|Israel Resource Review
||17th January, 2001
Official PA radio news - the P.B.C. VOP (Voice of Palestine) Radio: January 6th
Summary and Analysis
The Palestinian Authority reacted in a very cautious but optimistic way
to last night's meetings and continued contacts with Israel: The head of the
PA negotiating team, Ahmad Qreia (Abu Ala), told the Voice of Palestine that
the talks were serious but there were major gaps and no real progress on
substantive issues-leaving almost no chance for any agreement before the
"It's agreed that there is no agreement until we agree on all
matters," said Qreia.
VOP, unlike the Voice of Israel, was not reporting the imminent opening
of the Gaza airport and the increasing influx of Arab workers into Israel.
Similarly, VOP is covering the security talks-for several days now-through
the prism of attempts to "stop Israeli aggression," "to lift the Israeli
siege," and "to halt the attacks on our people": without any mention of need
to halt attacks on Israelis.
The PA has apparently put the death penalty on the back burner-no
executions are being announced-but it is still pursuing a campaign against
anyone who would "cooperate with Israel," and VOP has broadcast that scores
of Israeli agents have surrendered to Palestinian authorities.
The regular PA commentator on the Israeli elections, MK Dr. Azmi
Bashara, appeared on the air once again to poke fun at "the two
generals"-Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon-asserting that it was a near-certainty
that Barak would be defeated.
Morning News Round-Up Headlines, 7:00 a.m.
- "A new meeting today between the Palestinian and Israeli delegations
headed by Ahmad Qreia and Shlomo Ben-Ami n an attempt to bridge the gaps
between the stances o the two parties;
- Ahmad Qreia says the talks are serious but there are real clashes in
- The Political-Security committee headed by Dr. Saeb Erikat, the
Minister of Home Rule, and the Israeli delegation led by Minister of
Tourism Amnon Shahak met through the night, and the Palestinian side renewed
its demand for an end to all forms of Israeli aggression;
- Tens of agents turn themselves in to the security organizations,
revealing details of their operations with Israel ;
- Israeli television campaign begins…and both candidates concentrate on
their military careers;
- American President Clinton will give a speech to the American people
at the end of his term, and medical report shows that he is sufering from
- President of the Congo Lauren Kabila assassinated by one of his body
News Bulletin Headlines 7 a.m. / 8 a.m. / 9 a.m.
- "The Palestinian delegation lead by Speaker Ahmad Qreia and the
Israeli delegation led by Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami will hold a
meeting today to attempt to bridge the gaps between the two sides on the
- Ahmad Qreia described the talks last nights as 'serious and deep' but
said there were also real clashes in the talks with the Israelis concerning
the issues of Jerusalem, the refugees, the land and borders. And Mr. Qreia
said that the issue of settler attacks on our people and putting an end to
assault on our people was at the forefront of the talks yesterday;
- His Excellency President Yasser Arafat headed a meeting last night of
the Supreme Negotiating Committee to discuss the latest developments in the
talks last night with the Israeli side and the efforts to put an end to
Israeli aggression and to restore the peace process;
- There was a Palestinian-Israeli security-political meeting at the
Beit Hanoun junction which stretched into the late hours of the night
concentrating on putting an end to Israeli aggression…;
- Masses of our people in Nablus escorted yesterday afternoon the
exalted martyr Mahdi Shtaya from the town of Salim who was shot dead two
days ago by occupation soldiers;
- Occupation troops and settlers extended their aggression yesterday,
wounding 9 people;
- Last night in Gaza, occupation soldiers shelled several homes of
- Four of our citizens in the Mintar area in eastern Gaza by fire from
occupation soldiers, and four more were wounded by settlers' fire on
citizens residences near the Tufah checkpoint, and the settlers renewed
their aggression in Dir al-Balah and Mawasi, destroying 100 dunams of
- Occupation forces destroyed ten homes in Jenin;
- Under protection of occupation troops, settlers uprooted 100 olive
trees near Nablus…;
- A responsible Egyptian source says that the Egyptian President will
receive in Cairo today Israeli foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami to discuss
recent regional developments in the wake recent Palestinian-Israeli meetings…;
- The Palestinian delegation to the United Nations renewed its demand
