Listen to us tell the story on the radio…..
It was supposed to have been an exercise in cross-cultural reporting; to find a story that would cut across borders and highlight the common humanity shared by all nations and peoples.
As a Jordanian and an Israeli, we felt we were a logical pairing. There is no country geographically closer to Israel than Jordan and, of course, both have been part of a regional conflict that has raged for so long we felt there would be many areas of potential cooperation we could highlight.
Environment, water, human trafficking, arms smuggling and refugees were among many subjects we discussed before settling upon the idea to focus on the next generation in each of our nations, namely through education. We began to wonder, what are our children learning? Or more importantly, what are our children learning about the people on the other side of our shared border?
When the peace treaty between our countries was signed in 1994 there was a clear emphasis on taking steps towards normalizing ties in all areas — social, cultural and economic — not just political. However, we are both acutely aware that the focus has remained on politics at the expense of all other issues. Unfortunately, with the political situation being what it is today, this emphasis has led to the deterioration of relations between our two countries to the point where they are now arguably worse than before the treaty was signed.
We are both ashamed to admit that the stereotypes and myths held by our fellow citizens about our neighbors are certainly not the beliefs that would allow peace to move in a positive direction.
As we both started to research our respective nations to see what school children were learning — Jordanians about Israel and Judaism; Israelis about Islam and the Arab world — we both became surprised and dismayed.
In Israel, we found that the education system is surprisingly in favor of teaching children Arabic and Islamic studies. Every Israeli student is encouraged to learn spoken Arabic from 6th through 12th grade, while Islamic Studies, which focuses on the religious, cultural and historical aspects of Islam, is optional. However, out of the 1.5 million students who study in any one of Israel’s three Jewish school systems — secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox — only 500 end up reaching to matriculation level in Islamic studies.
“No one is interested in studying about the Arabs,” one young woman, a former Arabic student, told us. Her comments were backed up by Professor Nurit Peled an expert on language education and discourse analysis, who has been studying Israeli school text-books over the past decade.
“The Arab population [in Israel] is really not represented at all,” she said, referring to other areas of study such as geography, history and civics. “They are missing entities.”
In Jordan, the situation is even more disheartening. Students there are not even offered the chance to study Judaism at all, let alone Hebrew or any of the positive aspects of Israeli life or culture. Moreover, younger children are often told by their teachers that Israel is “the enemy”, with common held myths such as Israeli children get excited by seeing the blood of Palestinians. These were shocking revelations.
We discussed our story at length and the findings of our research. The gloomy picture of the growing hatred between our nations was tough for us to accept and we quickly realized that publishing such a story was not only not in the spirit of this project, but was downright impossible.
The story itself would not succeed in crossing borders and reaching out to the people on either side, but rather would have had the opposite effect. If our own people got wind of how the other nation perceived them or what the other country’s children were learning, it would only fuel hatred further.
In addition, who would print such a story? For any news editor in Jordan, publishing this piece would be career suicide, not to mention potentially life-threatening.
If the story was printed in an Israeli publication, the other side would dismiss it as biased or untrue. It clearly would not get the recognition it deserves.
Finally, for the international media to run this clearly negative piece about the Middle East would only expound what the West already believes about Israelis and Arabs — that they will never find peace.
The fact that this is such a difficult article for us to write is a clear indication to both of us that it is in fact an incredible piece of journalism. As seasoned reporters, we both felt a gut instinct that “this could possibly be a scoop.” Or, if not a scoop, certainly an original story that no other pairing of journalists, especially not an Israeli and a Jordanian, would ever succeed in. That was enough for us to know it was something special.
However, as people of this region, both with a deep desire to see peace and calm prevail, we heard another voice. This was the voice of humanity; the words of reason and compassion telling us that despite what our children are learning, not all of them will grow up to hate the other.
Of course we are under no illusion that moving beyond stereotypes and standing up against what has been engrained into your brain from an early age is an easy task.
