Behind the Headlines Covering the West Bank
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Behind the Headlines Covering the West Bank

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The West Bank of the Jordan River, the territory Israel captured from King Hussein of Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War, is continuously in the news. Covering it is a major challenge for any journalist. For an Israeli journalist the challenge is even greater.

“The major challenge for me, as an Israeli correspondent in the West Bank, is having access to sources, or rather, the difficulty of obtaining that access, “said Gil Sedan, Israel Television’s correspondent in Judaea and Samaria. Sedan, who is also a Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent in Jerusalem, recently spent three weeks in the United States as a scholar in residence in Los Angeles and lectured in other cities as guest of the American Zionist Federation.

FEAR OF HAVING STATEMENTS DISTORTED

According to Sedan, there is a great deal of suspicion against him on the part of the Palestinian-Arab residents in the West Bank because he is an Israeli. “They want to be convinced that what they have to say won’t be distorted,” Sedan explained, noting that when the element of trust is missing, it is almost impossible for a correspondent to develop news sources.

“They are afraid that as an Israeli I will not be fair to them and will not report their complaints objectively and correctly. In general, they identify the Israeli television with the State of Israel, which they consider their enemy.” Sedan, 39, a graduate of the Journalism Department of the University of Missouri, said, however, that recently some Palestinian leaders in the West Bank have become aware of the advantages they could gain by expressing their views on Israeli TV. “The better they know me the better they treat me,” Sedan said.

The most problematic segment of the Palestinian population is the student community, he observed. “The students are very aware politically, and they are closely watched by Israel’s security authorities,” Sedan said. “Therefore, they are even more afraid to deal with someone like me, because once they are exposed politically they can be targets of investigations by the Israeli army.”

YARDSTICKS ARE JOURNALISTIC

Sedan pointed out that “We, in Israel TV, try to be evenhanded. Our yardsticks are purely journalistic. But when we feel that the Palestinians want to use us for incitement or to promote the PLO, we use self-censorship and don’t use certain information that we judge unworthy news-wise.”

According to Sedan, the West Bankers cooperate much better with foreign journalists. “It is clear why,” he said. “They know it will be used abroad and serve their case. They use the foreign correspondents’ lack of knowledge of certain details and nuances. And they (the correspondents) almost automatically sympathize with the ‘underdog’ and send stories with a Palestinian slant. Israeli correspondents try to be more objective and to present the two aspects of the conflict.”

Covering the volatile and often violent situation in the West Bank can be, at times, dangerous, Sedan observed, but said that so far he has been lucky and nothing has happened to him.

“The danger is obvious when you have to cover a violent demonstration by thousands of stone-throwing students,” he said. “You can get hit by a stone. It’s as simple as that. But it is known that the Palestinians are careful not to hit reporters. They do not want adverse publicity. On days of stone-throwing demonstrations by young school students, we have learned how to behave and not expose ourselves.”

One of the rules of covering such an event is to “be escorted by local Palestinians. Then you are almost certain not to be hit,” Sedan said. “The same is true when you go to a refugee camp. If you want to be safe, you must be accompanied by local residents.”

CARRIES A PISTOL WHEN ON ASSIGNMENT

Sedan and six other members of his television crew-including a security man — are usually each armed with a pistol when on assignment. “This is a security measure we must take,” he explained. The whole crew uses a rented car and “everybody immediately identifies us because we also have very old equipment,” he said, smiling.

Another important aspect of covering the West Bank is the close contact correspondents maintain with the Israeli army authorities in the territory. “Generally speaking, the cooperation is good,” Sedan said. “When we ask to cover a certain event, for instance, a curfew, the answer is always affirmative.”

There are times when he feels that he and his crew are unjustifiably denied the right to cover an event. “But this is a rarity,” he said. “The army is, to a large extent, in an impossible situation in the West Bank. It has to please both the local Arab population and the Israeli Jewish settlers at the same time. It is very difficult because there is a constant tension between the two groups and the Israeli army appears to be caught in between.”

A POTENTIAL FOR REACHING A SETTLEMENT

Asked to evaluate the political situation in the West Bank, Sedan said that as a correspondent representing Israel’s official and only TV station, he would rather not comment. But he was willing to say that covering the West Bank “is very interesting indeed, but yet very frustrating because you do not see any progress toward solving the problem. The situation is at a standstill or, in some cases, existing problems are worsening. And that has an influence on you because, after all, you are not only a journalist but also a citizen.”

Sedan said it is difficult to conceive what the situation will be like in the West Bank, in say, 10 years from now. But he added, rather optimistically, that “in my view there is a potential for reaching a settlement in the future. On both sides there are elements who are interested in reaching a solution.”

Sedan said he believes “that among the Palestinian leaders in the territories there is a keen interest now in reaching a political agreement with Israel because they feel that time works against them. The longer they wait, the stronger Israel becomes in the territories with more settlements and more Jews. The big question is what a settlement means for Israel and, as we know, this big question is the focus of the political debate in Israel today.”

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