for international protection to stop Israeli aggression against our people…;
- Iraqi President Saddam Hussein yesterday received a Palestinian
delegation headed by Dr. Farouk Qaddoumi, head of the Political Department
of the Palestine Liberation Organization, as well as the ministers of Public
Works, Economics and Health 'Azam al-Ahmad, Maher al-Masri and Dr. Riad
al-Za'noun. And the presient of Iraq sent his personal greetings to
President Yasser Arafat and the sons of our people as well as Iraq's stance
of solidarity with our right to our struggle until we secure the
legitimate rights of our people…;
- The White House announced that a lesion taken from the back of
President Clinton was cancerous…;
- A spokesman or President-Elect George Bush announced that he would
retain George Tenet as head of the Central Intelligence Agency-the CIA. And
Bush asked Tenet to remain at his post for an indefinite period;…
- President-Elect Bush says that his administration is re-examining the
foreign affairs conceptions…;
- President Clinton for his part is preparing a televised departure
speech to the American people Sunday night….;
- A spokesman or OPEC said it was lowering prices…."
Quotes from Interview with Ahmad Qreia, PA Legislature Speaker
"Really, it was a general discussion on a variety of matters,
concentrating on the matter of land, the question of Jerusalem, at the
beginning, and at the end, it was serious. The differences continue and
continue. But the talk was serious."
Question: "Is there something positive about this talk? Will it lead anywhere?"
Answer: "Well, the gap continues. The differences remain. But there was
serious talk between the two parties."
Question: "The gaps remain great, but did you notice from the Israelis the
ability to change anything or did they just cling to their stubbornness of
the past period, the period of the elections?"
Answer: "Perhaps there are some matters and some talk on which we can build.
But to say we're getting to something final and basic, I CANNOT SAY THAT."
Question: "There's some talk about a great ability to reach understanding, with
all the reservations of both sides …based on the American framework…?"
Answer: "Absolute Not. There is no talk of that. There are our subjects out on
the table. They are: the land and , Jerusalem and the refugees and the
borders. These are the four matters we're talking about. If things go well,
we'll add to it the question of water. And it's agreed that there is no
agreement until we agree on all matters".
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Journalists Under Palestinian Pressure?
Judy Lash Balint
The Palestinian Authority has a thing about journalists. The independent
Committee for the Protection of Journalists which monitors abuses against the
press and promotes press freedom around the world reports: "In the nearly
seven years since the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) assumed control
over parts of the West Bank and Gaza, Chairman Yasser Arafat and his
multi-layered security apparatus have muzzled local press critics via
arbitrary arrests, threats, physical abuse, and the closure of media
outlets. Over the years, the Arafat regime has managed to frighten most
Palestinian journalists into self-censorship."
There's no reason to suspect that foreign correspondents, who were
notoriously hounded in Beirut twenty years ago by the PNA's forerunner,
the PLO, are not exercising the same kind of self-censorship today, compromising fair and objective coverage of the current situation.
Still, the most effective clamp on the truth is the peer group; the
homogenized ideology of the press corps where independent thinking
continues to require courage and fortitude.
In a region where the media has in many ways shaped the conflict, the
combination of fear and lockstep thinking on the part of its protagonists
does not bode well for a resolution.
Ramallah: Things Would Never be the Same:
The lynching of two Israeli reservists in Ramallah on 12 October 2000
proved to be a watershed in western coverage of the new intifada. Up until
that point, most western journalists traveled wherever they wanted to.
Sky TV News reporter Chris Roberts says that at the outset of the violence,
the PA welcomed reporters with open arms. "They wanted us to show 12 year
olds being killed," he explains. But after the lynch when PA operatives did
their best to confiscate and destroy tape of the grisly event, and Israel
Defense Forces used the images to target and arrest the perpetrators,
Palestinians have sometimes vented their hostility to the U.S by harassing
and intimidating western correspondents. "Post Ramallah where all goodwill
was lost, I'm a lot more sensitive about going places," Roberts admits.
