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Common Ground: A common headline language

By
NICKY BLACKBURN

SILICON VALLEY, Calif., Jan. 21 (UPI) -- Du-Et, Israel's only Jewish-Arab newspaper, has a lofty goal: to become redundant in two years. This may seem a strange objective for a two-year-old newspaper, but its founders don't think so. They want to create enough positive changes in Israel's mainstream media that there is no longer a need for a publication that brings together top Jewish and Arab writers to consider sensitive interracial issues affecting Israel.

The Israeli media mirrors the segregation that exists between its Jewish and Arab citizens. Some 20 percent of Israeli society is Arab, but only 0.3 percent of journalists employed by the mainstream national media are Arab.

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"Israel's Arabs have no voice in the mainstream press," says Rebecca Zeffert, international public relations coordinator of The Citizens' Accord Forum, which founded Du-Et. "There is almost no coverage of Arab society or culture in the Hebrew press. Instead all you hear about is crisis, violence, poverty, terror and fear.

"This creates very negative attitudes on the part of the Hebrew press towards Arab culture. The same happens on the other side. The two populations don't relate to one another... We all live side by side, but we don't really know about each other. This lack of communication deepens the tensions that already exist."

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Du-Et, which means "Two Pens in Hebrew (or in Arabic, Lahen-Muzdwag (Two Tunes), was created to address this mutual lack of knowledge. The idea for the publication grew out of The Citizens' Accord Forum between Jews and Arabs in Israel, which was founded in 2000 by Rabbi Michael Melchior. In 2002, it set up a Jewish-Arab Press Club, and held meetings with senior newspaper and television editors to discuss how the forum could transform the media. At first, it was an uphill struggle. Jewish newspaper and TV editors were worried about how readers or viewers would react if they suddenly introduced an Arab voice to their content. In the end, they agreed to create an independent Hebrew-Arabic newspaper that would bring together leading Arab and Jewish voices to broach the socio-cultural issues behind Jewish-Arab co-existence.

The first edition of Du-Et, launched in October 2003, was only 12 pages long, contained mainly op-ed pieces and few graphics. The next issue came out 6 months later. Zeffert admits it was a challenge to persuade leading journalists to write for the publication. The paper was first distributed as a supplement inside two major Hebrew newspapers, Ma'ariv and Ha'aretz, and in the country's leading Arabic newspaper, Kul al-Arab. At Ma'ariv, the editors were so concerned about what readers might think of this new window into Arab life, that they insisted their lawyers scrutinize each word of the paper before publication.

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Today, Du-Et has grown to a 32-page quarterly, with a readership approaching 1 million. It publishes in Ha'aretz, Ma'ariv, Kul al-Arab, As'sennara, Panorama and in Nana, an online newspaper for young people. There are plans to launch an English version with one of Israel's leading English Web sites.

"The newspaper is generating more interest than ever," says Zeffert. "Now we have to turn journalists away. We just don't have enough space in each issue to feature everyone who wants to write." Contributors to Du-Et include Moti Shaklar (West Bank resident and CEO of Channel 2 TV & Radio), Eeta Prince-Gibson (Jerusalem Post), Rafik Halabi (Channel 2 TV), Danny Rubenstein (Ha'aretz), Rubik Rosenthal (Ma'ariv), Gideon Eshet (Yediot Aharonot), Nazir Majali (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat) and Salem Jubran (Al-Ahaly).

Correspondents write on any number of controversial issues, including terror attacks, the Arab-Jewish divide, inequality in the Hebrew media, and a possible Bedouin intifada. Other articles address Arab culture and life, such as Israeli Arab women's magazines, the nightlife of Nazareth's youth, Bedouin identity and Christian clergymen.

"These are things that we wouldn't normally read about in the Hebrew press," says Zeffert.

One of the most popular features is an item called "Crossing the Lines." In it, Arab journalists are sent to Jewish strongholds like the ultra-orthodox enclave Mea She'arim, and Jewish journalists visit places like the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev.

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"These are places where Arabs and Jews would not normally travel and people they would not normally meet," says Zeffert. "The journalists write about what they find, how they feel and what they experience on these visits. Often their reactions are not necessarily what you would expect. It opens the door to a new type of dialogue between very different sectors of Israeli society."

The founders of Du-Et believe the paper has already had a substantial impact on the Hebrew media.

"For the first time Jewish and Arab editors are working together on a very high level," says Udi Cohen, a co-director of the Citizens' Accord Forum, and chair of the Du-Et editorial board. "Ma'ariv no longer requires its lawyers to trawl through the paper checking for problems.

"Indeed," points out Cohen, "Ma'ariv recently published a supplement devoted exclusively to Arab life in Israel."

In addition, there is increased reporting on Arab issues in most of the national newspapers and growing employment of Arab and minority journalists. Ha'aretz recently issued a supplement of its own, devoted entirely to Jewish-Arab relations in Israel. And the Keshet television network and Du-Et just launched a new media fellowship program for young aspiring Arab journalists. The initiative is designed to encourage employment of Arab journalists in the Hebrew print and television media. As a result, the government-run radio station, Reshet Bet, also approached Du-Et with plans to open a similar program.

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Despite the success Du-Et is having with its mission, the founders set a challenging goal for themselves.

"Our view is that if we are still publishing Du-Et by issue 20 then we have failed to do our job," says Zeffert. "We hope that by then there's enough integration of Arab journalists into the Hebrew media, that there will be no need for a separate newspaper raising Arab issues."

"It's a tall order," she admits finally. "But that's our goal."

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(Nicky Blackburn is a freelance journalist.)

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(Provided by Common Ground News)

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