Israel Resource Review 22nd January, 2002


How the PLO Wins the Media War in Israel
An Examination of the Work of the JMCC: The Jerusalem Media and Communications Center

When a foreign journalist arrives in Israel, according to law, he must get a press card that is certified for use in Israel from the Israel Government Press Office, located at the Beit Agron International Press Center in Jerusalem. To get the card, the journalist must give the Press Office two pictures of him/herself and proof that he/she works for a publication. The Government Press Office will then supply the foreign journalist with notifications to the press from all the government offices and announcements regarding press conferences.

That sums up the Israeli Government Press Office's involvement with the foreign press, who carry the weighty responsibility of presenting Israel's image to the world at large.

Daniel Seaman, who is director of the Israel Government Press Office, would like to offer services to the foreign press such as tours, excursions and meetings with sources which would assist the reporter to gain a deeper understanding about the people living in Israel and its political climate. However, the government of Israel did not find it necessary to finance such expenses.

But no need to worry. Right under the nose of the Israeli Government Press Service, an energetic news agency operates, which offers all the above services and much more.

It is efficient, available and costs very little.

When the foreign journalist steps outside the Beit Agron Government Press Office holding his freshly stamped press card, the reporter will often find parked outside a mini-bus belonging to a press agency known as the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center (JMCC).

The purpose of that agency and its media- friendly services is to seek out foreignjournalists and to take them to whatever destination which will further the interests of the Palestine Authority.

The JMCC was founded by Ghassan Khatib, a member of the Palestinian Legislation Council, and a close associate of Yassir Arafat. The JMCC provides the journalists with daily trips to Jerusalem, refugee camps, the Gallilee, the Negev and to Arab and Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza strip including Jewish settlements. The JMCC media guides consist of Arab professionals, Israeli Leftists, and Arab or Israeli academics.

The Israel Ministry of Tourism, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Yesha Council do not initiate trips of this nature, creating a vacuum that is filled efficiently and professionally by the JMCC.

The offices of the JMCC are easily accessible, located on Nablus Street in Jerusalem, a few minute walk from the hotels favored by the foreign press such as the Ambassador Hotel and the American Colony. Nearby are the offices of the UN, the European Union, and the American, Italian, Belgian and Swiss Consulates.

For nominal fees, the JMCC provides the media with television equipment, and translators from Hebrew and Arabic. JMCC's web site, is updated a number of times a day, and provides the party line of whatever message that the PLO seeks to communicate as well as the wide variety of services offered by the JMCC.

Also for a nominal fee, the JMCC provides reporters with a daily report on what is happening on the Palestinian front in addition to a summary of the Israeli and Palestinian press. The JMCC's translations of the PLO press are devoid of the virulences that you will find in the original Arabic language media, but this detail goes by unnoticed by the reporters.

The JMCC provides an impressive colorful 50-page brochure called "This Week in Palestine", issued for tourists and the foreign press, and contains detailed and updated information about Palestinian Society, descriptive information of tourist attractions, as well as a comprehensive list of names of local tour guides.

The brochure includes maps of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Palestine.

The term "Israel"does not appear anywhere in the brochure or on its maps.

The Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem, is erased from the JMCC map of Jerusalem. Every site is mentioned as part of the Palestinian heritage, connecting it to the Palestinian struggle for independence or to Islam without any hint of Jewish significance. Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, becomes Yussof's Tomb, with a unique Islamic heritage. Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem also becomes an Islamic site and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem also went through Islamic conversion with never a mention as to its holy and historical significance to the Jewish nation.

JMCC advertisers to the brochure includes all the Arab hotels in East Jerusalem, all the foreign consulates in Jerusalem, as well as various restaurants. "This Week in Palestine" can be found in all the Hotels in East Jerusalem as well as in some Israeli hotels.

Another magazine put out by the JMCC and geared for journalists is called "The Palestine Report". JMCC also provides evaluations and analysis of Israeli media and web sites.

