Israeli, Palestinian journalists mending, transcending fences

While it seems as if the situation has regressed in the political sphere of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the professional sphere, at least where journalists are concerned, there appear to be signs of progress.

This is in no small measure due to the efforts of the Mideast Press Club, a project of Media Line, which brings Israeli and Palestinian journalists together in Ramallah or Jerusalem for three primary reasons: air common professional grievances, explore ways to cooperate and test the degree of objectivity among journalists covering the same story from different sides of the issues.

To claim that politics does not intrude on this relationship would be a lie. Professionalism aside, both sides come to the table with the narratives they were raised with.

It is not easy to accept that the other person’s narrative may also contain grains of truth.

But some of that difficulty has been overcome, precisely because the members of the Mideast Press Club are journalists, not politicians. As journalists, they have a different approach.

Felice Friedson, Media Line president, CEO and co-founder with her husband, Michael, says this is because it is a professional entity whose members have similar needs and frustrations.

Media Line is an American nonprofit news organization set up to enhance and balance media coverage of the Middle East. Although the main bureau of its multimedia operations is in Jerusalem, it has reporters in many parts of the Middle East and occasionally brings them to Israel to touch base with counterparts there.

Its major mission is to provide reliable, unbiased content to news outlets worldwide and present as broad a picture as possible by covering events and Middle East developments from more than one perspective.

Twelve years in the making, it began operating in Jerusalem in 1999 after the Friedsons, both veteran broadcasters, began visiting Israel to conduct live radio interviews with well-known personalities for American listeners. Another bureau will soon open in Ramallah, where Michael Friedson has been teaching broadcast journalism to young Palestinians and helping them to distinguish between propaganda and genuine news items.

Prior to the second intifada, contacts between Israeli and Palestinian journalists were closer and more frequent than today. Palestinian journalists could enter Jerusalem and other parts of Israel with fewer bureaucratic hassles than they have now.

Getting permits for them to attend Mideast Press Club events in Jerusalem is an ongoing headache. Even when all the papers are in order, there are needless delays at checkpoints. The result is that the Palestinians show up as much as four hours late in Jerusalem, and sometimes not at all.

It is easier getting Israelis into Ramallah, even though both checkpoints are manned by Israeli soldiers.

At the inaugural Mideast Press Club meeting in 2005, Israelis and Palestinians regarded each other somewhat warily — and the Palestinians were intent on expressing their views on “the occupation.” While the issue has not faded entirely, it is no longer a main topic of conversation.

The more the Israeli and Palestinian journalists come into contact with each other, the more they realize they are talking not to the enemy, but to their professional counterparts.