In The West Bank, A Rough Start Doesn't Deter New Arab TV Channel
One out of every five people in Israel is Arab. But Israeli TV sets aside only a few hours a week for Arabic-language programming. And Arabs in Israel don't have many opportunities to see their own cities and lives reflected on the screen. That's the idea behind a new TV channel. It's called Palestine 48, a reference to the year Israel was founded.
The channel's new morning show is called Our Morning Is Different. It's like an Arabic version of the Today show, with a breezy opening jingle and stock footage of sunlight peeking through a field.
Two hosts sit on a curved, red couch. Afaf Shini is wearing a hot-pink sleeveless shirt. Her co-host, Doraid Liddawi, is wearing a buttoned diamond-checkered shirt. They're both from predominantly Arab cities in Israel.
They start with a weather report: Nazareth, 30 degrees Celsius. Haifa, 29.
The temperatures are all pretty much the same. But this is actually one of the most satisfying parts of the show for co-host Liddawi, because he's talking about Israeli cities with significant Arab populations.
"I'm not a weather reporter," Liddawi says. "But it's nice to say the name of the city: Tarshiha. Nasara. Haifa. That's Tarshiha, Nazareth and Haifa. Just to mention these words, it's something for us. For me."
When Israel was founded, many Palestinians fled or were forced out. The Arabs of Israel are the ones who stayed put. Some Jewish Israelis suspect them of being a fifth column. Some Arabs see them as sellouts for taking Israeli citizenship. No one sees them much on TV.
But, says Liddawi, "We are here, we want to be on the map, we are on the map. And this is the good platform."
The head of the channel, Firas Abdulrahman, says it was the brainchild of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. It's funded by Abbas' government in the West Bank.
It started broadcasting last month from Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel. There was a cooking segment and field reports on historical and religious sites.
But just days after Palestine 48 went on the air, Israel ordered the studio closed. It had no Israeli operating permit. And the backing from Abbas violates Israel's ban on the Palestinian Authority establishing organizations in Israel.
Israel's public security minister said he wouldn't let the Palestinian government gain a "foothold" in Israel.
So now Palestine 48 broadcasts from the roof of a hotel in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The hosts are their same bubbly selves — but without the field reports from Israel, they're struggling to fill airtime.
Abdulrahman says its lawyers are fighting to get the Israeli studio back open. He thinks his channel reflects a bigger reality about his home.
"Jews, Muslims and Christians have lived for many years inseparably in their natural environment," he says. "How can you now separate this? I think our future is to live together under whichever name you choose."
Co-host Liddawi says he and the channel can offer a lot to satellite TV viewers throughout the Middle East. As an Arab who lives among Jews in Israel, he says he can dispel stereotypes about Judaism. And he wants to show Palestinian refugees throughout the world the sights of their homeland.
"It's a satellite, man," he says, laughing. "There's really no borders. A lot of Palestinians, they are abroad and they can't come back here or come here. And we are giving them this opportunity to see, to feel, to smell, to look. And I think it is an important thing what we are doing in this channel."
He's hoping the channel will be able to reopen a studio in Israel so they can film there again. Because, he says, right now the show is a little dull.
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