I spent part of last week in the Arab village of Kofer Musmus, located near Umm al-Fahm, the second largest Arab town in Israel. During my stay there, I had the chance to get a good look at the Hizbullah TV news station, al-Manar, courtesty of my host's satellite dish. The broadcasts were quite professional, something that has already been noted by a number of Israeli and other commentators. Some of the station’s broadcasts certainly have the veneer of credible journalism. There is plenty of commentary and analysis, uninterrupted by commercials or the visual diversions that we’ve come to associate with television. I don’t know if what I saw was representative of their regular programming, but al-Manar’s editors don’t seem overly concerned about scaring off viewers with short attention spans. I was also impressed by their translations of broadcasts from Israeli television which always include Arabic subtitles. However, one only needs to watch the station’s broadcasts for several hours to realize that it’s an incredibly crude propaganda outlet hiding behind the veneer of a respectable news station. In one “news” clip of Olmert addressing the Israeli public, the Prime Minister suddenly morphed into Hitler, complete with a swastika armband and a moustache. This was not some satirical show but a serious news show with some creative AV editors. Instead of commercials, al-Manar runs stirring clips of Hizbullah fighters chanting war songs and engaged in combat with corny battle music playing in the background and captions celebrating the “victory” over Israel. Watching al-Manar pretty much affirmed to me what I’ve been telling critics of the war all along. People in the Arab world are attracted to Hizbullah, because they view it as a winner and because they are attracted by its displays of “heroism”. I think it’s quite similar to the support that Gamal ‘abd al-Nasir attracted in his days.
Visiting Carmia in Haifa, I got the chance to watch Israeli television over the weekend. I don’t have a TV at home for various reasons, so I used this chance to get my dose of news. Anyone who accuses Israeli television of being a propaganda outlet (and there were many who did so during the war) doesn’t know what they are talking about. One trend that I saw on all the major channels (Channel 1, Channel 2 and Channel 10) was the use of live footage shot by soldiers on reserve duty. A lot of this footage was quite genuine – there was one short “film” shot by a reservist about his experience in the war: boredom, contradictory orders, and a lot of wisecracks. Another news segment focussed on the home front and about different people who went out to feed or retrieve abandoned pets or who baked pizzas for returning soldiers. Meanwhile, just as they did at the beginning of the war, different Israeli satirical programs were busy lampooning Israel’s leaders. In one show, two child-like grown-up’s held up stickers (one in blue, one in yellow) declaring “We won” and “No, we did”. I did not get to see Eretz Nehederet, Israel’s leading Friday-night satirical show, but I recall that they had a field day lampooning everyone, from over-patriotic reporters and Israelis trying to get on TV by posing as bombing victims to Nasrallah, the IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and IDF spokesperson Miri Regev. In one awesome segment, the stand-in character “Margol”, who is played by a male actor, but who represents the well-known Israeli (Yemenite) singer Margalit Tzan‘ani, is presented as the IDF’s new secret weapon for winning the war against Hizbullah.