Palestinian Journalist Walid Batrawi discusses the state of Palestinian media in "Palestinian Media: Pre Intifada to the Present

The following report is an edited version of a lecture that was given at Birzeit University as part of the Palestine and Arabic Studies Programme Lecture Series by Walid Batrawi on 24 September 1997. Mr. Batrawi is a Palestinian journalist currently working with ABC Australia. The Palestine and Arabic Studies Programme (PAS) is an academic program at Birzeit University that offers international students the opportunity to combine the study of the Arabic Language with social science courses about Palestine and the Arab World.

Welcome to Birzeit University. As was mentioned in the introduction, I work for ABC Australia, and I was trained in television in Holland and in radio at Birzeit University. I’m also supposed to be a trainer at Birzeit University, but as of yet, I haven’t done any formal training, although I have a training certificate.

I would like to speak about Palestinian media before the occupation and under the British Mandate, media under occupation, during the Intifada, and finally under the Palestinian Authority, which I’m sure you would all like to know about.

The history of Palestinian media

Many people would think that the media in Palestine is a recent thing that only surfaced during the Intifada because of the international media presence at that time but I believe that this is wrong. Palestinian media has existed since the 1920’s. We had different newspapers in Palestine, the main ones being Falestiin (Palestine), Biladna Falestiin (Our Country Palestine), and one which is still being printed called Al-Itihad, which is now being produced in Haifa. Al-Itihad is an Arab-Israeli newspaper owned by the Israeli Communist Party or, at that time, the Palestinian Communist Party, but now is called the Israeli Communist Party.

In the 1930’s we saw the first Palestinian broadcasting service, based in Jenin. It was called al-Shark al-Adna, the "Near East", and was one of the earliest radio stations in the region. During the 1936 Revolution, it was based in Jaffa before moving to Jerusalem.

Israeli repression of the Palestinian media

Palestinian media entered a new stage in 1967. During the occupation, in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, there was no Palestinian press or broadcasting at all. In 1973, the first Palestinian English newspaper was launched, Al-Fajr, which no longer exsits today. Other newspapers began to open after that, including Al QudsAl Anbah, and Al Sha’ib. These were the only Palestinian-produced newspapers that Palestinians could obtain information from, the only other sources at that time being the Israeli media or Jordanian TV and radio. And of course, many people really loved listening to the BBC. Especially the older generation. I used to work for the BBC and they always used to say that they always listened to it.

These were the main newspapers. However, they operated under very difficult circumstances because anything that was published had to be submitted first to the Israeli military censor. Most of the news items were crossed out because the censor I didn’t like it, and what you ended up with were things that you had already heard from the Israeli press or other press items that were already published. Sometimes they used to cross out specific words, like martyr. For example, if you wrote in a news item that three martyrs died yesterday, they would change it to three Palestinians killed yesterday. We’ll talk about this later, about objectivity and the way one uses words but this is what they used to do. To this day Al Quds, the most popular newspaper in the West Bank and Gaza, has to submit all its material to the Israeli censor one night before its published with a deadline of midnight. So if you have any news items after that, you are not allowed to publish it, unless it is not a big issue. But what news that happens after midnight isn't a big issue?

In comparison, Israeli newspapers that are published within Israeli do not have to submit any kind of material, except for military material, to the censor. They are allowed to publish anything they want unless it is related to a military base or military operations in South Lebanon, or anything that has been banned from publishing. For example, just a few weeks ago, the Israeli courts decided to ban any publication concerning information on the investigation that was taking place regarding the two suicide bombings in Jerusalem. This ban applied to everyone, including the foreign press. Yesterday night the Israeli Prime Minister’s office announced how the investigation was going and released the names of the suicide bombers. In response, the Israeli courts and Israeli Intelligence complained against Netanyahu because he spoke about it before they gave him the order to do so. So, they are very strict with these issues.