Ahmed Budeiri, a bright, twenty-something Arab stringer for ABC TV,
acknowledges that Ramallah was "really dangerous for foreian security forces, beaten and relieved of their film of the
lynching. But most of the TV cameramen were Palestinians. Given PA
intimidation of Palestinian journalists, it's not surprising that almost
all of them, except for one working for the Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera,
and another shooter for the independent Italian station, RTI, meekly handed
over their film.
Nasser Atta, a Palestinian producer with the ABC News network, was outside
the Ramallah police station with a camera crew as the bloody scene
unfolded. Appearing the next day on ABC's "Nightline," he told host Ted
Koppel that crowd members had assaulted his team to stop them from filming
the action. "I saw how the youth tried to prevented [sic]---prevented my
crew from shooting this footage. My cameraman was beaten," Atta said.
A British photographer, Mark Seager wrote in London's Sunday Telegraph
(October 22): "I was composing the picture when I was punched in the face
by a Palestinian. Another Palestinian pointed right at me shouting 'no
picture, no pictures, ' while another guy hit me in the face and said 'give
me your film.' One guy just pulled the camera from me and smashed it to the floor."
Most reporters acknowledge that the PA openly confiscated TV footage and
still photos of the lynch. But some, like CBC's Neil Macdonald, asked PA
Security chief Jibril Rajoub's about the matter and were told that no tape
Others, like Bill Orme of the New York Times, came to their own conclusion
that while the mob which attacked journalists did include some uniformed
Palestinian police officers, "no one is suggesting that it was PA policy. It was not an official order."
The film that did escape the clutches of the PA police made its way to TV
screens around the world in an unorthodox way. According to Gideon Meir,
deputy director general for public affairs at the Israeli Foreign Ministry,
the Israeli Embassy in Rome was able to secure the video from the
independent Italian RTI TV station and within six hours of the gruesome
event, the images were received in Jerusalem. The Italians released it
without charge, said Meir.
TV Newsweb, a web site for TV editors and coRrespondents reported the
transmission of the footage a little differently. "Two tapes are spirited
away and reappear in Jerusalem one hour later. Al-Jazeera's tape is offered
for sale at US$1,000 per minute, but it's shot shakily from far away and
lacks impact. The RTI tape is extremely graphic.
RTI's Israeli tape editor, who was at the scene, gave her eyewitness
account at a Jerusalem press conference organized by the Israeli Foreign
Ministry and the Government Press Office. RTI eventually makes the tape
available to the agencies in Italy and the gruesome pictures lead most
Meanwhile, veteran Italian TV reporter Riccardo Cristiano had just been
released from the hospital were he spent more than a week recovering from
injuries he received when he was beaten up in Jaffa while covering the
riots started by Israeli Arabs. Cristiano's nose was broken, his cheek
gashed, and he almost lost the use of his right eye.
The Italian government TV channel reporter went back to work the day before
the lynch. According to CBC's Macdonald, Cristiano, "a very pacifist guy"
was traumatized by the Jaffa attack. When he received death threats the
day after the Ramallah events, presumably from Palestinians who mistakenly
associated his TV channel with the damning lynch footage, Macdonald says
Cristiano penned a letter in English to a Palestinian journalist friend at
Al Hayat Al Jedida newspaper assuring the colleague that his station had
nothing to do with the filming nor would he ever violate journalistic
ethics by transmitting film to an embassy or government office.
On Monday, October 16, 2000 a version of the letter appeared in Arabic on
the front page of the paper. Cristiano lost his Israeli press credentials
and was recalled to Rome. The RTI correspondent was spirited out of the
country for her own safety after the IDF used freeze frames of her film to
nab six of the perpetrators in undercover raids.
