International Media Seminar on Peace in Middle East Concludes in Istanbul, Turkey

9 October 2013
PAL/2166-PI/2070

International Media Seminar on Peace in Middle East Concludes in Istanbul, Turkey

9 October 2013
Press Release
PAL/2166
PI/2070
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

International Media Seminar on Peace in Middle East Concludes in Istanbul, Turkey

 


(Reissued as received.)


ISTANBUL, 9 October — The 2013 International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East concluded today at the Istanbul Hilton Exhibition and Convention Centre in Istanbul, Turkey.  This two-day event focused on the evolving media-related dynamics in the Middle East and explored how the media relate to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


On the second day, the Seminar held two panel discussions in the morning, followed by a screening of the documentary film 5 Broken Cameras in the afternoon.


The first of the two panel discussions, moderated by Ahmed Shihab Eldin, producer and host, Huffington Post Live, focused on youth activism, digital journalism and social media in the Middle East.  Panellists discussed how the acceleration in digital technologies and social media was affecting youth activism and looked at how the use of social media by youth activists helped or hindered their causes.  Participating in the panel were Ahmad Alhendawi, United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth; Rana Nazzal Hamadeh, youth activist, Palestine; Sahar Vardi, Peace activist, Israel; Gökhan Yücel, digital diplomacy expert and Lecturer at the Leadership, Politics and Diplomacy School of Bahçeşehir University.


The second panel discussion, moderated by Deborah Seward, Director, Strategic Communications Division, United Nations Department of Public Information, examined the role and impact of film and visual media on coverage of the question of Palestine and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Panellists discussed the extent to which visual media had shed light on the situation in the Middle East and changed attitudes about it.  Participating in the panel were Coşkun Aral, war correspondent and photojournalist; Shiraz Grinbaum, photographer, ActiveStills.org; Nour Odeh, media professional and communications consultant; and Helen Yanovsky, B’Tselem’s video camera distribution project.


In closing remarks, Levent Gümrükçü, Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Turkey, said that lasting peace in the Middle East was a goal that had eluded us for many decades.  Negotiations were a positive step forward, but were not enough.  Both sides had to make brave decisions and the international community had an important role to play in the peace process.  The media could bring new momentum to the negotiations and should raise awareness that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the main source of instability in the Middle East.  Objective, credible and informative reporting of the conflict by the media could make a major contribution to the peace process, and stressing the human aspect of the conflict was key to that.  Turkey was committed to working closely with the United Nations in order to promote peace in the Middle East.


Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Coordinator for Multilingualism, said that discussions over the past two days had been held in a spirit of frankness and openness, and had focused on youth activism, digital journalism and social media in the Middle East.  Sharing personal stories and experiences had served to draw attention to the conflict and, more importantly, had underlined the need to resolve it.  Mr. Launsky-Tieffenthal concluded by expressing hope that significant progress would be made in achieving peace in the Middle East between now and next year’s United Nations Media Seminar.


The 2013 International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East was organized by the United Nations Department of Public Information in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey.


Panel 3: Youth Activism, Digital Journalism and Social Media in Middle East


AHMED SHIHAB ELDIN, Producer and host, Huffington Post Live and discussion moderator, said that 50 per cent of the world population and almost 70 per cent of the population in the Arab world was under 30 years old.  The panel would discuss how the acceleration in digital technologies and social media was affecting youth activism and how the use of social media by youth activists had helped or hindered their causes.


AHMAD ALHENDAWI, United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, said that a recent survey had found that less than 4 per cent of Egyptian youth participated in voluntary work, which may be seen as a sign of protest.  There was an ongoing debate on whether or not young persons were interested in politics.  Mr. Alhendawi said he felt that young persons were interested in politics but were not interested in Governments.  Social media was rapidly changing politics, because young persons interacted online much faster than political institutions took action.


Young persons around the world were now demanding more transparent Governments and their demands seemed to spread across borders.  Social movements combined with the use of social media were gaining strength in the Middle East, where clear shifts could be seen in the way young activists operated.  Since 2011, youth activism in the region had become organized but not institutionalized.  It was unfortunate that social media had not been used yet to bring together the Israeli and Palestinian communities, which was due to the limited opportunity for interaction between the two sides.


SAHAR VARDI, peace activist, Israel, said that Israeli society was highly militarized, which was evident in many aspects of everyday life and was part of young persons’ identities.  The question of fear was closely linked to militarization, with the Holocaust constantly being present in the background.  The media sometimes contributed to cultivating that fear in Israeli society and presented militarization as a way to protect the population from fear.


Ms. Vardi presented examples of several recent ad hoc campaigns that had made effective use of social media in order to convey important messages and achieve results on the ground.  These included a very successful campaign for conscientious objectors, a campaign to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian village by the Israeli authorities, and a Twitter campaign prompting Turkish Airlines and Royal Jordanian Airlines to withdraw their sponsorship of a pro-settlement event in Jerusalem.  All these were examples of how the social media could be used by young activists to make a real difference in the world.


