumb? Time will tell how the storm of conflict with which we have been living for the last 100 years will eventually end.

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