Much Palestinian news has an unexpected source: Israel
Palestinian security forces stand guard in the West Bank city of Nablus after clashes in August 2016. (AFP/file)
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Israeli and Palestinian media outlets created a strange feedback loop in the days following the assassination of Hamas commander Mazen Fuqaha. Hamas-affiliated media outlets cited Hebrew-language reports speculating on the killing, feeding their own speculations that then filtered back into the Israeli press.
While the identity of the killers remains a mystery, the reporting cast into stark relief just how reliant much of the Palestinian press is on Israeli, Hebrew-language sources - surprising in a society that tends to see any cooperation or reliance on Israel as “normalization”.
Al Bawaba asked Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist and journalism scholar, to explain the history of Palestinian media using Hebrew sources. “Since 1967 the media has been translating the Hebrew media on an almost daily basis,” Kuttab said.
“The first reason for this is that people want to know their enemy. The second reason is that Israeli media is relatively open and free, whereas Palestinian media was, at first, under military censorship.”
Nasser Laham, a Palestinian journalist who hosts a popular show on Ma’an TV where he translates Israeli news for an Arabic audience, told Al Bawaba that he had started the show out of necessity rather than choice.
“Palestinian journalists are prevented from accessing many places and sources of information by Israel, even when events happen close to us and affect us.”
“In addition, most Palestinians don’t speak Hebrew, so I started the show in 2000 so people could learn about Israeli society and their military.”
You can watch an episode of his show from 2012 below:
Dov Lieber, Arab affairs correspondent for the Times of Israel, told Al Bawaba that he saw Arabic media using Hebrew sources for a number of different reasons.
“A lot of the factual material to do with security issues - such as stabbing attacks - comes from the Israeli authorities. The Israel Police Whatsapp group has a lot of Palestinian journalists on it.”
“Sometimes I also see Hamas’ media using discussions about Hamas in the Israeli media as proof of their power, to make or support claims that they have certain abilities.”
Lieber said that it was rare to hear the Israeli media discussing Palestinian use of their material, as most Israeli journalists did not speak Arabic.
Laham also identified bilingual journalists as important, but rare, points of contact between Israeli and Palestinian societies. “Palestinians generally don’t know Hebrew, and don’t know why Israelis are so angry with us.”
“Israeli society generally doesn’t know Arabic, and doesn’t know why there are protests or stone-throwing.”
Not all of the reliance on Hebrew media seems to be explained by restrictions placed on Palestinian media by the Israelis, however, as a recent Israeli Channel 2 report shows.
Filmed in Balata refugee camp, in the occupied West Bank, after a Palestinian policeman was shot and killed by Palestinian militants, the report was widely shared on Palestinian social media after being translated back into Arabic:
Lieber said that he found it striking the information came from an Israeli source even though Palestinian media would have had no problems accessing the camp.
He speculated that cases like this were explained by a lack of critical reporting in Palestinian journalism. “The journalism doesn’t tend to be critical unless it’s along factional lines, or unless its aimed abroad, especially at Israel.”
“The Israeli media does criticize, and in general also does more in-depth reporting, though of course there are exceptions.”
Yet it appears that translation of Israeli sources is still considered by Palestinian society to be very different than the press actively engaging with Israeli government figures. A recent interview of Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman provoked a furore amongst Palestinians, with calls being made for a boycott of the paper.
Kuttab, the journalism scholar, said that it was seen as being different because translating what is already published does not require recognition.
“The critics’ argument was that when you set up an appointment for an interview and a photo, that’s recognizing him and his authority, what is called ‘normalization’.”
Laham ended his interview with Al Bawaba by saying that he would prefer to use English in his work, but that Hebrew was useful and important.
“I am doing this to inform my people: they need the news to protect themselves.”
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