It is almost 9 pm 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. He explained that they had absolutely no warning about the shelling but they had been spared injury because they, like their neighbors, had been hiding at the nearby Orthodox Club. He also assured viewers that Christian Muslim relations have never been better despite the Israeli propaganda war.
During the interview, viewers of Al-Rua station read at the bottom of the screen text referring to the shelling of Beit Jala once again. After some discussion, the local 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 be coming and then addresses the television camera calling on the local civil defense unit 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 heard no phone and suggested that maybe the woman had dialed the wrong number. He repeated the number and a television technician quickly produced 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 take up calls of people with emotional problems. The special number for this special Red Crescent Mental Health unit was quickly punched up and viewers were able to record the number.
Other private stations in Bethlehem were similarly busy. Bethlehem TV, another local station, had the mayor of Bethlehem and the chief of police as guests. Mahd Television, which is located in Beit Sahour, had a live shot of the town where shepherds watched by night when Jesus was born two thousand years ago. This time however people didn't see stars or angels but Israeli rockets slamming into Palestinian homes. A few minutes later a caption at the bottom of the screen informed viewers that the house that was hit belonged to the family of Suleiman Karaki.
At 10:30 pm, all three local television stations quickly switched to the nightly news magazine of Al-Jazeereh satellite station. Sure enough, this Qatari-based independent station had plenty of Palestinian news.
Field reports about the day's events were followed by a short phone conversation with a member of Knesset, 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 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 killed in Ramallah, the station quickly shifted to local FM stations.
On these stations listeners can hear, every hour on the hour, the news in Arabic, Hebrew, English and French (in that order). During daytime and when someone is tired of watching television they can hear the latest by listening to the Voice of Love and Peace (94.2 FM), Amwaj (91.5) and Ajjyal 103.4.
With these local media giving the local news and re-broadcasting the satellite stations, no one is listening or watching Jordan or Israel Radio and Television. The Internet has also been widely used. Lots of press has focused on the hacking of the Hizbollah and Israeli foreign ministry sites, but the real work is done on the mailing lists, chat rooms and 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 Hanan Ashrawi had written against her. Ashrawi had taken Albright to task 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. Ratings have dramatically gone up, but the economy is in shambles and no one is advertising. There were other positive results. The targeting of the official 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, with help from Denmark — has moved quickly to help the newly established Gazan station. — (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs)
By Daoud Kuttab
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)