Ongoing Acts of Aggression

Raleb Kiwan, the news reporter for HOT's Arabic-language broadcast, is having a hard time these days trying to remain objective.

Raleb Kiwan, the news reporter for HOT's Arabic-language broadcast, is having a hard time these days trying to remain objective, but he is doing his utmost. "I'll tell you the truth," he says, "When I came to the home of the man in Iblin who was killed by a Katyusha, it was very painful for me to hear that people there call Nasrallah a dog, but I nevertheless broadcast it."

"And when you interviewed the father of the children who were killed [by a rocket] in Nazareth, who said that he was not angry at 'brother Nasrallah,' as he called him, that didn't seem a little twisted?"

"The father in question was not happy and didn't dance around as portrayed in the Israeli media. I saw him up close and he was crying and in pain. He merely said that Nasrallah was not to blame for this situation but rather Ehud Olmert, and that was an expression of how I felt too. Nasrallah is being attacked and is defending himself, so he sends a missile to Kiryat Ata. You can't come and curse him for that. But I also understand the pain of the family whose relative was killed."

Kiwan gives very clear expression to the paradox surrounding the news broadcasts these days on the Arabic language cable transmissions. On the one hand, the broadcast is coming out of the heart of the area that is being shelled, from a studio that is located in Kibbutz Afek on the outskirts of the Haifa bay area. On the other hand, this broadcast expresses strong feelings of support for Hezbollah.

"When we are standing inside a village with our camera and people stand opposite it and talk in the clearest and most explicit way in favor of Hezbollah, I have to broadcast that," says Lorette Ashkar, who is the chief editor of the broadcast. "What's more, I know that a very large percentage of the Arab public thinks that way. People from the north have already been interviewed by us who they said they were prepared to die from a Katyusha in support of the Arab cause. There were even stronger expressions that we decided to cut."

There are still people in the Arab sector who think differently. Do you also show them?

"Certainly. We also put on the air people who say that Nasrallah is responsible for the situation and because of him, Lebanon is being destroyed."

The Arabic language broadcast is one of six local news programs that HOT broadcasts. Contrary to other news broadcasts, it is aired across the entire country (on Channel 25) to the Arab population.

"We are the only ones in Israel who broadcast independent news in Arabic," says Ashkar. "True there is the Broadcasting Authorit's news program but it doesn't have legitimacy in the eyes of the Arab public because they feel it is a program run by the Shin Bet security force."

HOT broadcasts news in Arabic six times a week and mainly brings stories from the Arabic-speaking man-on-the-street. "We are the only ones who deal with the day to day lives of the Palestinian citizens in Israel, contrary to the big Arabic channels, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, which give a more general picture," Ashkar says proudly. "It's a waste of time to talk about Channel 2 or Channel 10 - there are no Arabs in their line-up."

On Tuesday morning, Kiwan toured Haifa to examine how the local Arab population was dealing with the prolonged missile attack on the city. On the way, he explained why there are actually Israeli Arabs who support Nasrallah.

"It's natural and legitimate for an Arab to identify with Nasrallah because this is not a war that threatens Israel's existence," he explains. "Why shouldn't I identify with him when I don't get all my rights from this country, when I'm surrounded by a militaristic society and when Israel is attacking him so fiercely?"

In the Wadi Nisnas market, Kiwan interviews the elderly owner of a restaurant. "There's no work now, there's nothing," she says. As she outlines her troubles, the wail of a siren can be heard and a few seconds later, the echoes of the daily payload of missiles on Haifa can be clearly heard. The Katyushas, it becomes clear a little later, fell at a distance of half a kilometer from the market.

Just who is responsible?

Kiwan instinctively bends down, finds cover behind one of the vegetable stalls and unabashedly admits that he is afraid of being hit. Later, when he leaves the market, he meets Sahar Abdu, an activist of the radical Sons of the Village movement.

"The shelters here are suitable only for mice and rats," she says to the camera, and in the same breath she adds: "The responsibility for the situation must be placed on the fascism of Israel and the U.S. that gave it permission to attack."

At the site where the Katyushas fell, Kiwan comes across the mayor of Haifa and asks him why there are not enough air raid shelters for Arabs. "In the old quarters, there really aren't shelters," Yona Yahav says, "but there there are houses that have thick walls behind which it is good to hide." Then an Arab citizen stands in front of the camera. He works at a garage not far from where the Katyusha fell.

"Who is responsible for the situation?" Kiwan asks him. "Nasrallah and also Olmert," the citizen replies.

On the way back to the studio at Afek, Kiwan listens to Army radio. When a soldier in the Golani brigade sends regards over the air to his comrades in arms, Kiwan screws up his face. "I don't know what's happened to the Israeli media," says Kiwan. "After all, I learned how to work from Channels 2 and 10, not from Al Jazeera. But now all of them sound as if they're employed by the Israel Defense Forces. I haven't been drafted for this war like all the others."

It's clear that you weren't drafted by the IDF but haven't you been conscripted somewhat by the other side?

"No. I'm trying to do my work. You saw today that I interviewed both an activist from the Sons of the Village and the mayor."

Kiwan's report opened Tuesday's daily news program. The broadcast's line-up revealed an editorial agenda that was hard to mistake. The report on the Arabs of Haifa was followed by an interview with Knesset member Azmi Bishara who explained that the conflict in the north was "an American war with Israeli instruments." That was followed by an interview with the Catholic Archbishop Elias Shakur. Ashkar, who presented the program, asked him whether a Christian Arab who was killed by a Katyusha fired by Hezbollah should be called a martyr. At the end, an item was broadcast under the headline: "Demonstration of the Islamic movement against the war and the aggression."

"From my point of view, what Israel is doing is committing a war crime and aggression," Ashkar says. "But we don't use the phrase 'Israeli aggression' because we are obligated to maintain a balance. But I did say in my broadcast today that 'aggressive acts between Israel and Hezbollah are ongoing.' Our viewers are intelligent enough and understand what we are getting at."

Being objective

Ashkar, who is 29 years old, has already managed to work for several Arab TV stations, and to write for several newspapers in the north. Despite the terms she plants in her broadcasts, she claims that "our news merely reflects the dilemma that Israeli Arabs live with every day. As the editor, I don't put across my personal views."

Impossible. Something of your views must get across?

"Of course it is expressed in the content, in the choice of the items. That is why I decided, for example today, to interview Bishara rather than MK Majli Wahaba who is part of the establishment and supports the government that is attacking the Lebanese people. It's not that Wahaba never appears on our station, but he does so in other contexts ... I feel that Bishara gives better expression to the feelings of the Arab public of which I'm part. If I'd interviewed Wahaba, I'd have lost my legitimacy in the eyes of this public."