However, we can also tell you from first-hand experience that this is exactly what we have done. Our friendship started more than a year before the conference this past February that brought us together on this particular project. We met by chance at a workshop run by the European Union for journalists in the Middle East region. For both of us it was the first real time we had spoken to a person from “the other country” and for both of us breaking barriers was not easy.
Some of the other Arab journalists at the conference disapproved of the contact and the Israelis made the divisions between us perfectly clear: we could be friends, but never forget which side we were on.
Months on, after visiting each others country’s, meeting friends and families and realizing that human beings are the same whether they are Jewish or Muslim, Israeli or Jordanian, we now know that change is possible. If we can do it, then anyone can.
Both of us grew up under the shadow of mistrust, but at the end of the day we just want to live and enjoy our basic human rights — a common humanity that is stronger than any propaganda.
If we were to write our feature story on education, which only highlights what extremists already know and espouse in their rhetoric, then we would be further contributing to the propaganda machine and working against our common humanity. We would not be cross-culturally reporting: we would be doing exactly the opposite.
Writing our opinions as a united voice that speaks out for peace, friendship, trust and humanity seems to be far more responsible and appropriate. While our findings were shocking and would boost the sales of any tabloid, we hope you understand and respect the fact that we just couldn’t tell this story…
The big takeaway: Americans want their news portable (33% of cell phone users now access news on their devices), personalized (28% of internet users have customized home pages) and participatory (37% of Internet users have contributed to a news story or shared it in some way).
Project director Tom Rosenstiel told me the findings have serious implications for online news business models: “The data suggest that the notion of a primary news source is almost obsolete. People graze. I think it’s increasingly clear that conventional popups and display advertising aren’t going to work.”
The 51-page report is packed with fascinating findings. But here are five that struck me as particularly interesting (emphasis mine):
1. Just because you love to scan headlines on your cell phone, that doesn’t mean you don’t also love ink on your fingers:
While [mobile news consumers] are no more likely than other adults to say they follow the news “all or most of the time,” they utilize a greater number of news platforms. More than half of the on-the-go news consumers (55%) use at least 4 different news platforms on a typlical day. They are 50% more likely than other adults to read the print version of a national newspaper (23% of on-the-go v. 15% all other adults). The only news platform they are less likely than other adults to use on a typical day is their local television news, and this difference is only slight.
2. Get your news only from the Internet? You’re in a tiny minority:
Americans today routinely get their news from multiple sources and a mix of platforms. Nine in ten American adults (92%) get news from multiple platforms on a typical day, with half of those using four to six platforms daily. Fully 59% get news from a combination of online and offline sources on a typical day. Just over a third (38%) rely solely on offline sources, and 2% rely exclusively on the internet for their daily news.
3. Users want to remix your news site:
Some 42% of the internet users who get news online — or 30% of all internet users — say that it is important to them when choosing news sites to be able to customize the news they get at that site. It is fascinating to note that this feature applies equally as much to those who say they prefer to follow specific topics (51% of them like being able to customize news on a site) and those who say they rely on others to keep them abreast of news (52% of them like this feature on a news website). At the same time, disproportionate numbers of those under age 50, blacks, wide-ranging platform users and browsers for online news, and social media users say this is a preference for them on a news website.
4. The devotion to objectivity isn’t as popular outside newsrooms:
Only half [of Americans] say their preference is for objective, straight news: 49% say they prefer getting news from sources that do not have a particular point of view; 31% prefer sources that share their point of view; and 11% say they prefer sources whose point of view differs with theirs. The rest say the don’t know their preference or don’t want to declare it.
5. Local news is nowhere near the top of most people’s news wishlists:
The most popular online news subjects are the weather (followed by 81% of internet news users), national events (73%), health and medicine (66%), business and the economy (64%), international events (62%), and science and technology (60%). Asked what subjects they would like to receive more coverage, 44% said scientific news and discoveries, 41% said religion and spirituality, 39% said health and medicine, 39% said their state government, and 38% said their neighborhood or local community.
Photo by Ian Lamont used under a Creative Commons license.
Within the space of 24 hours this week two young, female journalists – from two completely different countries — asked me how I’ve done it… how I have managed to pull off a career in the media and take care of three little children at the same time.
