Youth Views~ Not recognising and not knowing: two different things: By Raissa Batakji

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Having discovered the wonders of Google Earth, it didn’t take me long to type in the name of what many Lebanese consider the “Forbidden City” – Tel Aviv: a city that we as Lebanese are not able to travel to, or even phone, though many of us will point out that we have no desire to.
The web page zoomed out, then back in very quickly; I was breathing just as quickly. Not only did I get an adrenaline rush just from seeing Tel Aviv’s buildings, roads and parks, but I felt uncomfortable with the realisation that no matter how “close” Tel Aviv was to me through the web, it was still not as “close” as Beirut is to Israelis.
I was 18 years old when I first saw Tel Aviv virtually, but Israelis, on the other hand, have had regular access to Beirut through their television sets, and read about it in their newspapers as part of their daily lives.
They would know what the Lebanese first lady was wearing for the welcoming dinner of French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Beirut, and what our city centre looked like.
In fact, there may have been a small grain of truth to Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s statement during the July 2006 war when he said “I have more credibility than Ehud Olmert in the Israeli mainstream.” Israelis can access Lebanese news programmes and sitcoms while we have no access to Israeli ones.
This one-way communication limits Lebanese understanding and awareness of how Israelis think and what drives them on a daily basis. Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, Israelis can see for themselves how the Lebanese live.
Are the Lebanese doomed to live in the dark when it comes to learning about Israeli lives and developments? Not necessarily. Slowly, we are beginning to access Israeli media through the internet, and two Lebanese daily newspapers, As-Safir and Al-Akhbar, have dedicated full sections to translating articles from Israeli newspapers. The editors responsible for these sections believe it is necessary for the Lebanese mainstream to understand what’s going on in Israel.
However, for those without regular access to the internet, this window provides only a glimpse of Israeli life, for the editors are selective about which articles they choose to translate, often selecting those that serve a particular political agenda. The section under which Israeli articles are published is called “The other side of the struggle”, and most of the articles portray Israel as a state that is falling apart, that has a weak government or that suffers serious threats from Arab resistance.
Over the course of the past half-century, generations of Lebanese have been taught that Israel is not an official country, and that its presence is temporary. Thus, with a virtual moratorium on news and entertainment from the country, it remains a mystery in the minds of many Lebanese in several aspects.
So strong is this mystique that in the spring of 2001, one Lebanese newspaper started a media campaign against a high school in South Lebanon that it claimed was making its students acknowledge the presence of Israel as an official country. The school was using American dictionaries that included maps identifying the landmass to the south of Lebanon as Israel, rather than the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Not only did this issue cause a considerable fuss, but the school ended up having to modify the students’ textbooks mid-year to respond to parents’ demands.
This response hurts students and broader Lebanese interests alike. Not recognising a country and not knowing it are two different things.
Coming from a media studies background, I am a great believer in the power of information and in the importance of equal access to information by all stakeholders on a given issue.
A better understanding of Israel does not make us traitors, does not betray our prisoners of war or our occupied land. A better understanding gives us power. It may not empower us politically, militarily or economically, but it will – at the very least – balance the scales when it comes to understanding a country and its people.

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* Raissa Batakji is a journalism student at the Lebanese American University in Beirut. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

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