Archive | January, 2012

Palestinian Refugees and the Mainstream Media

3 Jan

by Nora Barrows-Friedman for JPRS

“Media is very important for Palestinians in order to reach the international public opinion and for us as people living in the refugee camps. [D]espite that we are in the centre of the conflict, we are not in the centre of the news.”[1] – Ziad Abbas, co-founder of the Ibdaa Cultural Center, Dheisheh refugee camp, occupied West Bank

From the narrow alleyways of refugee camps, to the ghettos of urban cities, to the expanse of the Naqab desert, ongoing displacement and ethnic cleansing continues unabated perpetrated by the Israeli government against the Palestinian people. This decades-long story, though intractable to the current news agenda, remains omitted from the daily news cycle. Yet independent international reporters are working alongside Palestinian journalists to illuminate the ongoing struggle of the refugees, and countering the deep-rooted pro-Israel bias within the Western corporate media.

In March of 2010, I reported on the situation of Dhammash, a village sandwiched between Ramle and Lydd (Lod) just minutes from the Ben Gurion airport. I was told about the village by a Palestinian friend with Israeli citizenship who has lived his whole life in Lydd — but whose grandparents were forced out of their seaside homes in Jaffa as Zionist militias swept through Palestine in 1948. “What’s happening in Dhammash is a continuation of the Nakba,” my friend remarked, obviously distressed about the crisis in the village. “And no one talks about it.”

Dhammash, home to more than 600 Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel, is made up of approximately 70 homes — and the villagers are trying desperately to prevent Israel’s bulldozers from razing the area to the ground in order to build a condominium complex marketed towards European Jewish immigrants.

Like dozens of other Palestinian and Bedouin villages around the state in which more than 110,000 people live, Dhammash remains officially “unrecognised” — a term which allows the Israeli government to continue to uproot and displace the indigenous communities at whim, while providing them scant social and infrastructure services.

Even though they are citizens — these villagers pay taxes, speak Hebrew as well as Arabic, and vote — the Israeli government does not allow their places of residence to be found on any official map, nor does it imprint the village names on their state-issued identification cards.

“According to them, we belong to nowhere,” Ismayil Arafat, a Dhammash community leader told me. “In the eyes of the state, we don’t exist here.”[2]

The villagers of Dhammash have gone time and time again to the municipal court, and, for now, have won temporary stays of demolition — but they’re running out of time.

Meanwhile, villagers in other areas — mainly, Bedouin communities in the Naqab desert region — are facing frequent and violent demolitions of their entire villages; under the radar and without much mainstream media attention.

Palestinians are being made refugees every single day — for some, multiple times over as the Israeli state continues its 63-year-old project of displacement, depopulation and ethnic cleansing. The refugees in the camps across the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, those in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, the hundreds of thousands of internally-displaced Palestinians within Israel’s borders, and the seven million in the global diaspora remain the silenced majority in the eyes of the mainstream establishment media.

This entrenched policy of under-reporting or outright omitting the Palestinian refugee issue in the Western media is not just the result of editors suggesting that the stories of refugees are non-newsworthy; but it is because of the direct integration of a policy-based bias that favors the Israeli viewpoint, as it has for decades.

Writing in a 2007 article for the BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights’s Arabic-language publication, Haq al-Awda, UK-based Arab Media Watch chairman Sharif Hikmat Nashashibi commented,

“In the seven years that I have been monitoring British media coverage of Arab issues, I can confidently say that Palestinian refugees constitute the most maligned, misunderstood and under-reported aspect of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is not only unfortunate but baffling, given its centrality to a just and lasting solution.

“The refugee issue is maligned because certain proprietors, editors and journalists embrace Israel’s viewpoint; it is misunderstood because it is viciously targeted by a pro-Israel lobby that does not face a similarly strong pro-Palestinian, and particularly pro-refugee lobby (sadly, the two are not synonymous); and it is under-reported because, as a problem that will be 60 (yes, 60) years old next year, it has long ceased to be ‘newsworthy”.

