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Bringing a common language into the headlines
Posted By Nicky Blackburn On January 15, 2006 @ 4:00 pm In | No Comments
The cover of ‘Du-Et’ – “We don’t present one policy view. Our writers and readers come from all sections of Israeli society – Christian, Muslim, and Jewish, religious and secular.’The goal of the editors of Du-Et, Israel’s only newspaper written and produced jointly by Jewish and Arab journalists, is to make their newspaper redundant in two years.
This may seem like a strange objective for a two-year-old newspaper, but to the founders who set this paper up in 2003, it is very clear. They want to create so many positive changes in Israel’s mainstream media that there is no longer any need for a specific publication that brings together top Jewish and Arabic writers to discuss some of the most sensitive interracial issues affecting Israel today.
The Israeli press mirrors the segregation that exists between its Jewish and Arab citizens. Some 20 percent of Israeli society may be Arab, but only 0.3% of the journalists employed by the mainstream national press are actually Arab.
“Israel’s Arabs have no voice in the mainstream press,” says Rebecca Zeffert, the international public relations coordinator of The Citizens’ Accord Forum, which set up Du-Et. (Two Pens) in Hebrew, or Lahen-Muzdwag (Two Tunes), in Arabic. “There is almost no coverage of Arab society or culture in the Hebrew press. Instead all you hear about is crisis, violence, poverty, terror and fear. This creates very negative attitudes on the part of the Hebrew press towards Arab culture. The same happens on the other side. The two populations don’t relate to one another. There is general ignorance on both sides. We all live side by side, but we don’t really know about each other. This lack of communication deepens the tensions that already exist.”
The Citizens’ Accord Forum between Jews and Arabs in Israel was founded in 2000 by Rabbi Michael Melchior, a member of Israel’s government. It was designed to bridge the gaps between Jews and Arabs, and to set up cooperative efforts that will lead to better understanding. In 2002, the organization set up a Jewish-Arab Press Club, and held a series of meetings with senior newspaper and television editors to discuss how the forum could create change in the media. At first it was an uphill struggle. Jewish newspaper and TV editors were worried about how readers or viewers would react if they suddenly introduced an Arab voice to their content.
“People were frightened of being too closely affiliated with Arab society,” Zeffert told ISRAEL21c. “They were scared of losing readers or viewers and were conscious that they did not want to introduce too much change too suddenly.”
In the end they agreed on creating an independent Hebrew-Arabic newspaper that would bring together leading Arab and Jewish voices, which could broach the social and cultural issues behind Jewish-Arab co-existence.
The first newspaper was launched in October 2003. Funds came from The European Union, UNESCO, The German Federal Foreign Office, the Fohs Foundation, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, and the Beracha Foundation.
The first edition of Du-Et was only 12 pages long, and contained mainly op-ed pieces. They were very few graphics, and Zeffert admits it was a challenge to persuade leading journalists to write for the publication. “People were very reticent to get involved because it was so new and had never been done before,” she says. The paper was distributed as a supplement inside two major Hebrew newspapers, Ma’ariv and Ha’aretz, and Kul al-Arab, the country’s leading Arabic newspaper. At Ma’ariv, the editors were so concerned about what readers might think of this new window into Arab life, that they insisted their lawyers go through the paper word for word before publication.
The next issue came out six months later, and since then the publication has gone from strength to strength, coming out regularly every quarter. Today the paper is 32 pages long. Du-Et publishes between 200,000 to 300,000 copies per issue in Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv, Kul al-Arab, As’sennara, and Panorama, and the founders claim that readership is approaching one million. Recently Du-Et was included in the online newspaper, Nana, which is designed for a young readership, and there are also plans to launch an English version on-line with one of Israel’s leading English web sites.
“The newspaper is generating more interest than ever,” says Zeffert. “Now we have to turn journalists away. We just don’t have enough space in each issue to feature everyone who wants to write.” Contributors to Du-Et include Moti Shaklar (West Bank resident and CEO of Channel 2 TV & Radio), Eeta Prince-Gibson (Jerusalem Post), Rafik Halabi (Channel 2 TV), Danny Rubenstein (Ha’aretz), Rubik Rosenthal (Ma’ariv), Gideon Eshet (Yediot Aharonot), Nazir Majali (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat) and Salem Jubran (Al-Ahaly).
