[With thanks to IMRA for distributing this important article]

Palestinian and European journalists agreed that the September 11 events constituted an important chapter in the media war between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Several European journalists expressed the belief that Israel won the media battle after connecting the Intifada with terrorism and tagging the Palestinians as terrorists.

This came at a seminar about Palestinian and European media organized by the External Relations Council recently at Commodore Hotel in Gaza. Several journalists from the European Union participated, in addition to Palestinian media personalities.

Palestinian journalists presented a picture of the Palestinian media, while their European counterparts spoke about their ways of handling the Palestinian struggle, vehemently denying claims of bias and maintaining that they try to remain objective. Several of them said that they find it difficult to access information connected with the Palestinian side in the struggle with Israel, while Israeli embassies in their countries are active in distributing information about Israeli victims, tipping the media scale.

A Greek journalist said after expressing solidarity with the Palestinians, “suicide missions make things difficult and present a negative image of the Palestinians before the European public opinion. Western media cannot find justification for the missions and cannot exonerate the Palestinian side from charges of killing Israeli civilians.”

Said a Belgian journalist, “Suicide missions shake the balance that a journalist seeks at all times, just as Israeli air raids do. This posits western journalists in the middle, but they are still faced with accusations of bias from both sides.”

A Finnish journalist expressed the opinion that every party is trying to see the other party in all its brutality and savagery taken out of context, which is what journalists refuse to do, and are therefore accused of bias.”

A Spanish journalist offered, “Accusations of anti-Semitism are still being voiced against journalists that try to be fair to the Palestinians and try to practice their professions with democracy and objectivity.”

At the beginning of the meeting, several journalists presented complete pictures of the Palestinian media. Tawfeeq Abu Khousa, president of the Journalists Union in Gaza, spoke about violations committed by occupation soldiers against Palestinian journalists. “Palestinian martyrs total six so far, while 473 where harassed while performing their duties. Also, 170 journalists have been injured by live ammunition or rubber-coated steel bullets.”

Abu Khousa indicated violations of work rights committed by foreign media outfits against Palestinian journalists, who are denied work contracts and forced to use terms that accord with the interests of the Israeli side.

Sameer Al-Sharif, director of the Voice of Palestine radio service, said, “Occupation inflicted technical harm on Palestinian television and radio carriers and continually hinders the entry of equipment, delaying renovation and rehabilitation of local networks that make up the connection between the Palestinian people and leadership.

Journalist Talal Okal indicated the feebleness of investment in the Palestinian media due to military and security factors. He attributed most of the challenges facing Palestinian media to its weakness and the vast development of international media technology and techniques, in addition to financial, military and security factors, poor performance on the part of cadres in the field, and the already fragile Palestinian media infrastructure.

Okal stressed the difficulties facing the Palestinian media resulting from western media bias in favor of Israel, which also bespeaks the inability of the Palestinians to access the western public opinion.

Fayed Abu Shamaleh, BBC correspondent, called for providing Palestinian journalists with international press IDs that would help them overcome such obstacles as Israeli refusal to “recognize them.” He indicated the worries borne by journalists working for foreign outfits, subjected to discrimination and denied the chance to assume leadership roles.

At the end of the meeting, former Finance Minister Salam Fayyadh demonstrated in detail the financial reform begun by the PNA. He answered questions from Palestinian and European journalists, emphasizing that the corruption scandal received undue attention in the media.

Fayyadh indicated that the Finance Ministry opened its doors before the General Monitoring Council to facilitate transparency and accountability specified in the reform plan.

Ziyad Abu Amr, president of the External Relations Council, interrupted Fayyadh, asking, “Is the General Monitoring Council itself trustworthy to receive such a role? The council prepared reports about women in the PNA but banned publishing of the report in the media and refused the Legislative Council access to it.”

Fayyadh stressed that reform is an internal, not imported, desire and that the Finance Ministry began reform as soon as the plan was announced.

Abu Amr participated in the two-day meeting on the hope that it could lead to defining the role of the media in bringing to an end the struggle between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He explained that the meeting strives to uncover and treat the reasons that lead to bias in the media.

The representative of the European Union in Jerusalem said that the participation of European journalists reveals solidarity with their Palestinian counterparts. She added that the meeting also proves anew the care that the EU Delegation lends to stability in the region, stressing the role of journalists in achieving it.

This article appreared on the September 26th 2000 issue of the Jerusalem Times