“This has resulted in outstanding ignorance about Palestinian refugees among the British public. For example, surveys undertaken a few years ago by Professor Greg Philo of the Glasgow University Media Group revealed that just 8 % of people knew that the refugees were displaced from their homes and land when Israel was established in 1948.”[3]

Contrasted with the reporting done by most Western corporate journalists and mainstream media outlets, Palestinian journalists have risked their lives to report under constant military siege and assault. Rami al-Meghari, a refugee living in the Meghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, regularly reports for the Electronic Intifada journalistic website, and was one of many voices documenting Israel’s attacks on the Gaza strip in December 2008-January 2009 when US-made warplanes and helicopter gunships killed more than 1400 Palestinians in a three-week bombing campaign.

During the attacks, the Western media, naturally, failed to present the Palestinian “side” of the story, reporting heavily on Israel’s official viewpoint as the Israeli government forbade international journalists from entering the Gaza strip — a move that strategically worked to keep the reality of the suffering censored and buried. As an independent journalist, and as a Palestinian refugee, al-Meghari broke through the barrier of such censorship, writing to the outside world and communicating the daily horrors of these times in Gaza.

He wrote,

“As Israel’s attacks continue I am reporting under enormous pressure, dealing with the prolonged power outages, lack of gasoline to run my car and my small power generator, and broken recording equipment. But with the help of my friend and colleague from Free Speech Radio News, reporter Ghassan Bannoura in the West Bank, I have been able to continue filing my reports.

“The most important thing that I need is to keep up, whatever pressure I am facing. I am a Palestinian in Gaza who lives the situation minute-by-minute. Israel has denied international reporters access into Gaza, so I need to do what I can to get information out.

“Many of my own relatives are among the thousands who have fled to schools, run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, because of continuous Israeli shelling of populated neighborhoods.

“But as I write this script, reports say Israeli shells killed dozens of civilians who were taking shelter at just such school in Jabaliya refugee camp in the north of the Gaza Strip. There are few places, if any, where we can truly be safe.

“Today I can file, I can have my voice and the voices of others heard in the US. But who knows if these voices will still be heard tomorrow.”[4]

Outside of Palestine, independent journalists documenting the unraveling humanitarian situation for Palestinians have to remain accountable towards those whose struggle we are documenting. Those of us who report “from the ground” in refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza strip, or in areas where Palestinians are currently being made refugees in their own land, or from the widening Diaspora, have to assert a consciousness based on addressing the context from which the current conflict stems — from the historic and ongoing Nakba.

Rami al-Meghari, under siege in Gaza, ended that report in January 2009 with an emotional and  salient remark — specific to the events he was documenting, and fearful of his safety and that of his family, but it continues to reverberate on a more emblematic level when discussing the state of Palestinian voices — especially refugees’ voices — in the media.

(Nora Barrows-Friedman is an award-winning independent journalist, specialising in violations of Palestinian human rights. She is the former senior producer and co-host of Flashpoints, an investigative newsmagazine on the Pacifica Radio Network in the United States. Nora currently writes regularly for the Electronic Intifada, and is a correspondent with Al-Jazeera English, Truthout.org, Inter Press Service, Left Turn Magazine, and many others).


[1] Barrows-Friedman, Nora. “Broadcasting Freedom on Radio 194, Dheisheh Refugee Camp.” Left Turn Magazine, 1 August, 2005. http://www.leftturn.org/?q=node/332

[1] Barrows-Friedman, Nora. “In the eyes of the state, we don’t exist here,” Electronic Intifada, 16 April 2010. http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article11213.shtml

[2] Nashashibi, Sharif Hikmat. “An injustice to the injustice: Palestinian refugees & the media,” Haq al-Awda, BADIL, 21 May 2007. Translated from the original Arabic.  http://www.arabmediawatch.com/amw/Articles/Analysis/tabid/75/newsid395/3894/An-injustice-to-the-injustice-Palestinian-refugees–the-media/Default.aspx

[2] al-Meghari, Rami. “A dad, a refugee and a reporter in Gaza,” 7 January, 2009. http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10133.shtml