For a nominal fee, JMCC provides the foreign press with a subscription to a daily e-mail report about events in the Palestine Authority, which is marketed to 168 various press offices and diplomats in Jerusalem. The daily report service has been operating since 1989 (though not in the internet format), following the outbreak of the War in Lebanon.

The service was then called "The Palestine Press Service", and founded by Ramonda Tawil, who later became Arafat's mother-in-law. Tawil, who was the partial owner of the Jordanian bank of Irbid, was also involved in training Palestinian Arabs for interviews with the press. Thus she gave a "spokesman course" for the Jibril terror exchange in 1985, when Israel released more than 1,000 Arab terrorists in exchange for six Israeli POW's. The course trained released terrorists how to handle their limited-time interviews with the press, and to focus on presenting themselves and their conditions in the Israeli jails, instead of talking about their actions which led to them being put in those jails. Many of Tawil's graduates are graduates from Israeli prisons, and are now serving as reliable sources for Human Rights Groups in Israel and abroad as well as for every possible delegation visiting beyond the Green Line.

Additional JMCC services include a well stocked video library with documented material on every possible subject promoting the Palestinian cause. Among the videos available for the reporter are video clips of the abuse of Palestinian Arab children at the hands of Israeli soldiers, the intolerable conditions of the refugee camps, and various portrayals of dead and dying Arabs, with smashed and detached body parts, along with mourning Palestinian families and more.

The JMCC also provides updated polls regarding the mood of the Palestinian street. Israel's Broadcasting Authority and Israeli journalists from the Haaretz and Jerusalem Post newspapers all publish these polls as reliable sources. The question of how reliable is a public opinion poll which is taken in a totalitarian society by a body connected to the ruling regime almost never comes up.

The JMCC is also coordinated with two Palestinian health experts, both bearing elaborate family ties. The first is Dr. Fatchi Arafat, head of the "Red Crescent", and brother to Yasser. In October 2000 the IDF spokesman gave a detailed report about the role of the "Red Crescent" ambulances in the transfer of weapons and fighting equipment to the Arabs who participated in violent clashes against Israel, yet forgot to mention the name and next of kin of the head of this organization. The other health expert at the disposal of JMCC is Dr .Mustafa Barguti, the chief of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees which was founded by the National Front, and brother of Marwan Barguti, secretary of the Fatah and commander of the armed PLO Tanzim. The two doctors are at the service of any foreign journalist wishing to report on the Palestine Authority health system. Dr. Barguti is also the source of the sensational news campaign in 1990 which alleged that Israel was using poisonous tear gas on Palestinian demonstrators which somehow capable of killing children.

In terms of its legal status, the JMCC had always held press credentials from the Israel Government Press office until this January 1. In deciding not to extend their credentials beyond January 1, GPO director Daniel Seaman noted that JMCC defines itself as a PR firm and not as a news agency and therefore should not have received press credentials in the first place, according to Seaman.

Despite the fact that JMCC registered itself as an Israeli firm in 1994, JMCC, which receives annual grants from the European Union and the Ford Foundation, has never paid taxes on its more than twenty employees, nor has the JMCC ever issued a single legal receipt to include the VAT, the Israeli Value Added Tax. For all these reasons, JMCC was stricken from the Israel corporate record in 1999 - yet the Israel tax authority in East Jerusalem issued an official memo that the JMCC was operating within the confines of the Israeli law. How the Israel tax authorities came to such a conclusion seems mysterious.

All in all, journalists who come to Jerusalem seem rather pleased with the operation and the services provided by the JMCC. Reporters find out soon enough that the JMCC is promoting an Arab point of view. However, as one TV producer noted, "their message is soft and their methods are professional. Even though they may promote a cause, we do not feel that they are clubbing us over the head with a hard sell approach"."

Anyone who wonders why Israel fails to make its case to the media need look no further than the JMCC operation in Jerusalem.

No Israeli public or private concern provides any parallel service to welcome and serve the media in Jerusalem.

The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs is blessed with a budget of five million dollars to provide such services to the foreign media.

The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs is well aware of the above scenario.

The question remains: Is this a matter of benign neglect or a policy of allowing the PLO to have free reign of the turf . . .

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