Cornelia Sollfrank on Mon, 15 Apr 2002 18:13:17 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> forward: Destruction and Hope??? By Daoud Kuttab

Date: Fri, 05 Apr 2002 16:14:45 +0200
From: Avi Mograbi <> 

A Palestinian refuses to accept Israeli attempt to destroy Hope

By Daoud Kuttab

I still remember the  day early in March 1997 when I was handed a piece of
paper issued by the  Palestinian Authority allowing us at Al Quds
University's Institute of Modern  Media  to establish  a local television
station in Ramallah. With  lots of energy and almost no resources we began
the process of setting up Al  Quds Educational Television. We wanted an
independent TV station that was  neither a governmental mouth-piece nor a
commercial station that lives by  game shows and shampoo

It wasn't easy but we were largely  successful until this week.

Five years after launching our first  broadcast using a 40 Watt transmitter
and screening a gold fish in a glass  bowl swimming to the sounds of
Beethoven, our dreams have been shattered. Our  station, which has grown in
size, viewrship and program, has been arbitrarily  closed, our equipment has
been destroyed and Israeli soldiers are using our  offices, studios and
equipment as their bowling ally. No order was issued for  this closure, we
didn't violate any law. The destruction was simply an act of  unprovoked and
uncivilized aggression

>From early on the going  was tough, but our existence until this week was
never in doubt. We tried to  stay independent as the best means we believed
will help us in the pursuit of  serving our people. We received little help
in our mission. The major  international donors wanted to help the state-run
television as a means to  boost the  Palestinian Authority. With help from
Palestinian foundations  like the Welfare Association and international
organizations like the Open  Society Foundation and the Ford Foundation we
were able to create a  Palestinian TV station that combined PBS and
C-Span-type of public service  programming.

Early on, senior leaders in the Palestinian  Authority were not happy with
us. When we started broadcasting live sessions  of the elected Palestinian
Legislative Council, Palestine TV started jamming  us. When we aired a
session that dealt with corruption in the Palestinian  Authority I was
arrested and held in a Palestinian jail for seven days. My  release as a
result of  local and international pressure helped secure  our station's
continuity and progress.

Since then and despite  some  programming critical of the Palestinian
Authority, we were left  alone. On our screens we have dealt with issues
ranging from children's  rights to the problems of early marriage among young
Palestinian women. From  issues about physical and sexual abuse of children
to programs dealing with  our societies lack of respect for individuals with
disabilities. We tackled  issues dealing with the environment, public health
and family planning.  Freedom of expression and presenting multiple opinions
on social economic and  political issues were our motto.

During this time, and despite  many pressures, we were excited about our
efforts. We felt that  we were  not only building up a TV station but
contributing in the building of our  society.  Throughout this period we felt
firmly that we were laying the  blocks for a cohesive progressive society
that will be the foundation of an  independent state.

As part of the vision of the president of Al  Quds University, Professor Sari
Nuseibeh, we embarked on a brave television  co production to produce a
Palestinian-Israeli version of Sesame Street. The  program was produced with
the aim of teaching both our children mutual  respect and tolerance. We even
used the same image of the fish from our first  broadcast to teach children
the Arabic word for fish samak.  Although  the program was aired on our and
other local Palestinian television stations,  the harsh realities on the
ground made our job much more difficult. The  Netanyahu Administration had
dashed all previous hoped for peace and it was  clear that the situation had
not changed enough to allow our children to  consider paying serious
attention to the television program's curriculum  goals of  tolerance and
mutual respect.

It wasn't only  the children who were disappointed with the lack of progress
in the effort to  end the Israeli occupation. We were all unhappy with the
continued Israeli  hesitation in delivering on our right to freedom from
checkpoints and travel  permits not to mention the continued illegal
settlement  activities.

Yet we kept hoping. For so long we kept on hoping,  refusing to give-in to
despair.  As late as last week and despite the  Israeli humiliations to our
president and our people we kept the vision  alive.

When the latest Israeli incursion occurred we tried our  best to keep our
cool despite the next to impossible mission of running an  educational
television station in such times. Tanks were rolling around our  city, our
staff were under curfew and we were cut off from each other except  for
telephone contacts.  The fact that our station was on the edge of  town
sparred us in the early days of the incursion. e kept running our  station
with a mix of public service messages (phone numbers of medical care  etc.)
plus public service programming. A series of 13 Public Service Messages  that
we produced with UNICEF with the aim of helping parents and children  deal
with the trauma of violence were repeatedly  broadcast.

But this Israeli honeymoon didn't last. At 6:30 on  April 2, 2002, Israeli
soldiers came to the four story Medical Professions  College Building where
located and began destroying our dream. Every office  in this educational
facility was broken into, equipment was destroyed and  office space was
settled into by the invading soldiers. Our two remaining  staff members
manning the broadcast were arrested and held for four hours in  the cold
before being released.  Moments before their arrest they turned  off the
transmitter in fear that the Israeli soldiers would repeat what they  did at
a local commercial station a few days earlier.  When the Israelis  occupied
the building housing Watan TV, they kicked away its staff and after  a while
the soldiers started to broadcast pornographic  material.

While being held, the two remaining staff in the  building and the
University's guard heard and noticed  the destruction  of our building. They
saw television cameras and invaluable video archives  thrown from the fourth
floor where our equipment and studio are located.  Neighbors saw at least
five Israel tanks rolling in and parking in the  parking lot where professors
and television staff used to park. The entire  building's  offices were lit
till late hours of the night and when a  number of our viewers called to find
out what was happening Israeli soldiers  answered our phones as if this was
their private homes.

I am  fortunate that my family and our staff have not been physically  hurt.
When  compared to the fate of others we must be  grateful.

But what happened hurt when seen in the context of what  one has been working
for all his life. The attempt to destroy our dream, both  personally in
building a useful educational TV station, or collectively in  building a
viable state, will not be shattered by such reprehensive  actions.

It will not be easy to pick up the pieces after one  experiences such
brutality and lack of respect by individuals who no doubt  bring shame to the
nation and religion that they belong to.

I  have no doubt that we will rebuild our television station and re ignite
the  hope that we had five years ago. At the same time I am confident that
our  people with the support of the international community will rise from
the  pain and build the foundation of a viable state that can live in peace
with  its neighbors.

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist  from Jerusalem. He is the director
of the Institute of Modern Media at Al  Quds University which owns and runs
Al Quds Educational Television. In May  2001, Mr. Kuttab received the
International Press Institute's award as one of  fifty press freedom heroes
in the last fifty years.

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