RANA NAZZAL HAMADEH, youth activist, Palestine, spoke about her personal experience as editor and media coordinator for a West Bank publication and about the importance of having her voice as a Palestinian woman heard and valued.  Ms. Hamadeh said that she had participated in protests where young persons with cameras focused more on filming the protest than actively participating in it.  Nevertheless, it was important to record protests on some form of social media.


Drawing on her personal experience as a Palestinian protester, she said that it was extremely difficult for anyone who wanted to engage in political expression or protest in the West Bank because of restrictions imposed by Israel.  She also talked about Twitter campaigns known as “Twitter storms”, through which large numbers of young persons tweeting at a pre-decided time made their message visible to everyone logging onto Twitter around the world at that time.  One positive aspect about social media was that it is largely non-partisan, which allowed for greater unity and collective resistance.  Despite all that, was it possible that social media activism was replacing real activism or was it just giving young persons a false sense of assurance?  It was important to remember that social media activism could raise awareness but could not work by itself.  The Arab Spring, which was usually attributed to the social media, had been preceded by real-world activism and underground movements.


GÖKHAN YÜCEL, Digital diplomacy expert and Lecturer at the Leadership, Politics and Diplomacy School of Bahçeşehir University, explained the development of digital diplomacy and said that he had been engaging with ministries of foreign affairs to raise awareness about digital diplomacy as an important platform for youth activism.  In the digital era, young persons used the social media to voice their concerns about foreign policy issues and share their personal experiences and stories.  Digitalization had brought personalization with it, which was evident in all social media outlets.


As the monopoly of diplomats started to fade away and new rules of engagement with the public were introduced, digital diplomacy had become increasingly popular, because it was much more mobile than traditional diplomacy, and was also used as an effective new tool of listening and learning.  The international system was now challenged by an “inter-net-inal” system comprising “twiplomats” instead of diplomats, “netizens” instead of citizens and cyber groups and networks instead of States.  It was, therefore, hardly surprising that countries such as the United States employed a very large number of digital diplomacy staff in their Foreign Office.


Panel 4: Role and Impact of Film/Visual Media on Coverage of Question of Palestine and Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


DEBORAH SEWARD, Director, Strategic Communications Division, United Nations Department of Public Information, said that there was no shortage of images in today’s world.  We had ready access to thousands of images and the ease of making pictures made it even harder to choose the right images.  Concerning pictures of Israelis and Palestinian caught in conflict, there was a tremendous responsibility to those who were depicted in a picture and those looking at the picture, and images had a powerful role in creating a historical record of the conflict.  The panel discussion would focus on the role and impact of visual media in shaping perceptions about the Israeli-Palestinian situation.


COŞKUN ARAL, war correspondent and photojournalist, said that he had witnessed the conflict in Lebanon in the 1980s and had taken pictures that had been published in magazines such as Newsweek.  The destruction of Palestinian camps by Israelis had been called a “peace operation” by Israel, so it did not attract much international attention.  As soon as pictures of civilians escaping the conflict were published, such as the photo of a woman carrying her baby and running away, the world realized that the so-called “peace operation” was targeting civilians and there was an international outcry.  Such examples demonstrated the power of images.


Since the invention of cameras the world could see the truth.  For example, had there been no pictures from Syria in the past few years, we would have known very little about the sufferings of civilians in the country.  War correspondents, the persons behind those images, sometimes did not receive full credit for their work.  Yet many of them risked their lives and even got killed while trying to convey the tragedy of civilians around the world.


Visual material should be objectively presented in the media and without exaggeration.  Sometimes images expressed provocative tendencies and were deliberately used in order to manipulate public opinion, which was the wrong approach to taking pictures.  War pictures were important because they helped people to familiarize themselves with war, which was the first step to dealing with war.  The profession of war correspondent was very important and should be preserved.


SHIRAZ GRINBAUM, photographer, ActiveStills.org, said that since its inception photography had been linked to issues of social justice and truth.  In what way did photography affect our perception of matters?  Did photography enforce prejudice or did it help to dispel it?  ActiveStills, which worked with advocacy groups, brought powerful images of real persons into the public sphere.  Ms. Grinbaum first showed pictures of real persons in everyday situations that had been displayed on A3 paper on walls in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities in Israel as part of an awareness-raising campaign.


The ActiveStills archive online contained approximately 14,000 frames portraying persons from both the Palestinian and Israeli communities in various situations.  The persons in the pictures were not identified but information was provided on the context.  Ms. Grinbaum showed pictures of protesters from Palestine, Israel and Gaza, and stressed that it was very important who was behind the camera.


NOUR ODEH, Media professional and communications consultant, said that images affected human perception and how we viewed the world.  The conflict in Palestine had previously attracted large audiences around the world, but those working in the media knew that people were becoming tired of seeing images of the Palestinian conflict.  There was no shortage of visual material, especially from parts of the world where there was conflict, but the general public had become desensitized to images showing human suffering and brutalities against human beings.


