The February raids on two Palestinian TV stations were carried out by Israeli Defense Forces on behalf of the Israeli Ministry of Communications. Brooke speaks with the ministry's director general, Eden Bar Tal, who says Wattan TV was operating illegally and only raided after repeated requests to stop interfering with Israeli frequencies.
Yo-Yo Ma - Bach Suite for Solo Cello No. 2 in D Minor, Mov. VI: Gigue
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Eden Bar Tal is director-general of the Israeli Ministry of Communications. He flatly denies Daoud Kuttab’s allegation that the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Technical Committee had never met. He says he’s personally met with the Committee many times, and he says Wattan TV was operating illegally.
EDEN BAR TAL: We have, since 1995, an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that allow the Palestinian side to have six television stations, but they have now twenty-five. And we are suffering a lot of interference to our spectrum, and this is breaching of the agreement. Israel, that has three or four times the population, has only three TV stations, and the Palestinian agreed to have double the number. Now, they chose which are the six.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The Palestinians themselves designated which six stations they were allowed to keep, and they didn’t pick Al-Wattan?
EDEN BAR TAL: Al-Wattan was not part of the six stations within the agreement.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And you're also saying that Al-Wattan created broadcast interference, even though it’s existed for more than a decade without anyone having alleged that interference in the past.
EDEN BAR TAL: Interference can be created by the equipment becoming obsolete or part of the equipment is in defect, so things like that happened all the time. We are speaking about severe interference to our customers, to our usage, which is in breach of the lateral agreement.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: According to reports, the raid was undertaken in the middle of the night, using military personnel who confiscated transmitters, financial records and even archives. Why was the operation undertaken in this manner?
EDEN BAR TAL: First of all, you know what was confiscated? I’ll tell you - one modem.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And all this, to remove a modem.
EDEN BAR TAL: Yes. Before this interview, I called the people on the ground just to make sure that I will not mislead you. I was informed very clearly that the only thing that was taken from both stations were the modems.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: A representative of the IDF told us, and I quote, “In accordance with the law, several transmitters were confiscated during the course of the activity.”
EDEN BAR TAL: Only the modem, not the transmitters and not other pieces of equipment.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Modems do not interfere with radio frequencies.
EDEN BAR TAL: We didn’t want to take the whole station and the whole equipment. We preferred not to take this dramatic measure. What we want to make sure is that they understand that we are suffering from severe interference, and we asked the Palestinian Authority many times to take measures that it will not continue. And only as the last resort, we had to go in.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I’m just puzzled by the removal, you say, of the modem, which is contrary to the statement we received from the IDF, and contrary to common sense, because if interference is the problem the removal of a modem would have no impact.
EDEN BAR TAL: No, it’s for them to understand that this is a fundamental breach of the agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It’s not a joke. We were eligible to take all the station out, and just thank for the sake of good order that we took just one piece. But if next time we’ll take more than that. I’m not coming to apologize. We are not the one creating interference to someone else, which is legal. So I’m not coming to apologize about something that every reasonable society would take against illegal activities.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why undertake it with Israeli Defense Forces in the middle of the night?
EDEN BAR TAL: First of all, the only way to do it in the territories is through the forces. Be realistic. The way to do it is conducted that nobody will be hurt. This activity, which is dangerous to Israelis, was conducted in a way that nobody will harm them or any civilian. So this is the only motivation on this case about choosing the way and choosing the time and choosing the place.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And all this, to remove a modem. It is puzzling, don’t you think?
EDEN BAR TAL: I’ll take your note about it, and we might consider next time to take more equipment of illegal TV stations or radio stations.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I hear your sarcasm. It just seems to me you're using an elephant gun to remove a mosquito.
EDEN BAR TAL: To focus only on the pieces taken and not on the illegal, it sounds to me very personal. I am feeling that we are treated a little bit unfairly. Here, we took the minimum measures possible, the minimum, in a very cautious way. And we are criticized, for what? For taking the last measure as the last resort, after exhausting all other possible ways.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
EDEN BAR TAL: And now, we are not speaking just about having dozens of – or, or more than a hundred radio illegal stations and, and 19 TV stations. We are speaking about a severe interference to our spectrum. We are not the party that breached the agreement or creating for them problems that are not reasonable.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I hear you. Thank you very much.
EDEN BAR TAL: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Eden Bar Tal is the director-general of the Israeli Ministry of Communications. Thank you very much, again. I appreciate it.
EDEN BAR TAL: Thank you, and I’m sorry for that, but it’s – I really felt that it’s – I just met one of the owner of the local radio station in Israel, he said I can’t use that. We paying money to the government to get frequency and we – our audience can’t hear us. And I’m talking about 130 to 150 at any given time, illegal radio stations. You know, we had it also in Israel, the piracy in radio stations but we cracked down on all of them, ‘cause many of them were run by religious groups of – we finish with that. And now the situation is much worse. I mean, after we finish with all the Israelis, we don’t know how to do.
[MUSIC/MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict plays out in opposing universes, with different names for the same monuments, different narratives for the same events, different readings of the same laws and certainly different perspectives of what is fair and just. The IDF functions as Israel in the territories, and resolved in this case what Israel viewed as a persistent treaty violation and bureaucratic headache. The Palestinians viewed it as the crude military reflex of an arrogant occupier.
While the tale of Al-Wattan is a mere blip in the overall conflict, every little incident tells the whole story of irreconcilable difference and the fragility of independent voices which offer, perhaps, the only chance of resolution.
BOB GARFIELD: That’s it for this week’s show. On the Media was produced by Jamie York, Alex Goldman, PJ Vogt, Sarah Abdurrahman and Chris Neary, with more help from Luisa Beck and Robert Schoon, and edited - by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Andrew Dunne.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer. Ellen Horne is WNYC’s senior director of National Programs. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and find transcripts at onthemedia.org. You can find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, and you can email us at email@example.com. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I’m Brooke Gladstone.