Tikkun Magazine, September/October 2001
Alternative Web News on the Middle East
By Jonathan Schorsch
Given the narrow reportage of the mainstream media and the increasing accessibility, simplicity, and range of online information sources, there is no reason for people who want to keep up on news from Israel and Palestine to remain in corporate-sponsored darkness. Following is a brief survey of some of the best alternative Middle East media websites.
While many interesting and worthwhile organizations sponsor sites, I have only listed those which provide news or analysis of current events and about which TIKKUN readers are less likely to know. Obviously, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the content of these sites, some of which present harshly antiIsrael opinions.
Updates can also be found at TIKKUN's website (www.tikkun.org). Get your bookmarks ready.
Alternative Information Center
The website of this joint IsraeliPalestinian organization provides a distinctly ground-level view of current realities in the Middle East, especially peace actions. Usually, new stories by Israeli and Palestinian authors appear daily, taken from other electronic publications. The site's layout is pleasing and simple.
This handsome-looking and easy-to-navigate site provides new stories daily from a variety of international media outlets. It is sponsored by a Saudi Arabian media conglomerate. The more mainstream coverage presented here treats many issues, but obviously events in Israel-Palestine play no small role. The site is not ideologically anti-Israel, nor does it always present the "Arab" perspective, as stories often derive from sources such as Microsoft NBC, the BBC and other Western venues. Hence some of the site's interest: in addition to becoming informed on events from a Saudi vantage point, readers will discover that the Muslim camp is hardly a unified monolith.
The Challenge for Peace and Progress is a non-profit organization registered with Israel's Ministry of the Interior. Its membership is open to Israeli and Palestinian peace activists. Since 1990 it has published Challenge, a bimonthly independent journal from Jerusalem. The web version offers some of the important stories from Challenge (all too few, unfortunately) along with an editorial policy conveying a strong anti-globalization theme and an unusual willingness to critique the Palestinian Authority and trends in Arab society. Unfortunately, there is no search engine, so you have to go to the most current issue and then scan the table of contents. The stories do come with crisp formatting and useful subtitles, though the fonts for the main body of text should be bigger.
The Electronic Intifada
A project of Nigel Parry, this site, which focuses on media coverage, features fairly up-to-date original information and direct links to stories in other web publications. On the home page's right are options such as current Palestinian "death & injury stats," and a "Martyrs factsheet." Excellent design, very user-friendly.
Independent Media Center Israel
This site, part of an international network of local sites, provides the most up-to-date alternative news and analysis, with stories appearing almost daily. An attractive layout includes easy to discern headlines, readable text fonts, and occasional photos. The contributing authors consist of internationally known figures as well as local activists and experts, making for an outstanding bundle of information from the front. The site features items in both English and Hebrew. (Readers without Hebrew font capability will see only gibberish for the latter; free Hebrew fonts can be downloaded from the website of Haaretz: www3.haaretz.co.il.) Though offered as an option, I could not call up the site's Arabic version (I suppose one needs Arabic fonts). The site is interactive, meaning that readers are invited to write in their own responses. While this feature allows a more democratic format, many of the comments embroil readers in the kind of diatribes found on many e-mail discussion groups, where ideology and vit riol usually win out over coherence and sound reasoning. The site's generally excellent design enables readers who do not wish to view these conversations to skip over them. The content, on the other hand, is noteworthy for concentrating mostly on tachils, on the necessary nuts and bolts, rather than on political posturing and name-calling. The view through these news stories makes this an essential source for on-the-ground news.
Almost daily news bulletins can be found on this site, whose content is apparent only from its subtitle, The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment. It provides timely reporting of ongoing military and political events from the Palestinian perspective. Stories are often extensive and focus on news rather than analysis. Clicking on the small graphic windows tiled on the right side of the home page leads readers to a variety of photo galleries as well as linked sites.
ZNET, a website sponsored by the people who put out Z Magazine, offers another lefty alternative. This site's appearance is more strippeddown. The straightforward layout makes it generally easy to use, though form and function could be improved. Mideast Watch gives readers a plethora of analytical pieces from figures like Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Tanya Reinhart, Robert Fisk, and others. The offerings are not always that current, though the goal here is as much political commentary as news; pieces listed in the "Newest" section came from the past few months (unfortunately, some of the stories bear no date). The long list of articles on the main page of the Mideast Watch site is also somewhat off-putting (some of the stories also receive multiple listings under different categories), but hidden within are real gems: direct links to stories in other sources, such as The Village Voice or Cairo's al-Akhram, and a few excellent, detailed maps. On the left of the main page links can be found to a large number of o ther relevant alternative sites, such as B'Tselem, Bir Zeit University, Gush Shalom, the Israeli Anti-Apartheid Movement, the Palestine Times (a monthly), the Palestine Chronicle (handsome site, updated weekly), the Iraq Action Coalition, official sites of the Israeli and Palestinian governments, and even Arutz Sheva, described as "Extreme Right-Wing Israeli settler media ... caution.
Middle East Research and Information Project
This site is produced by the Washington D.C.-based NGO which publishes Middle East Report. In terms of news, it features Press Information Notes, which appear every few days, each written by a different journalist, academic, activist, or official, but not always concerning the Israeli-Arab conflict. The tone is eminently professional and many of the voices are Arab or Palestinian. Readers can also view recent issues of the Middle East Report, such as the Winter 2000 issue "Beyond Oslo: the New Uprising," with many of the stories available in full text. The site's simple (and small) layout is a pleasure to navigate.
Jonathan Schorsch is Jewish Book Editor for TIKKUN. He just returned from a year in Jerusalem to serve as a Mellon Fellow in the History of the Portuguese Atlantic World at Emory University's department of history.
Schorsch, Jonathan. 2001. Alternative Web News on the Middle East. Tikkun 16(5): 68.