Palestinian media also encountered many problems before and during the Intifada (that began in December 1987). Before the Intifada, many Palestinian newspapers were banned from being distributed in areas. For example, there was a newspaper called Al-Tali’a, which means 'avante garde', which was published in Jerusalem and was banned from being distributed in the West Bank and Gaza. If you were caught having this newspaper, you would be put in prison for six months.

Q: What was the orientation of this newspaper? What was in it that led it to be banned?

A: This is the problem. If people in Jerusalem could read it, why couldn’t people in Ramallah read it? The news items were the same as in any other paper, but they said it was affiliated to the Palestinian Communist Party, even though the Palestinian Communist Party wasn’t illegal at that time. There existed an Israeli Communist Party then, so how can you allow one party in Israel and ban it in the West Bank? Up till now I don’t know why it was banned but this was part of the harassment of the press and part of what I would say was a media blockade of the Palestinians. I think the aim of this was to allow only the media sources that Israel wanted, even though Al Tali’a used to submit its articles to the censor. But anyway, why have three newspapers and not listen to the Israeli radio? I think they would have preferred that Palestinians just listen to Israeli radio and not read the local newspapers. Of course, many newspapers were closed during the Intifada. Al Fajr was closed for a long time, Al Tali’a was closed for a long time, as were Al Quds and others.

I was only here for the last year of the Intifada (1991-1992). At this time, a very significant new trend emerged, which I call "The policy of closed military areas", and Israelis simply call "Closed military areas." This means that you sign a paper at the Israeli government press office before you get your press card which commits you to obey, "all the laws of the country". And this was one of the 'laws', that if you find yourself in a closed military area, you have to leave immediately. Otherwise, tapes would be confiscated, and you would be arrested or harassed.

Well, I agree with this rule if it really is a military area. You are not allowed to film in any military compound anywhere around the world unless you have a permit. But the situation is different here. For example, the Israelis set up a checkpoint down the road and are harassing Gaza students and you come with your camera to film it. Now the first few minutes, they would agree to you filming because they like to be in pictures, but later, the commander would come with a paper, which would be unfilled, written in Hebrew and not in English. He will fill in the date and the hour in front of you and on the spot give the rule that this is a closed military area. Just two years ago, we managed to get a court ruling that they can’t do this. During this time, Israelis tried to confiscate some land near Bethlehem in Al Khader, and they used to always announce it as a closed military area. We protested saying that it was the center of the event, and how could thet say this is a closed military area? So we got a court ruling that the area was a closed military area just for civilians. Yes, we are civilians also, but it meant that the rule applied to people other than journalists. Now it is very difficult for them to announce just any area is a closed military area.

Even during the last closure that they imposed on Palestinian cities - I'm talking about the internal closure, the external closure is another issue - journalists could move freely between villages and cities, from one place to another. Of course sometimes there were delays, like not being able to enter an area with your car, but you were at least able to walk through. This was an achievement for us.

This was the policy during the Intifada. There was great discrimination between Palestinian journalists in comparison with Israeli and foreign journalists. We tried to push hard in order to gain equal treatment. We still haven't reached that level, but we’re still trying. Many Palestinian journalists were arrested during the Intifada, as well as foreign journalists. I remember being arrested in Hebron in 1991 because I refused to obey, within one minute, an order that was given declaring the area I was in as a closed military area. I was working for German TV at the time and the whole crew was arrested because of me. So it wasn’t only because I was a Palestinian. This is part of the harassment of the foreign media.

 Journalists wounded by 'rubber' bullets during Abu Ghanaim/Har Homa clashes in early 1997

To tell you the truth, Israeli soldiers and police, as well as the Palestinian police, really hate to see any journalist because they know that if you are a journalist there will be always be trouble after your work is done. They really hate us. For example, you get harrassed and are confronted with anger if you show your press card when you're stopped by civilian or traffic police. Your are asked to produce all your documents, driving licence, ID card, etc. I think all authorities in the world would hate the press, especially after the recent events with Princess Diana.

