Israel's 'Duet' takes aim at stereotypes

Jewish, Arab journalists write for the new quarterly paper.

Leading Jewish and Arab members of Israel's fourth estate are coming together to alleviate ignorance and mistrust between their communities.

The joint venture, a newspaper to promote coexistence and equality, comes amid the near collapse of other bridging efforts strained by the charged climate of the second intifada.

The Citizens Accord Forum, a nongovernmental group made up of Jews and Arabs, encouraged brainstorming on the crisis by journalists. "It became clear that no one knew anything about the other side, there was no cooperation, and they didn't invite each other to write in their newspapers," says Nechama Orian, who coordinates the press contacts. "The writing on both sides was full of stereotypes."

To redress that, the new quarterly newspaper, Duet, was born late last year.

The idea is to enable Israeli Jews to "get to know sides of Arab society that they haven't seen, and to enable Jews and Arabs to conduct a different type of dialogue, one in which journalists work together," Ms. Orian says. Judging from Duet's content, however, that does not usually translate into upbeat stories or the sugar-coating of grim realities. Instead, the paper is filled with scrutiny of what is going wrong in both societies. Most, but not all, of the Jewish writers are dovish critics of the Sharon government.

The response by journalists, some of them leaders on their beats, has been overwhelming, Orian adds. They contribute voluntarily, with articles by Arab and Jews appearing together in supplements distributed with Haaretz and the Arabic weeklies Kul al-Arab and as-Senaara. Circulation for the second issue, which came out last week, was 170,000, in a country of 6.1 million people.

One unexplored side of Israeli Arab society that Duet has exposed is the status of Arab women. Duet published an article by editor Yara Mashour, who wrote that her publication, Lilac, opens vistas on taboo subjects such as sex, yet is "unthreatening" to Arab males in Israel, many of whom have become readers.

"The Lilac woman will be a new woman open to new opportunities. A woman who fulfills herself, who is aware and capable of achieving her rights and of demanding her status," Mashour wrote in Duet.

"Duet's coverage of Arab women's magazines is very important," says Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv. "The Israeli mainstream thinks that Arab women have remained in the 16th century. This is simply not right. Arab women in Israel are pioneers of the Arab world. When you see Arab women as modern, and [understand] that they want to be a part of the Israeli experience, it could improve prospects for coexistence."

But Duet does not put the onus for achieving equality on a change in Jewish attitudes only. Salim Jubran, editor of the Arabic newspaper al-Ahali, wrote in the same issue that Arab citizens have a long way to go to develop a civic consciousness that will replace loyalties to extended families or sects. "We need to be asking substantive questions about the effectiveness of our local authorities and failed governance, corruption, illegal actions and appointments based on parties and families," he wrote.

Anotheraccount, by ultra-orthodox Jewish journalist Dudi Zilbershlag, told of his visit to a Bedouin village in the Negev desert, one of 45 that is not recognized by the state and thus has no paved roads, electricity, water, or clinics. He wrote that residents live in fear of having their homes demolished for being built illegally, even though there is no mechanism to get permits. "Israel is washing its hands of its responsibility for mistreatment and a degrading approach toward its own citizens," Mr. Zilbershlag wrote.

Zoheir Andrawous, editor of Kul al-Arab, interviewed Zvi Zilker, the hard-line mayor of the port city of Ashdod. He wrote that the Palestinian village of Isdud, which existed at the site before Israel's creation in 1948, was, "uprooted along with its residents during the War of Independence, in Israeli terminology, and the Catastrophe, in the Palestinian view."

Issam Makhoul, an Arab member of the Knesset, says he is encouraged by Duet and hopes journalists affiliated with his Democratic Front for Peace and Equality party will be able to contribute. "This is a newspaper with an important message for the Israel of today," he says. "It tries to find interfaces among the sane people in the Arab and Jewish societies."

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