I traveled to Rome to meet Riccardo Cristiano last December. The tall,
gray haired, mustachioed, soft-spoken Cristiano acknowledges that he's a
leftist, but in his quest for justice for those whom he perceives as
oppressed, he feels he's following in the footsteps of his father, renowned
Italian artist Paolo Cristiano.
The senior Cristiano was a member of the Italian resistance who spent three
years in a series of Nazi camps. He weighed 60 lbs when he returned home.
Riccardo says his father is mortified by those who accuse his son of being
anti-Semitic. "The only thing he wanted to do when he came to visit me in
Israel was visit Yad Vashem," Riccardo says quietly. Recently, Cristiano
met with the head of the Jewish council in Venice to explain his actions
and gain his support.
The Al Hayat letter became a significant political issue in Italy because
Cristiano worked for the government station and his letter was perceived to
have endangered the life of a reporter from the independent channel
operated by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy's
center-right opposition. Berlusconi's party is critical of support for
the Palestinians on the part of Italy's government-sponsored media.
Over the course of several interviews, Cristiano is careful to talk only
about what has happened to his life in the intervening months, not the
details of his controversial letter. Even though he does not have a job,
he is technically still employed by RAI while he awaits a disciplinary
hearing which will determine his future as a journalist. His October
letter was unauthorized, and he can't afford to be accused of another
unauthorized action such as an interview explaining his actions.
Interestingly, Bill Orme, as an FPA (Foreign Press Association) board
member, recalls that in a telephone conversation with Cristiano the day the
letter appeared in Al Hayat, the Italian reporter verified and even
defended its contents, telling the FPA that he was concerned for the
safety of his staff.
Cristiano's plight does provide a certain insight into the journalistic
fraternity of those covering the Middle East. Like other reporters who
were beaten up by Palestinians over the past few months, Cristiano felt no
rage against their violence. Neither does he expect much from the PA. He
relates how his crew was filming a bodyguard of PA Jerusalem Affairs
minister Faisal Husseini who slapped someone at a garden party at Orient
House, the PA Jerusalem headquarters. Another guard came over and destroyed
the film. Cristiano, the deputy bureau chief, complained. The next day
Husseini sent an apology and all was forgiven.
While Cristiano has obvious sympathy for the Palestinian cause he Is not
"anti-Israel". He speaks of his special interest in the Armenians, and
views both Israel and the Palestinians as "nations under trauma."
But until his name is cleared, Cristiano continues to be a fallen man. "My
friends think I'm in this mood because I lost my job in Jerusalem," he says
sadly, "but the reality is that I lost my honor and credibility from myself
and my heritage."
Extensive interviews in Jerusalem with correspondents based here as well as
those who were flown in for the crisis indicate a highly complex
journalistic reality. Within the Jerusalem based press corps of several
hundred reporters, there are varying degrees of knowledge and understanding
of the situation. After the first week of the violence, many media outlets
reassigned journalists from other posts to assist their colleagues in
Jerusalem. In some cases these people did have previous experience
covering the Middle East, but in most instances the journalists
landed in their bureaus at Jerusalem Capital Studios with little
background on the history, geography or political landscape of the area.
Whom do they turn to for a crash course on the Israel-Arab conflict? By
and large it's other journalists who provide them with an overview of the
lay of the land. Georges Malbrunot, correspondent for France's Le Matin
daily paper, for example, calls the BBC his "living Bible." Thus, as
Fiamma Nirenstein, the Israel correspondent for Italy's La Stampa newspaper
points out, ". . . the extraordinary informal power of the media -- iconoclastic, sporty, ironic, virtually all of one mind" (Commentary, January 2001) comes into play.
In fact, the best factual reporting from the new intifada has come from the
few correspondents with background in the area who jetted in for a few
weeks and left before they became tainted with the political correctness
required of the resident media set.
Jack Kelley of USA Today, for example, filed a couple of stories during his
limited days in Jerusalem. In one piece he described his experience riding
along in an IDF jeep patrolling the volatile Ayosh Junction outside
Ramallah. Eyewitness accounts of the violent provocation by Arab youth and
the decision making of the equally youthful IDF troops provided an accurate
insight into the challenging situation.
