Refugee Radio in Palestine

This article details one youth-radio training effort by US activists, going into camps in Palestine to teach young people how to run their own radio programs.

As the world focuses on the ragged details of whether or not the illegal Israeli settlers will “disengage” from the occupied Gaza strip, Ariel Sharon’s genocidal policies are moving ahead at full speed in the occupied West Bank. Settlements are being built around the clock, the suffocating apartheid wall is snaking through people’s land, and the Israeli military with its aggressive tactics continues to kill innocent children and civilians.

All this is being done while ignoring outcries by Palestinian leaders, the exhausted populace and isolated pockets of the concerned international community. Palestinian youth are especially powerless against the pervasive grip of occupation. It seems that every day another teenager is arrested, beaten, threatened, or killed by an Israeli soldier for various negligible reasons. The options are limited, the time is short, but communities are finding ways of broadening the kids’ horizons.

Radio 194

As American radio producers, sickened by the situation in Palestine, my colleague, Babak Jacinto Tondre, and I took up a warm invitation from the leaders of the Ibdaa Cultural Center in the Dheisheh refugee camp to work with a group of teenagers in radio production. For over a month, we lived and worked at Ibdaa, arming our 22 students with microphones, minidisc recorders, digital editing skills and whatever knowledge we’ve absorbed over the years as producers. We listened to their stories and the stories of their families – four generations of internally-displaced refugees still waiting to go back to their original villages, ignored and silenced by the world. Ibdaa, which means “to make something out of nothing,” is a successful, bustling community center, alive with numerous activities for schoolchildren, young adults, women and athletes.

The teenagers in the highly-acclaimed Ibdaa Dance Troupe travel around the world, communicating the stories of Palestinian refugees through traditional dance and music. Ziad Abbas, Ibdaa’s co-founder, is himself a journalist and felt it was the perfect time to create a small, community radio station at the center, to be run primarily by the youth.

The students named the station Radio 194, as a shout-out to the 1948 UN Resolution 194 that guarantees the right of return for Palestinians (obviously, it has yet to be implemented): “Media is very important for Palestinians in order to reach the international public opinion and for us as people living in the refugee camps, despite that we are in the center of the conflict, we are not in the center of the news…Media skills can offer [the youth] new opportunities for the future and new ways to express what’s inside themselves so they can feel they are productive and doing something to achieve their political rights.”

Our schedule was tightly-packed: we taught two groups a day, six days a week, two to three hours per class. By the third week, students were in the studio and on the computer, editing and mixing music, sound effects and narration into their pieces. Almost every student finished a 5-8 minute piece, one in Arabic and another with English translation. Stories about the apartheid wall, political prisoners, the Nakba (the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948), soccer teams, women’s rights and health issues streamed out from the walls of the studio.

For the youth, being able to communicate in their own voice and through their own experience has been empowering. Waleed, one of our students, says about the project, “It’s important because it’s one of the ways we can resist the occupation – by telling the truth to the world and show that what the other media stations say about us is completely wrong, and to show the world we are not terrorists.” Abbas says that the Ibdaa media project is a model for other refugee camps in Palestine.

At this moment, local Palestinian media stations are picking up some of the kids’ pieces as we work within the Pacifica Radio Network and international public radio outlets to broadcast their voices to the world. As this project evolves, we will continue our relationship with Ibdaa and Dheisheh camp – and we’ll focus on similar programs in the Gaza strip.

Marcelle Hopkins, a New York-based journalist and a longtime volunteer at Ibdaa, helped to coordinate the media project. “[The youth] know how to tell their own story in a way that speaks to international audiences – at the most basic human level – without spewing dogma and jargon. [The media project] was their idea, it’s their hard work, it’s their struggle. And we, as international media, have a lot to learn from their model.” Working with these kids, the next generation of reporters and witnesses to Israel’s imperialist storm, has humbled and transformed my vision of the role that we as journalists must play in the world. We can be teachers to youth under occupation – yes – but ultimately, we are their students.

For more information, email Nora at The Freedom Radio Project is sponsored by the Middle East Children’s Alliance. To donate to the project, please send checks to: The Freedom Radio Project/MECA c/o Middle East Children’s Alliance 901 Parker St. Berkeley, CA 94703

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Nora Barrows-Friedman is the senior producer and co-host of Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio, and the co-founder of the Freedom Radio Project, which supports youth radio initiatives in Palestine. She is also the proud mother of a 5 year-old funky anarchist princess named Ciel Phoenix.