The Israeli Government Press Card

So you could say that throughout that period and until now Palestinian journalists are really under a lot of pressure. If you are a journalist and you are credible, for example you work for a foreign agency, then you are respected a bit by the Israeli authorities. But if you work for a local newspaper, it is very difficult to garner respect from them. We thought we would gain an advantage by getting Israeli government press cards. We now have 260 Palestinians journalists who hold Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) cards which allow you to move freely and allow you to interview any Israeli official. Without this card, other journalists do not have the same opportunity. But the problem with this GPO card is that if you are a foreigner, you go there, you prove you are a journalist and you get the press card in 5 minutes. For a Palestinian, it takes at least two weeks to get the same card because you are required to go to the office, prove that you are a journalist as well as prove that you have no previous security record. So they take your application to the Israeli intelligence office and check it thoroughly. If you have any security record like being in prison or you were formerly politically active in the PLO, you don’t get the press card.

I have a sound man working with me who is from Gaza. He applied for his Israeli press card two months ago and he hasn’t had an answer yet and he has never been in prison. An Israeli press card is not an easy thing to get. Even when you get this press card, you still need to have a permit to be able to enter Israel. For example, during this last closure, if we were in Jerusalem covering a story, we were illegal. The press card we get is in English and Hebrew and is good for two years. With it, you can go meet the Prime Minister in his office.

Passage between the West Bank and Gaza for journalists

In order for the sound man, the Gazan journalist, to get through a checkpoint to go see the Prime Minister, you have to have a permit, which has your name on it, your ID number, where you live, and if you are allowed to enter Erez A, B and C, which are considered part of Israel. A is the North, B is the middle, and C is up to the Erez checkpoint crossing to Gaza. And if you’re going to Gaza you have to coordinate your entrance with the Israelis 24 hours before.

For example, the permit I have is from the 18th of September until the 17th of December, from 5 am to midnight each day. You can not enter with your car. You must show this permit to the soldier at the checkpoint, because when you’re at a checkpoint the press card means nothing. You need to give them the permit. My permit has on it the numbers, 1 3 2 8 4 on the back. Each number designates a particular status. 1 means that this is a personal permit and no one else can use it. 2 means that this permit is not considered a work permit in Israel. 3 means that this permit allows you to go only to the place which is mentioned in the permit. 4 means that the permit must be presented with an ID card. 5 means that this permit has to be presented with a Gazan magnetic card. In order to enter Gaza, you must have all these items listed on your permit.

As I mentioned earlier, If you want to go to Gaza, you must coordinate with the Israelis 24 hours in advance. Of course, if you are a journalist this is a problem because you can’t predict what is going to happen. Perhaps you know that Arafat is meeting Netanyahu tomorrow so you arrange it in advance, but in the incident of the assassination of the Hamas activist Yahya Ayash, you cannot predict it. At that time, I was just leaving Gaza when I heard the news. I had just given the Israeli soldiers my permit and all my papers and they recorded that I had left Gaza, just as the call came. My office called and told me what had happened, and I was about a five minute drive from where it all happened. But I wasn’t allowed to go back in because I had to have arranged it 24 hours before. I had to call a foreign crew from Jerusalem to come and cover the story. It took them an hour and a half to get ready and come and get into Gaza while I could have been there in five minutes. So I said to the soldiers sarcastically that they should tell their intelligence to tell me 24 hours before they assassinate someone so that I could plan my coming to Gaza in advance. This is unprofessional, to have any restriction of movement for the press.

So we now have 260 journalists have these permits, but there are still huge limitations. To tell you the truth, no one is really obeying the Israeli orders that apply to those who hold these press cards. I have been going to Jerusalem from the first day of the first bombing in Jerusalem. I even went down to Gaza with a special permit. I came back and have been going and coming since, and I don’t care that I'm going illegally because I really want to do my job. And if I’m caught, they can take me to court and then we’ll talk about it. I think that if I did go to court, I would win the case and it would be a general case that may change this situation.