But for most of the American Colony Hotel based western correspondents
there are certain "given" assumptions which provide the backdrop for all
their coverage. Topping the list is the notion that Palestinians are
engaged in a struggle for independence and Israeli oppressors are using
their might to stand in their way.
Journalists arrive at this view based both on experiences in their own
native lands as standard bearers for minority rights and other liberal
causes, but also as a result of their reliance on local assistance here in
Israel. Since very few of the foreign correspondents in Israel are fluent
in Hebrew or Arabic, they rely on a network of local sources as well as
the service of "fixers," locals who can "fix" situations for them. Some
400 PA residents are currently in possession of Israel Government Press Office credentials. Most of these Palestinian "fixers" also know Hebrew, and their GPO credentials generally enable them to navigate quite well throughout Israel without security intimidation.
Much of the current conflict is raging in Area A (under full Palestinian
Authority (PA) control) so it is not surprising that the "fixers" are
generally young, western-educated Palestinians who know how to operate in
PA territory and who introduce the journalists to their circle of
In contrast to this informal networking on the Palestinian side,
correspondents generally get the Israeli point of view from official
sources. The Government Press Office (currently a one man operation) is
charged with informing journalists of briefings with government officials
and coordinating coverage of the comings and goings of the Prime Minister
and the Cabinet. The Foreign Ministry and the IDF Spokesman's office
provide access to IDF commanders and other top officials. "We suffer from
a deluge of information," notes Washington Post bureau chief Lee
Hockstader. Others like Phil Reeves of London's Independent newspaper
acknowledge that Israel provides excellent entree to senior officials in
contrast to more limited and guarded access to PA higher ups. Chris Roberts
of the UK based Sky TV News service calls the Israeli official PR effort "a
well oiled machine." But there is little Israeli effort to establish
personal relationships with journalists to provide them with a
non-propagandistic, man-on-the-street view of events.
The effects of this vacuum are easy to discern. When Ted Koppel taped a
Nightline show at the East Jerusalem YMCA in the early days of this
intifada, several smartly dressed, attractive, young English speaking Arabs
made sure they saved a chair for New York Times bureau chief Deborah
Sontag. When Sontag arrived she was greeted with kisses by one of the
young women in the group.
The influence of Arab crew members is obvious even in the offices of some
news outlets. At the ABC TV studio for instance, the only map hanging in
the office is dated March 2000 and displays the title "Palestine."
A reporter for a Canadian paper explains how knowledge of Arabic can be a
very useful thing. In Beit Jalla last December, the IDF sent a missile
into the Church of St. Nicholas causing little damage. The PA called a
news conference there. In English the local clergy said "Oh, this is so
terrible, see what the Israelis are doing." In Arabic they were overheard
saying to each other: "That m ____ f____ Arafat. Why can't he keep his
guns away. He'll get us all killed."
But most journalists speak very little Arabic, so they use Palestinian
crews which creates another problem. The harassment of Palestinian
journalists critical of Yasser Arafat is well documented by Israeli and
Palestinian human rights organizations. The Committee for the Protection
of Journalists wrote in an October 20, 2000 report:
"Major newspapers routinely avoid coverage of issues such as high-level PA
corruption and mismanagement, human rights abuses by security forces, and
any reporting that might cast Arafat in a negative light. Moreover, the
major Palestinian dailies all enjoy cozy relations with the PA, further
blunting their editorial edge."
Coercion, abduction and violence by PA security chief Jibril Rijoub's
forces is a fact of life for East Jerusalem Arabs, as Nadav Shragai
documented in the Israeli newspaper HaAretz in June, 2000.
Who knows under what pressure Palestinians working for western news
organizations operate, or to whom they report. In effect, little seems to
have changed since Zev Chafets wrote in his book 'Double Vision' (Willam Morrow, 1984) about Western journalists coverage of the Lebanese war of the
early 1980s. (Just substitute American Colony for Commodore, and Jerusalem
"In conformity with the PLO-dependent security system, Western reporters
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