(photo credit: Courtesy)
In the wake of the second intifada, Israel's state-produced Arabic language news broadcasts - which include four hours per day of news and magazine-style programming - are now increasingly considered suspect by Palestinians. And while the State still dedicates resources to producing Arabic-language programming, such efforts are largely seen as irrelevant by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, who now have a plethora of alternatives to choose from, given the explosion of media from the Arab world through channels like al-Jazeera.
According to Solomon Menir, news director for Israel Broadcasting Authority's Arabic department, a large percentage in the West Bank and Gaza watch IBA's broadcasts through satellite and antenna reception, but he couldn't provide an exact number.
"We don't have people-meters there," he said, and added that he thought IBA's Arabic-speaking viewership was increasing, citing popular confusion when the department switched the channel it broadcasts on last year.
Israel's status as a state with three official languages requires ministries and governmental agencies to keep information available in Hebrew, English and Arabic, and so both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israel Broadcasting Authority maintain Arabic language Web sites.
Altawasul.net, the MFA's Arabic site, was inaugurated two years ago and receives some 250,000 visits per year, according to Lior Ben-Dor, deputy director of the Arab media department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He said based on the e-mail response he receives, the site is being accessed from locations throughout the Arab world.
"Those who dare or choose to contact me tell me that some of them really use our Web site," he said, adding that he replies to every e-mail he receives. He pointed out, though, that few e-mails come from Palestinians. "I guess that an Algerian or a Moroccan who reads the Web site and who doesn't know any significant thing about Israel is amazed or impressed. I think the Palestinians are less naive."
In practice, many Palestinians view Arabic language broadcasts from Israel with suspicion, according to Nasser Laham, chief editor for the Bethlehem-based Ma'an News Agency, which also translates Hebrew news broadcasts.
"In the Palestinian mind, the Israeli Arabic news is just propaganda," he said. "They feel that in Hebrew, the news is more clear, more specific and more analytical."
There is also a common refrain that the Arabic language news is a branch of the Shin Bet or is otherwise considered hostile, a sentiment that has less of a parallel in Hebrew language news.
Laham said popular demand prompted Ma'an News Agency to offer translations of the Hebrew Israeli news from Channel 1, Channel 2 and Channel 10, in addition to its own television news programming. This in turn passes to Palestinian journalists, who rely on it for their daily work, he said, adding that Ma'an's broadcasts reach the West Bank, Gaza and parts of Jordan within antenna range.
Palestinian journalists don't treat Israeli media sources unfairly, said Laham, but they do apply a necessary level of skepticism.
"Just as Israeli journalists take what they need from the Palestinian media, so too the Palestinian media take what they need from Israel," he said.
Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a journalist for Al-Quds in east Jerusalem, was more critical about Israeli representatives.
"Usually I don't use any kind of information from the [official] Israeli side," he said. He generally goes to the United Nations or the Palestinians when he needs official sources, he said, because Israeli spokespeople tend to give him only limited facts.
"When I go to an Israeli official I get the same message I can get from the radio," he said. "All of them speak the same way. The language is the message of the army, the message of the occupation." He pointed out that in his experience, Israeli journalists are given far more access from Palestinian officials than Palestinians receive from Israelis.
While he wouldn't disclose further details, Abu Khdeir said he does his best to remain balanced, and so the Israeli information he trusts comes from unofficial or informal sources.
"Usually I write a mix of what Palestinians say and what Israelis say," Abu Khdeir said. "If I don't get the information, I change the story."