Friday, May 27, 2005
KPFA radio producers Nora Barrows-Friedman and Babak Jacinto Tondre left the camp in the occupied West Bank outside Bethlehem believing they may have glimpsed a future for the Palestinian people beyond war.
They say the journalism being practiced by kids as young as 14 in the refugee community of 12,000 people was compelling enough that it could become a peaceful force toward a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has enmeshed the youngsters' elders for more than 50 years.
With KPFA and the Berkeley Middle East Children's Alliance, Barrows- Friedman, a Berkeley resident, and Tondre, who lives in Oakland, formed the Freedom Radio Project. Their goals: to give Palestinian youth the means to speak for themselves and to be heard outside their own communities.
"You have a new generation of Palestinians growing up who are watching satellite TV, learning different languages," said Tondre, 36, a producer for KPFA's Voices of the Middle East program. "They're getting new ideas about the world. They're breaking some of the cultural barriers. They have an open tabula rasa about what to do."
The two East Bay residents, among other international volunteers, are helping Dheisheh youth produce and distribute radio stories through the camp's Ibdaa Cultural Center. They're also joining journalists and technicians from Chicago and London in supporting the camp's new low-power FM radio station, Ibdaa Radio 194. If licensed by the Palestinian Authority, the station will become the first broadcast media source beaming from a West Bank refugee community.
While Ibdaa leaders await the decision of the Palestinians' post-Yasser Arafat government on their radio license, Barrows-Friedman, Tondre and other volunteers are reaching out to radio stations in other parts of the world to air recordings of Dheisheh youth journalism.
"These kids are incredible because they're some of the best journalists I've ever seen, and they live in a refugee camp," said Danny Muller, a volunteer at the camp through Chicago's Voices in the Wilderness. "They cut through the bull and see the world in an amazing way."
During her visit to the camp last fall, Barrows-Friedman, the senior producer for KPFA's Flashpoints program highlighting human-rights abuses around the world, led workshops in radio journalism skills, from developing story ideas, to interviewing, writing narration, sound layering and editing. With Tondre providing technical help, the camp journalists completed 14 short radio segments.
Barrows-Friedman's connection to the Ibdaa center grew out of aid work she had done in the West Bank through the Middle East Children's Alliance.
"What Nora and Babak have said is, 'OK, it's horrible here, but we believe young people in particular really need to have a vision for the country and what it could be, and we believe this project does just that,' " said Barbara Lubin, the founder and executive director of the alliance. "This is something that gives them real hope. There's more to life than just trying to fight off the effects of occupation."
Barrows-Friedman is an outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights, but she said she didn't influence what the teens had to say.
"It was totally spontaneous," said Barrows-Friedman, 26, who plans to return to the West Bank in September. "The stories they deal with on a daily basis are the stories that came through in their radio voices. We didn't have to come from 10,000 miles away to tell them what they already know."
The subject matter the teens chose was overwhelmingly political. It centered on the naqba, the Arabic term for the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians to make way for the creation of a Jewish state in 1948. It means "catastrophe" in English.
"Every aspect of these children's lives is political," said Ziad Abbas, co-director of the Ibdaa center, "from the moment they are born in a refugee camp, to growing up under occupation, to not being able to go to school because of Israeli military curfews, to witnessing the death and imprisonment of friends and family members.
"It's impossible to separate the children's lives from politics because their very existence is a contentious political issue."
The naqba, the military occupation put in place in 1967 after the second Arab-Israeli war, and the stringent enforcement in recent years by the Israeli military to prevent attacks on civilians from the occupied territories are seen by the young journalists as part of the same ongoing narrative of death, destruction and oppression.
Barrows-Friedman and Tondre said the conflict's impact is greatest on the camp's young males, who are watched as potential fighters and have experienced a disproportionate share of the casualties in the conflict since 2000.
Minors made up more than 20 percent of the 3,168 Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces in the occupied territories from the start of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000 till April 20, according to the Web site of B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
The organization condemns both Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians and Israeli military actions that it says have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians not involved in fighting.
Abbas said 48 Dheisheh residents have been killed since September 2000, including 18 children. "I don't know exactly how many children have been injured, but I know it's hundreds," he said. "I estimate that about 45 children have been arrested and tortured."
According to the Web site of the Israeli Defense Forces, there were more than 100 major Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians and security forces in Israel and the occupied territories from 2000 to February 2004. Attacks killed 732 civilians from the start of the uprising through May 17.
Dheisheh has been both the target of Israeli anti-terrorism actions and, according to the Web site of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, the source of four suicide bomb attacks attempted or carried out by Palestinian men and women ranging from 18 to 23 years old. Such is the political environment in which the teen journalists of Dheisheh operate. Longing for what has been lost and documenting the struggle to restore it are themes they go to again and again.
In one piece that came out of Barrows-Friedman's workshops, a teen interviewed elders who remembered the 1948 expulsion and who still hold the keys to the homes they once had. "Before the occupation," one elder says, "people had many fields filled with vegetables, beans and fruits. Beautiful fields. (We) could live to 100 years."
The reporters Barrows-Friedman trained also sought out political prisoners, interviewed the family of a Palestinian man deported to Italy, profiled a teacher at the camp's boys' elementary school about the barrier put up by the Israelis in 2002 to stop suicide bombers -- known on the Palestinian side as the "apartheid wall" -- and interviewed a camp leader in the uprising.
"Living under the occupation gives us no choice but to resist," the fighter says. "They put me in prison in 1982 when I was a small child, 16 years old. ... There is a price to pay. No nation can be free without paying a price.
"Arafat was a great leader for us," the fighter continues against a soundtrack that sounds like popping gunfire. "Through all these situations, he would rise as a champion to be the leader of Palestine again and again. No other Arab leader has remained this strong. His death is a great loss for Palestinians.
"We're not joking when we say we want peace with the Israelis. The ball is in their hands."
In an interview, Ernest H. Weiner, Northern California director of the American Jewish Committee, sounded a cautionary note.
"One has to understand that Israelis recognize that the conditioning of Palestinian youth by the media, by their educational system and by the leadership, certainly in the Arafat period, has been to shape them and structure their mind-set so they could serve literally as willing 'martyrs,' " he said.
In response, Barrows-Friedman maintained that the perspective of the youth journalism is rational given the historical facts.
"The suicide bombers -- of course it's horrible," she said. "But the disparity in terms of how many daily invasions and sniperings by the Israeli military -- that's also being ignored.
"Culturally, it's almost a sense of pride. It's a very sensitive situation. As Americans, we can easily be horrified that people are taking pride at what people's family members and friends have done, but they can't control anything in their lives. In that sense, the only thing you can control in your life is to take your life."
Abbas noted that the occupation began in 1948, but the first# suicide bombing didn't take place until 1995. The Palestinians consider the bombers to be martyrs, but the incidents aren't part of daily life, he said.
"Israel says that there have been 100 acts of 'terrorism' in the last four years," he said. "These 100 people are out of a global Palestinian population of 9 million, two-thirds of them living in exile. If you think about the population of the U.S. city of Chicago or Los Angeles, there may be 100 murders over four years, but people don't say that the American people are murderers."
Barrows-Friedman said the youth of Dheisheh are finding their own way as they take up the troubled narrative of their people.
"Most of them tell you that the hardest work they have to do is on themselves," she said. "Most of them speak of a real hope for a positive future and not following the footsteps of the past."
West Bank report
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