Q: But don’t they stop you at the borders?

They stop us. But luckily on my ID card they made a mistake. On the back of the permit they say ID/Passport and usually for the Palestinians they specify that this is an ID number, not a passport number. On my card, they made a mistake and didn’t put ID number. My card says that I work for ABC Australia, so sometimes if I pretend I'm stupid then this is great. They ask me where I’m from and I say, "ABC Australia". And when they hear the word Australia they so OK, go. Sometimes being stupid is very good. Or always being stupid is very good! The other day they asked me where I was from and I was just about to say that I was from Ramallah. And then he said, "Aahh Australia, what are you doing here? Go." So I was lucky.

Journalists and emotions

 Palestinian Broadasting Corporation van riddled with bullet holes during September 1996 clashes

I don’t know if you’ve seen this, it's on the Birzeit website. Birzeit is doing a new project about events that took place last year in September. Last year, in September, clashes took place between the Palestinian police and the Israeli army. I don't want to talk about whole situation, but during that time 13 Palestinian, Israeli and foreign journalists were injured seriously with live ammunition and were very well targeted. And what I’m trying now to do with Birzeit University is to talk about the 13 cases separately. Fortunately, these 13 people did not die and they can speak about their experiences and how they were shot. At the time, Palestinian areas were closed to the Israeli press or media personnel. They claimed that this was for the safety of the Israeli journalists. But I'll tell you frankly, it has always been a pleasure working with the Israeli press and we have always cooperated with them because if we do not cooperate, they will not support us when there is a closure and we will not support them when they come here. So we always have to work with them and exchange our experiences. I think, on a professional level, I really appreciate working with Israeli journalists because we can always learn from each other.

I think the reason they closed these areas was not for security reasons but because of the horrible scenes that were taking place. I remember watching so many people being injured. I lived during the last two years of the Intifada and I was always covering events while I was working as a camera man for French TV, JFR. I had seen people injured but not in that way. To see fourteen people killed in Ramallah in one day! On that day, I was really shocked. I even left work and said, "I’m not working today." I went home and sat in my house because it was really terrible. This is one of the things that we are facing now.

 Journalists in Ramallah ICU during September 1996 clashes. Appropriate?

Sometimes I think that journalists don’t have emotions. But when you sit and think about it, you really regret what you’ve seen and interfering in the lives of others. For example, the four Palestinians who were killed in the suicide bombings. From yesterday until now, their families have been harassed by the press. People constantly coming in, asking them questions. I understand that the press really want information to do the story, because the most important thing is the story. But I also think that whether or not I agree with what the people did, these people have just lost a loved one, their sons, and it's not the time for us to go and interfere. Maybe the wife just wants to cry, but she’s not going to cry in front of you, because you are the media. She has to be shown as a strong woman.

Journalists and settlers

New problems now exist in Hebron with the press. Palestinian journalists are being kicked out of any event organized by Israeli settlers. Even if you're just walking on the street while there is a demonstration by Israeli settlers, they try to attack Palestinian cameramen that are working for international agencies like AP, WTN, Reuters, or BBC. I understand that if you are a settler, and an event is taking place in your home, it's private property and it's your choice whether to allow the press in or not. But if its in the street, it should be covered.

One strange incident that took place in Hebron a few weeks ago was when a hand grenade was thrown at a group of Israeli soldiers. There was a local TV station covering it at the time and they were able to cover the grenade being thrown, the explosion, and the soldier being injured. The Israeli soldiers arrested the crew and accused them of coordinating the event with the people who threw it. They arrested the film crew, but they did not arrest the still photographers which were next to them. This is an example of a new type of harassment that the press is confronting in Hebron.