Ms. Odeh said that, even though we all saw pictures of conflict situations at one point or another, we rarely got to hear about the persons portrayed in the pictures.  A study recently conducted by the Glasgow Media Group had found that, even though the public’s reaction to powerful images coming out of Gaza had been one of shock and sympathy, the majority of those asked had commented that things might have been different if Palestinians really wanted peace.  That was a clear example that pictures on their own were sometimes not enough to tell the full story.  Images could be manipulated and rhetoric could override the strong, powerful message conveyed by pictures.  There were people who got paid to ensure that the narrative about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the way we received the news about the conflict did not portray with objectivity what was happening on the ground.  Youth activism had added a new element to the discussion and was part of a new process that might force the media to change their narrative.


HELEN YANOVSKY, B’Tselem’s video camera distribution project, said that B’Tselem was an Israeli Information Center for Human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  It provided accurate, unbiased information about human rights violations and advocated for accountability and policy change in the region.  Ms. Yanovsky said that it was important to bring to Israelis evidence of human rights violations that would be hard to ignore and would back up Palestinian complaints.


Since 2007, B’Tselem had been giving cameras to Palestinians and asking them to film and document their complaints of human rights violations by Israelis.  Ms. Yanovsky showed short videos filmed by Palestinians, including videos of an Israeli settler harassing a Palestinian family; Israeli soldiers entering a Palestinian house in the middle of the night and waking up the family’s children to take pictures of them; an Israeli soldier firing at a blindfolded and handcuffed Palestinian detainee at close range; and four Israeli settlers attacking an elderly Palestinian couple planting seeds in a field.


There were about 150 active volunteers currently working for B’Tselem in various parts of Israel.  Only credible footage was published and particular attention was paid to the background and context of each video.  Authenticated videos were used as powerful evidence in the legal system and initiated a public discourse in the media, bringing to Israelis the Palestinian point of view.  Even short videos had an impact on the lives of people, as they helped to throw fresh light on aspects of human life that would have otherwise remained unknown.


Mr. ARAL said that he had seen the drama of refugees in Palestinian camps in Lebanon during the 1980s and had witnessed chemical attacks and Israeli raids that sometimes went on for months.  He showed some of the pictures he had taken and hid at personal risk.


Ms. SEWARD said that being able to inject voices into images meant that in today’s digitalized world pictures were even more powerful than before and had greater impact.  Concerning the images and footage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shown by panellists, she said that voice had made the situation depicted in the images even more disturbing.  In closing remarks, Ms. Seward said that panellists had taken participants very close to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and had invited us to think in different ways about what photos stills could do and how they could change things on the ground.


Concluding Remarks


LEVENT GÜMRÜKÇÜ, Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Turkey, in concluding remarks said that lasting peace in the Middle East was a goal that had eluded us for many decades.  Turkey was determined to do everything it could to achieve that goal.  Negotiations were a positive step forward, but were not enough.  Both sides had to make brave decisions and the international community had an important role to play in the peace process.  It was crucial to create a vision of peace in the region, which would serve as the driving force of negotiations.


The media had an important part to play in changing the prevailing psychology and could bring new momentum to the negotiations.  More specifically, the media should raise awareness that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the main source of instability in the Middle East.  The Arab Spring was closely related to the Middle East peace process, and the quest for peace was at the heart of the ongoing unrest in the Arab world.  People were fast losing faith that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be resolved, so it was important to believe in the end result of the peace process.  The media must explain to the wider public that peace in the region was not only desirable but also possible.  Another issue that the media should tackle was the presence of negative stereotypes on both sides.


Objective, credible and informative reporting of the conflict by the media could make a major contribution to the peace process, and stressing the human aspect of the conflict was key to that.  There was a great risk that people might start seeing the conflict from a theoretical point of view and become cynical about it.  Palestinian refugees, for example, were not just statistics but persons with real life stories to tell.  The media should present the real stories behind real people and reflect on how those affected by the conflict could benefit from a fair and lasting solution.


Mr. Gümrükçü underlined the need to find a just solution, because justice, he said, was of paramount importance in this part of the world.  The Seminar would hopefully help us to move in the right direction.  Turkey was committed to working closely with the United Nations in order to promote peace in the Middle East and create a synergy between the United Nations and Turkish foreign policy.


PETER LAUNSKY-TIEFFENTHAL, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Coordinator for Multilingualism, said that discussions over the past two days had been held in a spirit of frankness and openness.  After hearing a detailed keynote address from the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, and a dialogue on the previous 12 months for Palestine at the United Nations featuring the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, the Seminar discussed how narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had shifted in the course of the last year and heard about the personal impact that those developments had had on the lives of everyday persons.  Sharing personal stories and experiences served to draw attention to the conflict and, more importantly, underlined the need to resolve it.


Discussions also shed light on less well-known aspects of the conflict, including internally displaced persons, and looked at youth activism, digital journalism and social media in the Middle East, and the challenge of translating elements of the digital world in the real world.  Close attention was paid to the role played by all forms of media, including video and photography, in shaping perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The positive and constructive dialogue of the past two days had taken place against the backdrop of ongoing violence in Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.


Mr. Launsky-Tieffenthal concluded by expressing hope that significant progress would be made in achieving peace in the Middle East between now and next year’s United Nations Media Seminar, to be held in late spring or early summer 2014.


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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.