Palestinians take to their own air for the first time: Sarah Helm reports from Jerusalem on a short-lived TV experiment that set the political factions squabbling

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The Independent Online
THERE was a rare glimpse of what might be in the future putative state of Palestine earlier this week. But it quickly disappeared into the ether. For at a theatre in east Jerusalem, for the first time ever, Palestinians broadcast their own television news.

Under Israeli occupation there is no free Palestinian press and no Palestinian broadcasting. All newspapers in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip are censored by Israel. And they are all controlled by one or other Palestinian faction.

Almost every Palestinian family in the occupied territories has a television set and watches every evening; in 'intifada country' there is little else to do. But the choice is between an Israeli, Jordanian or, in some parts, Syrian view of the world.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the Palestinian news show was a sell-out. It was only an experiment: literally a piece of theatre, which grew out of a Swedish-funded workshop. There were no auto-cues for the newsreaders and a little too much of mopping brows. The news stories were somewhat predictable: unemployment in Gaza and water shortages in the West Bank. There were the inevitable shots of luxury Israeli swimming pools, followed by drought-ridden Palestinian fields. And the Israeli point of view was heard only through the mouths of Jewish settlers.

But these were Palestinian reporters presenting Palestinian news for the first time in their lives; and Palestinian pundits debating Palestinian politics before an audience of their own people. These were the first shots of a 'Palestinian experimental state', with its own 'experimental weather'.

'This provides hope for the future. We need a TV station that talks about us, about our culture, our lives - not as others see us,' said Daoud Kuttab, the production manager.

But then came the post-mortem - and the political bickering which dispelled the hope. Where was the voice of Palestinian opposition? asked a disguntled Riyadh Malki, local leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which rejects the current peace process.

He complained that he was given only two minutes to have his say in a debate about Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. 'It was run by the peace delegation (at the Mid-East talks) for the peace delegation. If we are going to make it so political, we will have to have our own station,' he said.

His comments provide a foretaste of the kind of political power-mongering that is brewing under the surface as Palestinians wait to see if they will be given the chance to run their own affairs and hold free and fair elections under a proposed period of autonomy.

'It was not political at all,' protested Mr Kuttab, who worked on the project on behalf of a committee set up by the peace delegation.

For now such talk is highly theoretical. It remains in the power of the Israelis to hand out licences - until the peace talks produce Palestinian autonomy. Israel seemed happy to let this experiment go ahead. But as yet there is no sign of autonomy, and so no sign of real-life Palestinian TV.

But if and when the nationalists do control broadcasts, what system will they use: Secam, or the more politically correct PAL?