Journalists and the Palestinian Authority

The most important issue now for us is the status of the press under the Palestinian Authority. Today, I think that the media situation has improved very much under the Palestinian Authority. When they first came they were still thinking revolutionary thoughts, with all the suspicions and the strong security sense of hating the press. The thinking was that the press were the reason behind the attacks in Lebanon, or in Tunis or in other places. I remember two weeks after the Palestinian police arrived into Gaza I was severely beaten by a Palestinian policeman while covering something that I was used to covering regularly.

 Journalists in 'battle gear' after the lessons of the September 1996 clashes

I was staying at a hotel next to the hospital when riots broke out at the Erez checkpoint. Since I was so close to the hospital I thought, "Why go to the checkpoint when the agency was already covering it?" when I could easily cover the injured coming into the hospital? So I went to the hospital and was able to get coverage of injured people being carried in and of the people who died. One of the Palestinian policeman didn’t like seeing me there and covering it, so he beat me severely and I was kicked out of the hospital. Two weeks after the arrival of the Palestinian police, I was beaten for it covering stories that we used to cover on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza! After that I decided to go and start covering the same thing on the Israeli side of the checkpoint, because no one could beat me there. I could be hit by a bullet, or killed, but no one can harass me and ask me to leave the area.

So at the beginning, the Palestinian Authority didn’t know how to deal with the press. In addition the closure of newspapers began to take place for a number of different reasons. Newspapers would be closed, for example, because it was affiliated with Hamas or another opposition group. They sometimes banned the most popular newspaper, Al Quds, from getting into Gaza once because of a cartoon drawing that mocked one of the police officers at work. It was funny, but the police did not like it and so banned the paper from coming into Gaza. A number of journalists were also arrested. Some newspapers, such as Al-Watan, remain closed today because of their affiliation with Hamas.

On the other hand, we have seen many changes under the Palestinian Authority. We have seen the establishment of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, and the opening of private TV and radio stations. You wouldn't imagine that we have, according to my knowledge, a total of 36 local Palestinian TV stations in the West Bank and about five or six radio stations. I know there are at least two radio stations in Ramallah and one in Bethlehem. However, none of these are in Gaza. I don’t know why but this is the situation at the moment. Also two main newspapers were given licenses in the Palestinian areas, Al Ayyam, which is the second most popular newspaper, and Al-Hayyat Al-Jadeeda.

The Palestinian media and the Palestinian Legislative Council

I think that Palestinian media now has a great role to play in the education of the meaning of democracy, and one of the things that we have managed to achieve is communication between the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), the elected representatives of the people. I remember the first session of the PLC. Every journalist that tried to cover it was kicked out, without being told why. We fought over it because these people are supposed to be our representatives and the people have the right to know what they’re talking about. The only way to do this is to have the press there, because if you write about it people know what's going on, but if you're in a closed room and no one knows what you are talking about, then you can never determine the behavior of the members and their attitudes to issues.

We managed to succeed in our efforts and we now have a special place to sit in the council room. They respect us, they give us special locations to film from, and we have access to members very easily. All we have to do is just pick up the phone and speak to them. This was one of the achievements of the media under the Palestinian Authority. This is also the case with Gaza, and with President Arafat himself. I think he now understands much more what the media means for the Palestinians and how to use it one way or another.

However we did experience other problems. I was one of the producers for the live broadcast of the Legislative Council and and I could see some Palestinian officials did not like our presence there. As a result, they ordered the arrest of the executive producer of the broadcast, Daoud Kuttab. He was arrested for a whole week, without charge and without anyone being able to speak to him. Of course everyone knew that he was arrested because of the coverage of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Q: Do they now do live broadcasts?