Correspondents write on any number of controversial issues, ranging from terror attacks, to the Arab-Jewish divide, inequality in the Hebrew media, and a possible Bedouin intifada. Other articles include items on Arab culture and life, such as women’s magazines in Israeli Arab society, the nightlife of Nazareth’s youth, Bedouin identity, and Christian clergymen. “These are things that we wouldn’t normally read about in the Hebrew press,” says Zeffert.
One of the most popular regular features is an item called ‘Crossing the Lines’. Zoheir Andrawous, editor of Kul-al-Arab – Israel’s largest Arabic newspaper, is sent to visit Jewish strongholds like a kibbutz, or ultra-orthodox enclave Mea She’arim, or to meet with Gush Etzion settler Hanan Porat. In turn, Dudi Zilbershlag, publisher of the ultra-orthodox newspaper, BaKehila, visits unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev, or meets women lecturers and students at the Islamic College in Arab town of Baka el-Garbiyye.
“These are places where Arabs and Jews would not normally travel and people they would not normally meet,” says Zeffert. “The journalists write about what they find, how they feel, and what they experience on these visits. Often their reactions are not necessarily what you would expect. It opens the door to a new type of dialogue between very different sectors of Israeli society.”
There is also a poignant section called ‘Pictures Speak’, where photographer, Alex Rozovski examines the wretched state of Arab sector schools, the poor state of the roads, and the garbage dumps where children play. The pictures were taken in large Israeli-Arab towns like Sakhnin, Rahat, Fureidis, or Jisr al-Zarka’a, which have tens of thousands of inhabitants – all citizens of Israel.
“We don’t present one policy view,” says Zeffert. “Our writers and readers come from all sections of Israeli society – Christian, Muslim, and Jewish, religious and secular. We don’t edit the writer’s language or change their views, Instead we print everything. There have been diverse opinions towards the newspaper, both positive and negative, but the important thing is that it is exposing people to aspects of Israeli society that they would not normally see. It gets people thinking. It makes an impact. It creates different responses and most important of all, dialogue.”
Aside from the newspaper itself, the press group has also launched a number of other initiatives to try to help Arab editors and journalists receive better access to Israel’s leading governmental decision makers. It has already held meetings with President Moshe Katsav, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, and Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, which were reported in Du-Et. David Horovitz, editor of The Jerusalem Post has been among the active participants at these meetings to promote the issue of Jewish-Arab relations on the national agenda.
The founders of Du-Et believe the paper has already had a substantial impact on the Hebrew media. “For the first time Jewish and Arab editors are working together on a very high level,” says Udi Cohen, a co-director of the Citizens’ Accord Forum, and chair of the Du-Et editorial board. Ma’ariv no longer requires its lawyers to trawl through the paper checking for problems. Indeed, points out Cohen, Ma’ariv recently published a supplement written by Mossawa, one of the largest Arab organizations in Israel, which was devoted exclusively to Arab life in Israel.
“This is a large step forward,” says Cohen. “In two years, Ma’ariv went from being afraid to print a newspaper written by Arab and Jewish journalists together, to printing an all-Arab supplement without thinking twice.”
In addition, there has been increased reporting on Arab issues in most of the national newspapers and growing employment of Arab and minority journalists. Ha’aretz recently issued a supplement of its own devoted entirely to Jewish-Arab relations in Israel.
Recently, the Keshet television network and Du-Et launched a new media fellowship program for six young aspiring Arab journalists to participate in a two-year internship course. The initiative is designed to encourage employment of Arab journalists in the Hebrew print and television media. At the end of the internships, Du-Et will pay half of the intern’s salary as an incentive to media organizations to hire them. During their fellowship, the interns will produce a series of programs on Jewish-Arab issues. The government-run radio station, Reshet Bet, has also now approached Du-Et with plans to open a similar program to encourage Arab journalists.
This year, the newspaper plans to introduce a new Palestinian component to the newspaper, with some 20 percent of the publication devoted to Israeli-Palestinian affairs. When this takes place, Du-Et will also start publishing the newspaper as a supplement in the West Bank paper, Al-Quds.
The founders of Du-Et firmly believe in what they are doing. “We are creating a major impact inside Israel’s media,” says Cohen. Despite this, they have created a real challenge for themselves.
“Our view is that if we are still publishing Du-Et by issue 20 then we have failed to do our job,” says Zeffert. “We hope that by then there’s enough integration of Arab journalists into the Hebrew media, that there will be no need for a separate newspaper raising Arab issues.”
Zeffert pauses for a moment’s reflection. “It’s a tall order,” she admits finally. “But that’s our goal.”
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