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Offering up an olive branch

Palestine web softens up its tone as peace hopes grow

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Ensconced behind a huge desk, a framed photo of the late Yasser Arafat on the wall behind him, Palestinian Broadcasting Corp. head Radwan Abu Ayyash watches his channel’s youth-skewed chatshow “Raise Your Voice.”

Three young women in jeans and sweaters sit on brightly colored sofas discussing the merits of a coffee grinder. In the backdrop, a young man discreetly accompanies the chat with the beat of a traditional Palestinian drum.

“The show has been running for two years but the drums, the soft music, are new. They would have been out of place when there were funerals everywhere,” comments Abu Ayyash.

Change is just one of many in PBC’s broadcast style amid renewed hope of peace.

On Feb. 7 Israeli and Palestinian leaders declared a cease-fire aimed at ending four years of bloodshed in which some 3,350 Palestinians and 970 Israelis have died.

During that period, Israel repeatedly accused PBC, the official broadcaster of the Palestinian Authority, of inciting violence. In January 2002, Israeli forces dynamited the broadcaster’s five-story Ramallah HQ.

Of late, PBC has softened its stance.

Newscasters no longer say “Israel’s fascist occupation army” but simply “Israeli army.” Likewise, Israel’s defense minister is no longer called the “Israeli war minister.”

Music clips extolling the virtues of martyrdom or encouraging children to swap their toys for stones and looped footage of dead or wounded Palestinians have been removed from PBC’s screen.

These changes have not gone unnoticed in Israel. Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom expressed satisfaction over the drop in incitement across the Palestinian media.

“There has been a shift,” acknowledges Abu Ayyash. “People are full of hope that real changes might take place. We don’t want to be out of tune by sticking to certain terminology or images. We’ve changed some wording, made things less provocative.”

Off the record, most local media professionals attribute the changes to new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Shortly after Arafat’s death last November, he is reported to have ordered a halt to anti-Israeli incitement in the government-controlled media.

“It was like night and day,” says one local producer.

Just two weeks after Arafat’s death, Israel’s Channel Two and PBC broadcast an Israeli-Palestinian-German co-produced documentary, “On the Road to Dialogue,” backed by the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), focusing on the views of ordinary citizens.

Cooperation was the first since a joint live broadcast covered Arafat and Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

Since then, the station has aired commercials featuring Israeli politicians promoting the Geneva Accord peace campaign.

However, similar ads aimed at the Israeli public featuring Palestinian politicians have been banned from Israel’s Channel 2 and 10 by their governing body, the Second Authority for Television and Radio, because they are deemed controversial.

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