While earning an undergraduate degree in the United States and a graduate degree in England, Palestine native Tamara Kharroub was “shocked” at how her homeland was portrayed in the Western media.
“I thought the media might be one-sided, but I didn’t expect that many negative images and wrong images,” said Kharroub. Most news reports she saw on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict usually featured “the bad guys” and “the good guys” with the Palestinians always cast in the negative light.
These days Kharroub, 27, is manager of the Bethlehem Media Center. She and a small staff produce programs that she says show the world a more complete and accurate portrayal of Palestinians.
“We try to show the human dimension of the Palestinian people,” Kharroub says. “We try to focus on the cultural aspects of Palestine, the arts and social issues. We try to bring good news from Palestine.”
Telling the good news does not mean that BMC ignores the pressing problems created by years of war and occupation. One program focused on the wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem.
“We focused on one family and how the wall affects them,” Kharroub said.
The wall, part of an Israeli-built “security barrier” that surrounds Bethlehem and meanders through parts of the West Bank, is approximately 25 feet high in some places near Bethlehem. At Checkpoint 300, about 2,000 people pass through the wall daily en route to jobs in Jerusalem. Some arrive at 4:30 a.m. or earlier to be at work at 7 a.m. in Jerusalem, which is only five miles from Bethlehem.
BMC depends on friends in Europe and the United States to get their programs before Western audiences. While distribution in the West is a challenge, Kharroub and her colleagues are able to get their programs shown regularly on Palestinian television and on SAT 7 satellite, which serves Christian audiences in the Middle East.
For audiences closer to home, the center takes on piercing questions in Palestinian society. One recent program dealt with interfaith marriages, profiling a couple who could not persuade Christian or Muslim clergy to marry them. Controversy inevitably erupts when people from different faiths want to get married in Palestine.
“Religion is very important in our society,” Kharroub said. “That’s something that the West doesn’t understand. It’s a societal and cultural identity.”
The program raised the question of a civil marriage, a practice not possible in Palestine. Most Palestinians interviewed on the question rejected the idea, but Kharroub said it was not uniformly dismissed.
BMC is also producing a series of programs on successful Palestinian women. The purpose, Kharroub said, is to show a dimension of women beyond two stereotypes common in Palestine and elsewhere. One stereotype portrays women as “submissive and obedient and must be silent,” she said. The other is illustrated by “women in music videos who are half naked and presented as objects.”
One of the women profiled will be Honey Thaljieh, captain of the Palestine’s national women’s soccer team. Thaljieh sings in the choir and leads children’s activities at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.
Christmas Lutheran Church is the inspiration behind BMC and its parent organization, the International Center of Bethlehem (ICB), which the congregation founded in 1994. The congregation’s pastor, the Rev. Mitri Raheb, has been a partner in residence at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s national offices and has served as an ecumenical guest at the denomination’s General Assembly.
In addition to the media center, the ICB sponsors a variety of cultural, educational, artistic and health and wellness programs.
Kharroub brings to her duties a strong commitment to Palestine. While the ongoing turmoil in Palestine has caused many educated young people to flee, Kharroub says she always knew she would return after her study in the West.
“It was always important for me to come back because I wanted to contribute and build my country,” she said. “Many of my friends have emigrated. They just want the stability of having a good job and raising their children without having to worry about them coming home alive or not.”
Meanwhile, Kharroub and her colleagues continue their efforts to help the world better understand Palestine and to encourage thoughtful discourse among Palestinians. Kharroub, who has been at the center for five years, is grateful for its growth. Last year, BMC produced 13 programs.
“I’ve seen it expand in terms of programs and its impact on people,” she said. “We continue to develop human resources and infrastructure.”
Pat Cole recently traveled to the Middle East as part of a “Living Letters” delegation of the World Council of Churches. His trip was jointly funded by PNS and the WCC.