Palestine’s pax media
FADI ABU SAADA
The death of the son of Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar in an Israeli raid has led to a surprising rapprochement between Fateh and Hamas – and it was all thanks to a small, privately owned radio station in Gaza.
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar, left, bids farewell to his son Husam, the second son to be killed by the Israelis.
BETLEHEM, Jan. 24, 2008 (MENASSAT.COM) – Palestinians couldn’t believe what they were hearing when they tuned into Al-Shaab radio this week. After months of bitter in-fighting between Fateh and Hamas – in the streets, as well as in the media –, here was a radio program featuring both Fateh’s spokesman in Gaza, Fahmi Zaarir, and the Hamas spokesman, Ayman Taha. And they weren’t shouting at each other either.
Around the same time – on a much higher level –, Ahmad Hales, Fateh’s secretary-general in Gaza, met face to face with Ismail Ashqar, a Hamas representative to the legislative council, at Al-Shaab’s Gaza studios, where they shook hands and calmly discussed on air the latest political developments, including the conflict between their two parties.
All of this was brought about by the death, during last week Tuesday’s Israeli raid, of Husam Zahhar, the 20-year-old son of Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar. Husam, himself a Hamas militant, was the second of Zahhar’s three sons to be killed by the Israelis; in 2003, Khaled Zahhar died when an Israeli F-16 dropped a bomb on the family house in an attempt to assassinate the father. Husam was one of eighteen people – fifteen among them Hamas fighters – who died in last Tuesday’s fighting, the worst since the Hamas takeover of the Gaza strip.
The little radio station that could
The double tragedy that struck the Zahhar family touched a nerve with Palestinians across the party divide, and Al Shaab radio was quick to tap into this shared sense of loss.
“The media are the first soldiers in the battle between Fateh and Hamas,” Zou al-Fakkar Swairjo, the station’s manager, told MENASSAT.COM, “so we decided to use the death of Zahhar’s son for a greater good.”
Al-Shaab’s all-volunteer staff began to work the phones, calling up all the Fateh officials in their address books, and asking them to offer their condolences to the Zahhar family on the station’s air waves – which they did.
During the talk show that followed, Ismail Ashqar called on Fatah to return to dialogue as soon as possible and to take advantage of this atmosphere of unity. He stressed that there is no victor in the struggle between the two movements, and that the sole beneficiary is the occupation and its agents. He also renewed an invitation to president Abbas to visit the Gaza Strip.
Ahmad Hales agreed that what unites the two movements, and the Palestinian people in general, is more than what divides them. He added that the positive climate began after the Al-Shujaiyah massacre, when the two sides felt the need to heal the rift between them.
For a little while, it looked like the plan might backfire when Mahmoud Zahhar refused to accept the Fateh leaders’ condolences on the air. But that too turned into a blessing when Zahhar added that the condolences should rightfully be presented to him at his house, thereby extending an official Hamas invitation to the Fateh officials to come to his house – which they did.
It didn’t end there.
When the folks at Al-Aqsa, a sattelite station associated with Hamas, saw what Al-Shaab was doing, they didn’t want to be left holding the bag. So they too started putting officials of the rival party on the air.
Now, things were really happening. Al-Shaab is a small, privately owned radio station, affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). But Al-Aqsa is Hamas’ official mouthpiece and it was in the front lines of the media war between Fateh and Hamas. For the past months, Al-Aqsa has been involved in an ever deteriorating shouting match with Palestine TV, which it considers unrepresentative of the Palestinian people, and a mouthpiece for the Palestinian Authority, not to say Fateh.
“We also care about the unity of the Palestinian people,” Samir Mohsen, assistant manager of programming at Al-Aqsa, told MENASSAT.COM, admitting that, “Fateh’s initiative to present their condolences to the Zahhar family forced us to invite the Fateh leaders, among them Jibril Rajoub and Ahmad Hals, to speak on Al-Aqsa.”
Mohsen made no bones about it: what happened this week on the Gaza air waves was a huge step in bringing the Palestinian factions closer together. Still, he preferred to concentrate on the Israeli escalation rather than the Palestinian rapprochement.
“We at al-Aqsa have no problem with solving our internal problems, and reuniting the two parties is very important. The problem is that Israel is always trying to distract us from our problems, and this is the real danger that Gaza is facing and that could lead to its destruction.”
An end to the media war?
Over at Al-Shaab radio, manager Swairjo is determined to use the momentum created by Husam Zahhar’s death to its full potential.
“In the next few days, we plan to invite the head of the Palestinian Radio & TV Authority, Bassem Abou Soumayya, and someone high-up at Al-Aqsa, for an on-air discussion. We will try to get them to promise to put an end to this media war, which isn’t doing any good for either party.”
It is not the first time that the Palestinian media have tried to bring the two sides closer together. Just before the recent events in Gaza, the Palestine News Network (PNN) presented its “Initiative 2008: Freedom as a gate to dialogue.”
It invited Fateh and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank to allow al-Aqsa to broadcast and work in the West Bank, as well as allowing the newspapers Al-Risala and Palestine, both affiliated to Hamas, to print and publish in the West Bank. On the other hand, Hamas was asked to release the journalists it has in its custody in Gaza, and to allow Palestine TV to broadcast again in Gaza, to protect the freedom of opinion and speech, and to stop the attacks against journalists.
PNN has succeeded in securing a formal answer from the former Palestinian Authority now representing Hamas in Gaza, and from Fateh in the West Bank.
[Editor’s Note: Full disclosure: Fadi Abu Saada is the director of the Palestine News Network, www.pnn.ps.]
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