“The Only Thing That Connected Us to the World Was a Small Radio”

Posted on February 13, 2009

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Radio Broadcasts Provide Vital Humanitarian Information to Gazans

http://www.internews.org/prs/2009/20090209_gaza.shtm

2 men listen to a radio around a fire

Mohammad Abu Shahmeh/Internews
Gazans listen to the radio while taking shelter at the house of Abu Ali.

(February 9, 2009) “It was darkness, no electricity, and the only thing that connected us to the world was a small radio. We were more than forty people, men, women, and children sleeping in the living room, listening to the radio and moving the tuner from one station to another; no one could sleep.” So said Um Ibrahim, a mother of eight living in Khan Younis, south of Gaza City.

Along with forty other relatives, Ibrahim and her family had taken shelter in her brother Abu Ali’s house after the first night of the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza in December.

After the escalation in hostilities, independent radio stations in Gaza stopped broadcasting because their staff could not reach the stations, they had no electricity, and their generators had ran out of fuel. With mobile phone service mostly down, Gaza residents had no access to information about the course of the conflict, ceasefire negotiations, or humanitarian relief.

Alerted to this information vacuum by Internews Network staff in Gaza, the Internews team in Ramallah worked with three West Bank radio stations in Hebron whose signals reach all of Gaza to begin producing and airing special humanitarian programming for the people of Gaza.

The stations are part of UPNN, a new network of electronic media, radio and TV stations that formed in August 2008 with media partners Internews has been working with since January 2007.  Reporters from the member stations in the West Bank and Gaza work together to create shared programming for radio, TV, and electronic media. Using the radio network of UPNN, the member stations in Hebron were activated to direct humanitarian information to Gaza.

According to a survey conducted for Internews by Near East Consulting, based on a random sample of 878 Gazans, the three Hebron stations were widely listened to, and 92% of respondents found the information they broadcast to be helpful or very helpful.

In the first few days of the airstrikes, Gaza resident Abu Ali said that people listened to both the Gaza and West Bank radio stations, but, as he explained, “We knew that the Gaza stations were transmitting military programs so we began tuning to West Bank stations from Hebron like Minbar al Huriya, Nawras, and Dream.”

Abu Ali said that people listened to these stations because they provided not only information about the war but also guided Gazans to the distribution centers for food, blankets and other assistance provided by relief agencies.

“We were listening to Minbar al Huriya’s program when they announced the first humanitarian ceasefire – the first good news,” he said. That day and the following day, the Hebron stations announced ceasefire hours and the location of distribution centers.

Abu Ali said that people used that time to go out and get provisions and assistance, sometimes standing in line for hours. Batteries for the radios were a highly sought after commodity. “One night, we boiled the batteries as a way to renew them for more energy,” he said.

“If we had no radio we would have been in complete darkness about what was going on around us,” Abu Ali said.

During the airstrikes, the stations in Hebron, later joined by Alwan Radio, an Internews partner station in Gaza, provided eight hours per day of special humanitarian programming. The stations continue to provide news and information on assistance and produce programming on dealing with trauma and health and safety issues in the aftermath of the war.

The humanitarian broadcasts from the Internews-supported stations are funded in part by a grant for humanitarian media from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and individual donors.

Donate to Internews’ Gaza humanitarian information service.

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