Journalism the Arab World is Not Used To / Khaled Abu Toameh

December 9, 2011 at 5:00 am
Israel is one of the few places in the Middle East where Arab journalists can still practice some form of real journalism without having to worry about their safety.

Over the past few years, several Arab media outlets have popped up in Israel, offering a type of journalism that the Arab world is not used to.

In Israel, they know, government "thugs" do not break the hands of cartoonists and photographers who dare to criticize the government. Nor does Israel arrest a journalist who post on Facebook a comment criticizing the president.

In Israel, a journalist has never been forced to go into hiding for reporting a story that the government did not like. But in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian journalists continue to be targeted by both Fatah and Hamas.

Israeli Arabs have three major weekly tabloids that hire professional and independent journalists and writers, and not propagandists. The three privately owned papers, Assenara, Kul Al Arab and Panorama, are popular among the Arab community largely because they do not hesitate to cover stories that are considered taboo in Arab society.

These papers, for example, are full of stories about "honor killings" -- when a male kills a female relative for allegedly disgracing the family's reputation -- domestic violence such as wife -battering and sexual assaults, and corruption in state-run institutions.

The Arab reporters are not appointed by the Israeli government, which does not have the power to interfere with a newspaper's editorial line. Editors are required to submit to the military censor only those stories that are related to extremely sensitive security issues. Otherwise, the editors are free to publish anything they want, including sharp criticism of all state institutions and the IDF and other security agencies.

In many ways, Israeli Arab journalists are trying to copy the example of the Israeli Jewish media, which is free and independent.

When they launched their newspapers, the Israeli Arab editors and publishers had the Israeli, and not the Arab world, media in mind.

It is ironic and sad that a number of Palestinian journalists have to move to Israel to be able to express themselves freely and without facing intimidation. Over the past two decades, these journalists, who once used to live in the West Bank, have moved to Jerusalem after being harassed by the Palestinian Authority.

Just last week, Hamas detained five Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip and confiscated their computers and documents. When Israeli Arab journalists see what is happening to their colleagues in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, they are reminded of how lucky they are that they live in Israel.

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