A: No, unfortunately, they do not. The PLC says that you are allowed to, the Ministry of Information says that you are allowed to, but a TV station that used to do it and the university which sponsored it, Al-Quds Open University, are still studying the issue. They are considered to be educational TV and their priority is not the PLC, although it could be considered a part of the educational process as "democracy education". But it is not the main priority of the University to cover the PLC. This should be the job of the official governmental TV, the PBC. But the problem is that the PBC is not doing it. They always have a camera filming during the Council meetings, but they only use the footage as file clips. If there was a news item today about someone making a strong statement during one of the Council meetings, they would not use the live coverage, but rather a shot from the archives. I remember watching the PBC news and they had photos from the council which showed people wearing heavy jackets and wool, which means that the pictures were taken in the winter. The day the aired these pictures was probably the hottest day in the year. This is how they use the material they have.

Palestinian Authority harassment and arrest of journalists

Although the situation has improved, there are still some people in the Palestinian Authority that do not know how to deal with the press. Two weeks ago, I was arrested twice in the same day while working in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority don't call it an arrest, but I say it was an arrest! They say they only held me for five minutes. The first time I was arrested I was filming a Palestinian worker going to apply for a permit to enter Israel. It so happened that the office that he goes to apply for this permit was next to a Palestinian police station. So we were filming in the direction of the permit office and some policemen reported to their officials that we were filming them at the police station. We were detained by the police for this.

I tried to explain to them what we were doing, but they tried to confiscate the tapes. I got angry at them and tried to explain again until finally some officials came and apologized to me, saying that they didn’t know what the reason was for my arrest and that they had thought that I was filming the police station. This is just an example, but if you are not strong enough to stand up for your rights as a journalist and challenge them, they can confiscate your tapes, you could be left in a room for hours and generally harrassed by them. But fortunately, in that incident I knew somebody there who managed to get me out of the situation. Nepotism is one of the things that plays a large role here. Fortunately, I managed to get a good interview with one of the officials while I was being held and they allowed me to go to the prison and film inside the prison, because they wanted to satisfy me in one way or another for arresting me and this was the way they did it.

Half an hour later, I went to film an interview with one of the Fateh leaders, who was the same guy that was trying to get a permit earlier. So we went to his house which is located on a very narrow road in Gaza City. We were filming in one direction and opposite to this is the house of the head of the military intelligence, Musa Arafat. His security guards saw a camera with us, even though we were filming in a different direction and they called out to us. The police were called and we were detained for a second time. They had no idea what was going on. They were just told that a camera was there. So they came, they took the tapes, they accused us of changing tapes, and so on. I told them to come to the hotel where I have my editing suite so that I could show them what we had filmed, on the condition that if the soldiers were lying, they had to charge and arrest them. Finally, we got another apology from the general himself and from his son, who had also been there. We were actually able to include these two incidents in the documentary we were doing. We were able to get footage of the whole thing because during the second arrest I asked the camera man to start rolling. So we got the entire conversation which took place. We were doing a story on democracy and this fell right into the topic.

So I think the situation is much better even though its not the best under the Palestinian Authority. Now there is a law for the press and a law for the audio visual media. I myself do not agree with these laws because a law maybe on one hand will help you, but on the other hand it restricts you. For example, if the law says that nothing should be published against the Palestinian unity, or the national unity, but they do not give a defitinition of what national unity means. I start thinking when I begin to write that maybe this sencence might harm the national unity. Ultimately, it leads you to self censorship which is an extremely dangerous thing. The Palestinian Authority does not ask you to submit your articles to the censor, but in one way or another, the Palestinian press law restricts you.

Professionalism of the Palestinian media and self censorship

Another problem with the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian broadcasting, and radio, is that they are not professional and do not report the most pressing news. They will broadcast news that is related to the president, then news related to officials in the PA, and only then do they remember other issues that do not relate to the Authority. This is a serious problem. The 36 local stations which I spoke of earlier also report in this manner. They think that if they don't do it this way, their stations will be closed. I remember one or two incidents where stations were closed, but at least during the closure of these stations people who worked there were respected. They were not murdered, as was the case in Lebanon. Perhaps you heard what happened in Lebanon only two days ago. The army went to close one TV station and they killed two people because of clashes that erupted with those who were working in the station. So thank God that we haven't reached that level. I hope that the PA does not imitate what happened in Lebanon and that we will continue to stay safe from such things.