“It’s been hard,” I admitted to them both. I’m not one for lying or candy coating the truth, especially since seeing Lynette Scavo’s rant about motherhood and career on a recent episode of Desperate Housewives.
There were times over the past decade when I was ready to give it all up, I told them. When after being up all night with one or more crying babies, I had to focus at work editing, proof-reading or writing stories.
On some of those days I’d come dangerously close to either falling asleep at my desk or quitting completely and opting instead to be a full-time stay-at-home mum able to sip coffee with my friends and fold laundry at my leisure.
I didn’t quit my job of course because as much as I like to complain about having “two full-time jobs,” I could not imagine just being a mum without a serious job or just being a career woman without my precious ones.
While compliments showered on me by both of these promising journalists – one married, the other contemplating it — was heart-warming, what prompted me to write this post was the question posed by one of them.
“Do you think its better to have a family first or to focus on building up my career first and then start a family?”
It’s a question I am still pondering but I think I have figured it out…
There is no doubt that being a journalist is full-on. It’s almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week; it’s working on national holidays and religious festivals, it’s listening to the news first thing in the morning and last thing at night, it’s sniffing out a story when you are at a party or social gathering in your free time. It’s a job where you never quite hang up your uniform and take a break. When you get the urge to write – whether it’s night or day – there is nothing anyone can do to stop it.
Now, consider motherhood. You are thrown into with little or no training and while the responsibility is something that most of us can cope with, it’s the constant demands for attention, love and practical help that keep us busy from morning until night (and sometimes through the night).
It does seem almost impossible to combine the two making the career vs motherhood debate an eternal dilemma that most young female journalists are faced with, especially because journalism is known as a profession for young people.
Another inequality for women
The question made me sad and frustrated. Why do we, as women, need to choose? Why do we have to ponder this dilemma at all? Do our male colleagues have to factor in a time schedule of when they should focus on their career or when they should have children?
While some of the answers to these questions are obvious, others have been discussed since the feminist revolution of the 1960s and 70s when women were thrust out of the household and into the office.
However, what I told my young journalist friend (she is 27) was as follows:
Even with all the hardships and heartbreak caused by our children, they are a blessing and no one wants to be an old mother or run the risk of not being able to get pregnant because of age. At the same time, intelligent women, who might have dreamed of having a career in the media all their lives, should not have to forgo that in order to have a family.
It’s just a case of putting one thing a little bit ahead of the other, at least for a while and then you can make them a joint priority. In my case, I chose to put having children first but I insisted on continuing to work. There were times when I had to pass up certain opportunities – to travel or take on a thrilling or dangerous story — because I was a young mother but I don’t regret this.
Rather, I started my family young and in my head, I still feel young, and with my family established I now feel ready to put my career up another notch. Luckily, there are no more diapers, night-time feeds or inexplicable temper tantrums.
Just one day after publishing an article on how hijabs are not threatening…. I read this:-
‘Racist’ school bus drivers ‘refusing to stop for young Muslim girls who are wearing the hijab’
How many of you signed a pre-nuptial agreement before you got married? Probably most of you didn’t… I know that I did not, like most people polled for the survey that I wrote about today in the article Pre-Nuptial Agreements Growing in Popularity, I thought it was too unromantic for a couple in love to consider what would happen if they separate.
While that seems idealistic, after writing on social issues for the past four years and coming across some of the worst divorce stories ever, I believe that this practice should be encouraged and even made compulsory. Of course most young couples do not have any assets when they get married, they have not had time in life to accumulate these but after years of sharing a life it is important, if separation is necessary, to be able to do so amicably and with the least hurt possible.
In Israel the issue is particularly acute because of the strict Jewish laws, which invariably leave some women “chained” to their husband for many years or unable to remarry. In the worst case scenarios they must forfeit their rights to their children, which amounts to nothing more than blackmail.
All I can say is good luck ICAR on your campaign to educate the Israeli public on this practice….. And maybe I will get to write less spine chilling stories of marriages gone wrong. Fingers crossed.