Television has been both a blessing and a curse for Palestinians. During the first Intifada, one can argue that it was a blessing. It raised the profile of a people refusing to accept living indefinitely under occupation.
This Palestinian popular resistance was beamed all over the world and won sympathy and support from people. What was projected then was the image of a people wishing to be free and willing to protest military occupation without using arms. Many credit the success at Oslo and the historic agreement signed at the White House to the popular nature of the Intifada and the enormous television coverage it attracted.
The second Intifada has not produced similar results. In fact, television has been a curse for Palestinians. The image of a militarised resistance was restricted almost exclusively to suicide bombings and the killings of innocent Israeli civilians. In addition to these images, Palestinians were also got to be seen as victims whose houses were destroyed, trees uprooted and lands confiscated for building five-metre-high concrete walls.
The image on Western televisions of Palestinians as terrorists and victims was seen differently in Arab homes. The growth of the Arab satellite landscape ensured that the day-to-day life of the Palestinians filled the screens. But Arab television coverage produced another stereotype of Palestinians. While the image of Palestinians as victims prevails in the Arab mind, the widespread television coverage has created the image of the supernatural hero. In the minds of many Arabs, Palestinians can go through fire without getting burned.
Politically, this feeling among Arabs that Palestinians can do anything without paying a price has hurt some of the chances for real progress at the peace talks. If you somehow believe that political problems can be solved militarily, then it is easy to see why peace talks have stumbled. This image has raised the ante to a degree that it has become difficult for politicians to be able to make any compromises. Similarly, the people in the West have been blinded to the humanity of Palestinians as the terrorist image has been overriding on their screens.
While having strong stereotypical views of Palestinians, few in the West, or East, had an idea of how average Palestinians lived. Whether negative or positive, the image of Palestinians is badly in need of a humanising effort. The dynamic nature of television means that the same medium that created this stereotype is also capable of reversing it.
A unique television series is now being broadcast on the Dubai-based Middle East Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), triggering a lot of interest among Palestinians and Arabs alike.
The series, titled "Eye on Palestine", chronicles in real time the lives of six ordinary Palestinians and shows a nightly excerpt from the filmed material shortly after the midnight news. Saed Andoni, the producer/director of the programme from the Ramallah-based Dar Productions, says that the programme reflects the entire rainbow of Palestinian society. "We have a divorced, unveiled woman from Gaza, a children’s puppeteer from Hebron, a university professor from Beit Sahour, a pregnant tour guide in Jerusalem, an orphan refugee camp teenage girl and a woman radio announcer from Nablus."
Every night, shortly after the midnight news on MBC, the camera spans the normal lives of these ordinary Palestinians, reflecting a rich life, different from that which normally fills the television screens.
Seeing people teaching, studying, eating, buying groceries, shopping and travelling in their day-to-day lives enables one to get a peek at their lives as they struggle to make ends meet or just pass time.
Despite attempting to avoid politicians and militants, the new reality TV heroes have their share of troubles with the occupation. The Hebron puppeteer, Nidal Khatib, is tear gassed as he tries to buy some material, and is forced to ride a donkey in order to get to the village children awaiting his puppet show. Jerusalemite Abeer Rizeq is constantly seen passing the newly erected walls. In Gaza, Aza Qassem, goes to pay her respect to the families she knows in the Shijai neighbourhood who were among 15 Palestinians killed on a football field. In Al Amari refugee camp, 14-year-old Mayada Faraj witnesses the killing of a neighbour by the Israelis and the event reminds her of her deceased mother, prompting her to visit her grave.
"Eye on Palestine" began broadcasting on MBC in late August and will run for six weeks. Certainly one television programme is not capable of reversing a trend that has been going on for some time, but it is a step in the right direction.