Q: When you talk about the way Palestinian television works, it seems to follow the pattern and general attitude towards the media of other Arab states. An attitude that views the published word as a weapon, not a mirror, and any statements made as attacks. So when you say that the reason Daoud Kuttab was arrested was because he was filming a PLC session, it's a rather chaotic, disorganised scene, and that is being represented. In the West it would be seen as a neutral act. The media is not saying that it agrees or disagrees with what they do, it is just a neutral act of communication. But the Arab attitude is that this is an attack on the state. And it seems that TV is just an extension of state protocol.

A: Of course. But this is not only the case in Palestine, it's the same in Jordan, its the same in Syria, etc. Even in Syria for example, they won't report that President Yeltsin arrived in Damascus, they report that President Assad welcomed President Yeltsin in Damascus. What we really want is to see something different. Palestinians have fought and always dreamt of democracy. Although I don't agree with Israeli democracy, at least in terms of the media we should learn something from Israeli democracy. What happened to Daoud Kuttab was not because he was covering something. Covering something live means that your obviously covering it objectively. Other people are speaking and you are not interfering, you are not editing or doing anything to what is being said. This was not the reason he was arrested. I believe he was arrested because a few members of the Council were against the live broadcast because of a number of scandals that were taking place that they did not want people to know about. I think the most important thing in this work is to be professional and to be professional means to take into consideration the news priorities.

I'll give you an example. Three years ago, in November 1994, Palestinian policemen killed 13 civilians in Gaza during a riot that took place. I was listening to the 7:00 p.m. news on Palestinian radio and they mentioned everything in the whole world, but not a single item about something that took place only four hours before at 3:00 p.m. They mentioned nothing about it. This is how you play with the news. I understand that this is the official voice of the government and Palestine, but you at least have to have some news priorities. You must be professional with professional and not political people working for you. People who now work at the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation are there because of their political positions, and the fact that they worked in Lebanon and Tunis.

Q: But what about this issue of national unity? You are told that you cannot do anything that threatens national unity?

A: As I said, I am against any laws that restrict the press. I think that if we have a constitution or a basic law, then the press should be part of that law, and should be included in the civil laws that are being created. What if I go write an article about the fact that I know that the guy who did the suicide bombings is so and so and publish his name as part of an exclusive? Does that harm national unity or not? It is not clear. Perhaps it would be very helpful for the Palestinian Authority to go and tell the Israelis that we know the guy, we know the family, we know the name, but at the same time you cannot predict whether or not they will say that you are violating the national unity. You just never know. There are many vague expressions in that law that you just cannot understand the meaning of very clearly. So you start thinking that what you are writing might violate national unity, so you write it another way.

Q: If i wanted to get the best information, which paper would you suggest would offer it?

A: It's hard to say. Most of the papers get their information from the same sources. If I look at the newspapers, I just look at the local news and not the big news items because its either already being carried by the international agencies or the wires, or by the Israeli radio or other sources. Usually, Al Quds is a good newspaper for information, but if you want to read good articles and good ananlysis, I would recommend Al Ayyam.

Q: What is the political line that Al Quds follows and why is it popular?

I believe that it is now independent, but it used to affiliated with Fatah. It's the most popular paper for a number of reasons. It was one of the first Palestinian newspapers. Its also a matter of habit that people will pick up Al Quds, not necessarily because it is the best or the worst paper. People are just used to seeing it and reading it. It has very good editiorials as well as good political cartoons and good researchers writing for them. But Al Ayyam is also a very strong paper. It has a more professional style, it is less commercial and more colorful with more pictures, and includes pieces from all over the world.

Some other publications that I would recommend reading are the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center (JMCC) reports, the Jerusalem Times which is an informative Palestinian weekly paper published in English, and the Jerusalem Report, which is Israeli but offers some good information. Thank you.